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Tribe tightens the financial spigot for Sequoyah National

Sequoyah National Golf Course, a signature course built and operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, is slowly being weaned from tribal subsidies that have helped prop up its operations since it opened several years ago.

This month, tribal council voted not to extend a $500,000 line of credit Sequoyah golf course has through the tribe to help cover budget shortfalls and emergency expenses — symbolizing tribal leaders’ sincerity in seeing the course become self-sufficient.

Ryan Ott, director of golf at Sequoyah National Golf Course, asked tribal council earlier this month to extend the course’s line of credit through fiscal year 2015. The line of credit was scheduled to expire in the fall of 2013.

“It is strictly there for, in case of emergencies,” Ott told the council. In the past, it has been used to pay for utilities or paychecks when cash flow was strained, Ott said.

The line of credit was originally setup to cover Sequoyah National’s budget shortfalls, but as it moves closer to profitability, the credit became a fall back for emergencies. The golf course is still not breaking even, however.

“We are getting closer though,” Ott said.

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In addition to the line of credit, the tribe gives the golf course an annual contribution to help keep it afloat. Last year, the amount was $1.2 million.

The course was built both to flesh out Cherokee’s tourism offerings and to provide tribal members with a form of recreation that was lacking.

Last year, tribal council members said they could not justify subsidizing the golf course for too much longer when other operations were forced to take budget cuts. Voting not to extend the expiration date on the line of credit shows tribal leaders intend to stick to their guns and start cutting off financial support for the course.

“After having the budget season that we’ve had, I don’t feel like we can support this,” Tribal Council Member B. Ensley said at the meeting earlier this month.

Without the line of credit, if an emergency arose, tribal council would have to vote to allocate additional money to the golf course.

“If they come to the tribe, the tribe is going to have to find money somewhere,” said Vice Chief Larry Blythe. The line of credit allowed the course to have access to emergency money without coming to tribal council first.

About this time last year, Ott said that the golf course was still about five years away from breaking even. In addition to the start-up costs associated with building the course, maintaining the luscious golf course year-round takes quite a bit of green.

Golf is all about the experience — skimping could cause a course to lose business. In late July, the golf course began selling beer, which has helped business.

“It’s definitely an experience enhancer,” Ott said.

Drinking alcohol is a common activity for recreational golfers. Other golf courses in Western North Carolina sell alcohol somewhere on the country club’s premises or allow people to bring alcohol onto the course with them.

In addition to adding alcohol sales, Principal Chief Michell Hicks in August made first mention of the possibility of building housing around Sequoyah National. Typically, golf courses are part of a larger business, such as a resort or real estate development. Profits made from home sales or room rentals are used to cover the costs associated with upkeep of the course itself.

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