LITTLE ROCK — Golf pros would be able to help people with their drives, putts and chip shots at state-owned courses under an amendment to the state Department of Parks and Tourism endorsed by Joint Budget Committee Thursday.
The amendment would allow the department to develop contracts to allow employees at the state’s two golf courses to teach lessons, on their off-time, as long as they meet a number of certifications.
Department Director Richard Davies and State Parks Director Greg Butts told the committee that state ethics laws currently prohibit state employees from having a contract with the agency they work for.
Last May, The Ridges at Village Creek State Park near Forrest City opened and since then patrons have been asking if a golf pro could be available to teach lessons.
"We would simply contract with them like we contract with people who offer horseback riding, concessions and things like that," Davies said, adding the amendment was suggested by the state’s Office of Personnel Management."We would have a contract with these people, if those chose, after hours, to offer lessons."
Butts said one employee at The Ridges, who operates the pro shop and overall operations of the course, is currently certified by the Professional Golf Association to teach, while another, who is the course manager, has met of the requirements.
Under the amendment, which was endorsed unanimously, the department would be allowed to enter into contracts with employees, as long as the employees don’t teach during their normal working hours.
The measure also requires that the golf instructors be Class A members and/or apprentices of the PGA of America or the Ladies PGA.
Davis said the The Ridges is part of the Natural State Golf Trail and one of the requirements for that designation is to have a golf pro on site and available to teach lessons.
The contracts would be similar to other vendor contracts the department currently enters with others and the state would receive 10 to 20 percent of the instructor’s income, lawmakers were told.
Rep. Jim Nickels, D-Sherwood, questioned the state would be limiting the lessons to only to adults and children who can afford them.
"I’m concerned about excluding young people, poor people from getting lessons," Nickels said.
Butts said he understood the lawmakers concerns, but "everything we’re trying to do is to grow golf," he said, adding that the Wynne High School golf team has access to The Ridges, and he has already talked with First Tee, a youth golf development program in Little Rock, about possibly opening a chapter at the state park’s golf course.
Davies said later that First Tee has opened chapters in other areas of the state.
"The issue is there aren’t that many (golf pros) in East Arkansas who are not already associated as a pro at a private course," Butts said, adding that a golf pro "is an important amenity that the public wants. It builds business and allows people to improve their games."
The state’s other golf course is at Lake DeGray and that course is already accessible by the golf teams at Ouachita Baptist University and Henderson State University, as well as Bismarck High School golf team.
After the meeting, Butts and Davies said the golf course at DeGray Park is not on the Natural State Golf Trail but he and others would someday like to have a pro available there to offer lessons.