The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
This time, Bryan Jackson says there will be no turning back, that he’s had it with Kevin Johnson, the Port Arthur Renaissance Group (PARG) and grandiose but seemingly underfunded plans to restore The Palms at Pleasure Island Golf Course.
Jackson, who resigned as superintendent in late December, then reconsidered, announced Tuesday on his Facebook page that he’s washed his hands of the Pleasure Island project. He did it in nuclear fashion, saying, “These are not the kind of people I want to be in business with. We had too many red flags and way too much lying going on there, plus the fact that they wrote us so many bad checks and made many hollow promises.”
The angry tirade came less than six moths after Jackson, then the course superintendent/head pro at Belle Oaks Golf Club, was hired by Renaissance to oversee both courses, but primarily to get The Palms up and running. While notable progress has been made at The Palms, storm clouds have been building for some time, as Jackson and Johnson butted heads on many issues.
Jackson reiterated much of the Facebook post to the Port Arthur News, saying too many promises have been lies. He cited failures to provide him equipment needed to do the job, having to use and wear out some of his own equipment, long-time vendors he’s dealt with who have been not been paid, problems getting fuel, bounced paychecks and layoffs.
“I have fought through cancer three different times and I don’t need the stress coming from a group that does not know bleep about the golf industry,” he said. “He (Johnson) owes thousands of dollars to vendors I’ve dealt with for years and they are calling me and texting me for payments. One guy (Jeff Smith) drove over from Houston today and repossessed chemicals for which payment is overdue.
“I was talked out of this once, but I just can’t take any more of the stress brought on by the lies. I can see things are not going to change. I was supposed to go back on Jan. 1, then that was pushed back to Jan. 15 because there wasn’t any money. That part is probably true. There isn’t any money. I doubt that project will ever be finished.”
Johnson has been the point man for the PARG since it entered into a $1 per year lease agreement with the Pleasure Island Commission in September of 2012 to restore The Palms golf course. Sinking money into The Palms, which had been untouched since Hurricane Ike roared through in 2008, is part of a long-shot gamble on Renaissance’s part to be positioned for casino gambling if and when it’s approved in Texas.
For his part, Johnson appeared shocked that Jackson wouldn’t be reporting back to work today. He became aware when told of Jackson’s Facebook post.
“This is all news to me,” he said. “I thought Bryan was coming back Wednesday. I thought when he and I met the Friday after New Year’s everything was fine. I don’t know how to make him happy. I gave Bryan a huge raise, gave him exactly what he asked for when he came to work for us. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what he wants.”
Johnson did not deny there have been some financial problems. But he strongly asserted that the Renaissance Group has solid backing and has the money to complete the restoration of The Palms golf course.
“Yes, we owe people,” he said. “A lot of it I can’t talk about publicly. When you blow your budget to hell and back, you have to regroup. The money we owe anybody is a drop in the bucket. We are trying to get the finances to catch up with themselves. We have a lot of money to spend our here and a lot of jobs to put in the community.
“Financing is not an issue. We aren’t going anywhere. We are going to finish the job. But it’s frustrating to see what’s happening. I’ve never dealt with a situation like this in my life. Everytime I think I have something fixed with Bryan, he takes his problems to the street.”
The conversation has certainly changed since Renaissance hired Jackson and leased Belle Oaks from Jerry Braxton and Bryan Phelps last July.
“The Palms was special before and it’s going to be special again,” Jackson said at the time. “I’m really looking forward to getting involved with it. My dream is to be a course superintendent, not a guy who works in the pro shop. This is going to give me the opportunity and I won’t have to be cutting corners.”
“Bryan Jackson’s done an amazing job at Belle Oaks with what he’s had to work with,” Johnson had said in July. “He’s told us he can make it even better with the help of equipment that hasn’t been available to him. We can provide that. And he knows exactly what it’s going to take to get The Palms up and running.”
Jackson now points to a drop-off in play and revenue at Belle Oaks as a direct link to the money problems at The Palms.
“Belle Oaks was supporting the whole thing, then play dropped off when they started making changes and putting in their own peeps,” he said. “Some of those people know less about the operation of a golf course than Kevin does. I’ve talked to a lot of golfers who are disappointed with what’s happened at Belle Oaks.”
One of those golfers, Roddy Weatherly, says a senior game he and Charles Cooksey took to Belle Oaks after The Patch closed, mainly because of Jackson, and because he kept the course in good shape, has been moved to Brentwood Country Club.
“We’ll sometimes have 30 to 40 players,” he said. “But the people out there didn’t seem to care and they were letting the course go downhill. The cups didn’t get moved for weeks and it seemed like the bunkers hadn’t been raked for months. Last time we there, they didn’t even have carts out. We had to get our own carts. Some of them had flats. Some of the batteries were down.
“That would never happen with Bryan involved. He took care of things. He let players know he appreciated them. What’s going down is really bad news for golfers.”
Johnson is aware of problems at Belle Oaks. The Renaissance Group has hired James You to try and turn things around. You was quick to make reworking the bunkers a major priority. Ultimately, he’ll be at the mercy of the resources and manpower he’s provided to get the job done.