The Bill Roberts Municipal Golf Course will keep its name, at least for the time being, despite a proposed change intended to improve its ability to attract new golfers.
Members of the Helena City Commission tied in two votes — Commissioner Katherine Haque-Hausrath had an excused absence — that would have either changed or modified the name.
The initial motion by Commissioner Dick Thweatt to change the name to Hidden Creek Golf Course, recommended by the city’s Golf Advisory Board and supported by city staff, was set aside for a motion by Commissioner Matt Elsaesser who sought to modify the existing name.
Elsaesser’s motion to blend the existing and proposed names into Bill Roberts Hidden Creek Golf Course drew support from Commissioner Dan Ellison but not from Thweatt or Mayor Jim Smith. The motion failed on a 2-2 vote.
The commission then acted on Thweatt’s motion, which also failed by the same tally.
The commission’s votes came after nine people spoke on the golf board’s recommended change.
The name, Hidden Creek Golf Course, is based on the golf course’s close proximity to Last Chance Creek and the placer gold mining dredges that changed the creek to a subterranean flow near the golf course, according to the resolution that would have changed the golf course’s name.
Stephen Keim, Helena’s mayor from 1972 to 1973, was among those who opposed the name change and said the move would be counterproductive to the goal of increasing revenue for the golf course.
The golf course is managed by the city and is required to support its operations solely through the revenue it generates. This is similar to how the city operates its water and wastewater services.
Keim pointed to the historic names of attractions in Helena before asking which the commission would want to change. He then asked why remove Bill Roberts name from the golf course.
Roberts arrived in Helena in 1939 to work at what was then known as Last Chance Golf Course, news reports say, after working at other golf courses in Montana. The course here had been established in 1924 and was renamed for him in 1960. News reports credit him with developing the golf course from the rock and weeds and sage he found when he arrived.
Jon Pallister, the golf board’s chairman, spoke in defense of renaming the golf course and said that Roberts’ name “will not be forgotten.”
The golf course is a business, a stand-alone business, Pallister said, adding that the board believes the name change is necessary.
Pete Aspenwall was another of those who supported a rebranding of the course with a new name. There are other golf courses in Helena that are underutilized by golfers, he pointed out, noting that raising rates at Bill Roberts risks deterring golfers from coming to the city course because of the cost.
And there is a stigma attached to golf courses with the word municipal in their names, Aspenwall said.
“If it’s a muni course, it’s at the bottom of the list,” when visiting a city and looking in the phone book for a course to play, another man said.
Ed McHugh, however, took issue with the name and said, “There is no Hidden Creek in Helena.”
McHugh provided land for the golf course and said, “Hidden Creek is a fictitious name.”
Another of those who spoke suggested renaming the road into the golf course in Roberts’ honor. There was also support for a plaque to honor him being placed at the area set aside where golfers practice putts.
Thweatt said he supported the golf board’s recommendation and that it was charged with managing the course.
Commissioners debated what Bill Roberts would want ,with Smith and Thweatt saying Roberts would support the change.
Ellison disagreed and said he wasn’t comfortable with supposing what a deceased person would want.
He also questioned whether a name change would generate the additional revenue that the golf board hoped to see and said the golf course has become self-supporting in recent years with its current name.
The bid to give the course a new name comes as a result of a business plan created in 2009 by the golf board for the course.
Had the new name been adopted, there would have been no cost to taxpayers, said Amy Teegarden, the city’s parks and recreation director.
The projected $7,000 cost to change the name and develop a logo, colors and a marketing strategy would be paid for through the golf course’s annual budget.
The golf course ended fiscal years 2011 and 2012 — beginning July 1 and ending June 30 — with more than $23,000 above expenses. Expenses were close to $1.2 million in 2011, while they topped that mark slightly in 2012.