Barron golf course managers teed off on an oft-discussed liquor license issue but couldn’t find the fairway at the City Council meeting Tuesday, July 13.
Rolling Oaks Golf Course representatives Tony Allen and Jon Yamada applied for a Class B beer and liquor license from the City. Currently the golf club has a license to sell beer but not liquor.
Allen argued that the golf club should be allowed a license in order to increase revenue.
But the City’s legal counsel Andrew Harrington said that it would be illegal to grant such a license because the golf course is municipality-owned and state statutes prohibit municipalities from selling liquor.
The Council ultimately voted to table the matter.
The Rolling Oaks Golf Course is owned by the City of Barron, but contracts its management to Barron Golf Club, Inc., which is headed by Allen.
Allen said issuing a liquor license to the golf club is permitted because it is a business, an opinion he said was supported by Wisconsin Tavern League officials. He said other municipal courses, such as Cumberland Golf Club, have liquor licenses.
“This will help us by leveling the playing field—or the fairway, if you will—with the other courses in the area,” he said. “We are a separate entity. If you give a damn about the golf course, you should approve this.”
“There are a lot of things Tony and I have agreed on over the years,” said Harrington. “And this just has never been one of them.”
Harrington said the issue has been discussed “ad nauseum” but his legal opinion remains the same.
“I cannot advise the city to take legal advice from people who are not authorized to give it,” said Harrington.
Harrington said that though the course is leased and managed by a non-city entity, the fact that it remains city-owned still prevents it from holding a liquor license.
“The city cannot go through an agent what it cannot do itself,” he said.
“When this issue first came up 4 ½ years ago, it was referred to the Wisconsin League of Municipalities. And they came to the same conclusion I did. It’s not just my opinion,” said Harrington.
Allen said that whether or not the golf club has a liquor license, there will be drinking on the course.
“I know there’s people out there who oppose this, but will carry a flask out there and take a nice drink of alcohol when they get a birdie, because it’s called a birdie bottle,” said Allen. “That’s illegal because we don’t have a license that covers that. Had we a Class B license that covers that, it covers the property. Therefore it’s no longer illegal for them to do that. And at least they’ll buy the alcohol from us, hopefully.”
Course manager Jon Yamada, who was hired this spring, said, “I didn’t come home not to make the city money.”
Yamada said he has worked at other courses with the ability to serve liquor, providing them with a significant revenue stream.
City officials appeared split or indecisive on whether or not to continue discussing the issuance of a license.
Alderman Kevin Haller said, “Last time this came up, the City Council said it would find a way to discuss the lease. That never happened.”
“The golf course should have taken the initiative,” said Alderman Pete Olson.
Allen countered, “To this day we’re waiting for the council to form the committee.”
Adding to the complexity of the issue is the fact that the Barron Golf Club owes money to the City through loans, effectively subsidizing the course.
“How do you expect them to make enough money to start paying the city back?” said Haller.
Alderman Byron Miller questioned if there would be a way to modify the lease and management agreement to allow for a liquor license.
“I don’t know what the agreement would look like to rectify this situation,” said Harrington.
When asked how other municipal golf courses are able to sell liquor, Harrington said, “I don’t know.”
Council members indicated that they wanted more information before issuing or denying the liquor license application.
The City of Barron is allowed up to seven Class B liquor licenses based on population—one for each 500 people—and six are currently in use. The seventh has been open since the former Steakhouse on Highway 25 closed.