PASCO -- Pasco's Sun Willows Golf Course will have a new operator starting today.
The city of Pasco terminated its lease agreement with decadelong operator Sun Willows Golf Course LLC after the company failed to pay February's rent.
And on Monday, city officials hired a management company to operate the course until they decide how to proceed.
There could be complications, however, as Sun Willows Golf Course LLC -- which is operated by San Diego-based IRI Golf Management -- on Monday filed a lawsuit in a California court against the city in an attempt to have the lease reinstated, said Jeff Silverstein, president of IRI Golf Management.
Silverstein said the company has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
He said he expects the Pasco lease to be reinstated this week, but declined to comment further.
The Herald could not confirm the lawsuit filing late Monday, and city officials said they had not received any notification of a lawsuit.
Stan Strebel, Pasco deputy city manager, said the lease agreement automatically was terminated when the operator failed to make the its payment by Feb. 10.
A 2010 amendment to the contract required Sun Willows Golf Course LLC to pay the rent with a direct-wire deposit by the fifth of the month, he said. If that payment was missed, the company had five days to pay the rent and 15 percent interest before the lease would be terminated.
The city added those provisions to the lease because there were issues with the company paying the lease on time over the last several years, Strebel said.
Under the old contract, the city had to notify the company of the default in writing, and the company then had 30 days to correct it, Strebel said. And then the default process could start again.
"We just did not want that situation to continue," he said.
The annual lease for the golf course was $180,000 for 2011, Strebel said.
Strebel said the recession has affected golf courses just as it has other recreational businesses.
CourseCo, the firm that manages Richland's Columbia Point and Kennewick's Columbia Park golf courses, will manage Sun Willows on a temporary basis, Strebel said.
The city now will determine if it will lease the course to a company as it has done in the past, or if it will hire a management company as Richland does, where the city remains the operator and takes any losses or profits, he said.
The Pasco course will remain open and season passes still will be honored, Strebel said. And CourseCo will hire the current employees, he said.
There will be a minor interruption in liquor sales at Sun Willows because the former operator held the liquor license for the location, Strebel said. That license will need to be transferred.
Credit card machines also need to be reprogrammed, but he expected that to be solved this week.
-- Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org