The customer is always right. It's a main tenet of any service industry — and one certainly at the forefront of Sand Creek Station general manager Chris Touhey's mind.

"Any business that you're in, customers are the life blood and reputation is paramount," Touhey said.

For the past decade, the Newton golf course has been in good condition in that regard — even by its own high standards — with top ratings among the National Golf Foundation based on True Review customer survey results. This year's customer loyalty index score of 87 percent ranked first in the U.S. among golf courses, a spot Newton's Sand Creek Station has held since 2008.

Even amidst those sterling reviews and the course's service-forward approach, challenges have arisen. Some customers, while giving the course high marks, have noted issues with their experiences — issues Touhey wants to address, and discussed with the city commission during a work session on Monday.

Given that the course does not rate highly in walkability, the golf carts at Sand Creek Station get high use — which Touhey noted can be draining on the batteries (a "hefty" maintenance cost) — and the current fleet, 72 carts in total, is showing signs of aging in its fourth season.

While the carts are a priority given that reliance, other needs at the course include work on the bunkers (with reduction of the total bunkers being a temporary fix) and replacement of some maintenance equipment that also gets extreme usage (eight hours a day, eight months a year) — added expenses that have put a strain on Sand Creek's operating accounts, though Touhey noted an allocation of $150,000 annually from the city's capital outlay fund would help address those issues and assist with the upkeep of the course's reputation.

"I think we could continue to sustain a best in class property and remain competitive," Touhey said. "We feel like we've had impeccable success at the golf course and we certainly want to continue that."

At the current rate of additional expenses Sand Creek Station has seen, Touhey noted the course's operating account could run out of money by January 2018 — with management having already reduced the labor force to address the budget crunch.

Flooding has also been a challenge in recent years, taking away some of the course's business days and becoming a detriment to consumer confidence, but to eliminate that would require getting less water flow to Sand Creek by increasing detention upstream — a "big request," according to Newton Director of Public Works Suzanne Loomis.

City commissioners noted they would like to see a greater scope (i.e. five-year outlook) to any plan of action regarding Sand Creek Station and how all of its assets could be utilized in the big picture, as they are more than willing to continue work with Touhey to address the needs of the course given what it provides the community.

"The golf course is very vital to Newton. We're noted for our golf course and I think we need to do everything we can to keep it ship shape," said commissioner Glenn Davis.

"It's our number one destination here," said Mayor Barth Hague. "I'm all for doing what we can to keep that."

Budgeting by the city for 2018 included $100,000 earmarked for improvements at Sand Creek Station — including the start of replacing the current golf cart fleet. Options the commission still wants to see are prices on various cart models, as the discussion of improving the golf course is one that will be ongoing between the commission and Touhey, and one both parties are committed to.

"We appreciate the support," Touhey said. "We really do have a vested interest here."

In other business, the city commission:

Discussed potential sale of the old south Dillons property, with commissioners and city staff being contacted by interested parties. There was a consensus the commission is not interested in selling just to sell, but rather on the condition of knowing what exactly the property will be used for once purchased — as City Manger Bob Myers said it could generate a high volume of traffic and benefit all downtown merchants.
Approved the mayor's appointment of Daryl Unruh to the Historic Preservation Commission for a term ending Aug. 30, 2020.
Recognized Bunting Magnetics and CEO Bob Bunting for the company's continued growth and development as a multi-national company headquartered in Newton.
Received election results from the county clerk's office after ballot canvass, confirming the re-election of commissioners Kathy Valentine and Leroy Koehn to four-year terms and Glenn Davis to a two-year term.
Held a public hearing and approved budgetary amendments to the special highway, wastewater bond and interest, wastewater and fire/police pension funds, increasing total overall proposed expenditures in those funds by $852,212.
Approved vacation of utility and drainage easements — to allow for planned expansion — in the Newton Industrial Park Second Subdivision and Hauck Addition (located in the Kansas Logistics Park), following a public hearing.
Approved a resolution setting forth a period of 45 days for Robert Herrington to develop a repair plan in the proceedings regarding the nuisance and dilapidated structure conditions at 527 E. 11th St. — to be brought before the commission on Dec. 19.
Approved a resolution releasing the Letter of Credit for Ron Harder on the Autumn Glen 3rd Addition.
Received a staff report from Newton Police Department animal control officer Jennifer Burns on the rules and regulations of trapping and removal services, with Burns following the guidelines set forth by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism — similar to policies set forth in surrounding municipalities (i.e. wildlife cannot be trapped and removed based solely on presence, nonlethal means must be used to discourage presence, etc.).
Approved a design agreement with HNTB for rehabilitation of Taxiway C at the Newton City/County Airport at a cost of $4,068 to the city.
Tabled discussion of a settlement resolving the matter of Pilot International Inc. vs. City of Newton.
Approved changing upcoming city commission meeting dates to Dec. 19, Jan. 8 and Jan. 23.
Heard a concern from Ron Eggert during a citizen's forum, who noted something should be done to address to lack of diversity on the city commission and among city staff to better reflect the community and address the concerns of the Latino, Asian and African-American demographics —as he claimed their needs are not represented and addressed by the current commission makeup. Part of the solution proposed by Eggert included setting term limits of eight years (with a two-year break if individuals would like to serve again) for commissioners. Commissioners responded to Eggert stating they are looking out for the best interest of the entire community in their roles and trying to get a more diverse sector of the community involved, with Hague noting there could be an opportunity for greater engagement on the community's volunteer boards.