The Atlanta-based firm tapped by the city to take over the city-owned Bronx golf course run by ex-President Donald Trump’s company is promising to bring more diversity — and better maintenance — to the greens.
“We’re going to spend more on golf maintenance than Donald Trump did,” vowed Whitney Crouse, founding partner of Bobby Jones Links.
Crouse, in an interview Tuesday with THE CITY, gave the backstory of how a homeless shelter operator approached his company with the idea of submitting a 50-50 proposal to run the Trump Ferry Point Golf Links after Mayor Bill de Blasio moved to boot the ex-president over his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
The homeless service operator dropped out amid controversy, and now Bobby Jones Links is on course to run the public links solo come Nov. 15 — if the city can fend off a legal challenge from Trump.
On Monday, lawyers for the Trump Organization asked a Manhattan state Supreme Court judge to halt de Blasio’s effort to remove the firm from Ferry Point Park as of Nov. 14, partway through a 20-year run.
They argued that Trump will have the right to remain in charge of the Jack Nicklaus-designed course in the shadow of the Whitestone Bridge — even after the deadline, pending an appeal of any ruling against the former president.
Trumps’ lawyers also have threatened to turn some of their firepower on Bobby Jones Links.
Crouse didn’t address the legal cloud, but said his company is moving ahead, looking to diversify the sport and hire more locals. The company’s first task after taking over the course: to assure the current staff they can keep their jobs, he said — and “make everybody feel welcome.”
“These are great people,” Crouse said, adding that he plans to hire more staff “to make it a little more diverse and reflective of The Bronx.”
Bobby Jones Links also plans to add more instruction programs for adaptive golfers with disabilities and for young people, with the goal of making the sport accessible to all. The operator also will be teaming with Black Girls Golf and U.S. Kids Golf to help diversify who plays, Crouse said.
‘A Perfect Combination’
The Georgia-based operator wasn’t driving at a takeover of the Bronx course — until Jack Brown, the CEO of CORE Services Group, a major New York City homeless shelter operator, came calling with a proposition, Crouse said.
The center of Brown’s pitch: local hiring.
“Their hope was to provide a pipeline for their people and a mechanism for New Yorkers who need help, to find employment, and get training,” said Crouse, whose company got greenlighted last week for 13 years at the helm of the golf course and clubhouse in Throgs Neck.
“It seemed like a perfect combination.”
Crouse said that they formed a limited liability company evenly split between CORE and Bobby Jones Links. The team worked together on a business plan and submitted a joint application last summer.
Brown registered Ferry Point Links LLC in late August using CORE’s Brooklyn headquarters address, state records show.
But CORE Services Group pulled out of the deal just two days after THE CITY highlighted the nonprofit as the oddball winner of the no-bid contract.
Later that week, the New York Times published an investigation revealing that CORE was under city audit for steering city funds to related companies — earning Brown a million-dollar annual payday.
Bobby Jones Links had to pivot to a solo application, Crouse said, after the city Department of Parks and Recreation informed him that CORE had pulled out.
“Parks made us aware of that and said it’s probably best that they step out, and asked if we would want to do it,” he said.
‘That’s Our Expertise’
In 2020, CORE Services Group signed onto a city Certification Agreement that required audits of for-profit companies linked to Brown that received millions of government dollars under subcontracts.
A spokesman for the homeless-services provider said the non-profit is in good standing with the city but did not answer further questions about their involvement with the bid.
“The Certification Agreement details and requires specific deliverables, all of which CORE has met,” the spokesman said in a statement.
Crouse said they weren’t aware during their joint venture of any city contracting red flags on CORE Services.
“The plan was always for us to run the club, that’s our expertise,” Crouse told THE CITY.
After THE CITY revealed CORE’s role in leading the golf course bid, de Blasio said “I think there’s been some confusion” — and suggested the shelter group would play just a minor part.
“The organization that I think was described in that article is only working on some of the staffing. It is not the organization that’s operating the whole golf course,” he said at a late-September press briefing.
‘That Is a Joke’
CORE Services Group’s initial involvement in the franchise deal gave some city officials pause.
Bobby Jones Links got its 13-year approval last week from a city review panel solely with the support of de Blasio’s four appointees, Franchise and Concession Review Committee records show, with “no” votes from two other representatives.
As THE CITY reported last week, City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s appointee to the board voted no, calling the Bobby Jones pick a “rushed award” without sufficient details from Parks about how it evaluated proposals in the no-bid process.
Also giving the thumbs down was a rep for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who in this case was speaking on behalf of all of the city’s five borough presidents.
Other testimony submitted to the committee questioned whether the franchise board was authorized to move ahead with the scheduled vote after Parks removed the CORE-tied Ferry Point Links LLC from the proposed contract and substituted a Bobby Jones entity called Affiniti Ferry Point LLC.
“That is a joke,” testified Frank Raffaele, who said he had worked for the Parks Department under the late commissioner Henry Stern and also had held Parks food and beverage concessions.
Also testifying was Nicklaus Companies, the firm associated with Ferry Point course designer and golf legend Jack Nicklaus.
CEO John Reese also expressed concern last week over the city’s selection process, saying his company had not yet spoken with the Parks Department over the new operators.
The famed golfer has final say on the links, Crouse acknowledged, in order to mark them as an officially licensed Jack Nicklaus golf course. A spokeswoman for the Parks Department said both parties were communicating.
Crouse said Bobby Jones Links has a good relationship with Nicklaus Companies and understands the need to maintain a high-level course.
After a several month shutdown this winter, Bobby Jones Links is set to pay Parks a minimum of $300,000 a year for rights to run the links and clubhouse.