So here we are, 1922 with a beautiful golf course, arguably one of the finest in Oregon though less than a dozen exist) set among the latest new high end development with streetcar access to all. As Keyser, stated it was an "excellent going concern."
But the Tax Commission led by F.W, Mulkey set a trap to trigger immediate payment the property for the back nine and put the entire golf course at risk for for a distressed sale at auction. If the City could not come up with the money then "he would find a buyer for it."
Ruh-oh! What to do? The City Charter forbids the council to raise any indebtedness that amounts to deficit spending. And while it's clear the land fair market value of the land of $3,000 exceeds the price of $1,000 that Murphy, President of the Ladd Estate Company, is agreed to sell the land, the City apparently cannot raise a bond measure to complete the purchase.
"But there is a key to every lock. This one would also require a combination" - James Keyser - reflecting on the plan to save the municipal golf links.
This is where it gets interesting... and while "reflecting on Mulkey's dictum that golf should be self-sustaining"... Keyser begins to play the role of the Ali Baba and sets his mind to figure out how to the "open sesame" magic words to save municipal golf links. After all the public demand and revenues from the greens fees have exceeded expectations, surely there is a way to raise debt on this future earnings?
This is where Keyser proves he his genius in law, politics, psychology and business. By scouring the City Charter, he discovers section 155, which lay as a dead letter, meaning no city business had ever been transacted pursuant to this law. Section 155 provided for:
"the taking over of public utilities by the municipal government in the discretion of the City Council in exchange for public utility certificates of indebtedness that were not to be reckoned as general obligations in the City's debt structure."
So let's get this straight... the City won't raise bond measure to finance the purchase of the remaining land and infrastructure, because it does not want to create any deficit spending. However, the charter does allow the City to "take over" public utilities (usually services such as water, gas, electric and sewer) in exchange for public utility certificates, which for accounting purposes will not be considered part ofthe City debts structure. EUREKA!
This could all be tidied up in 90 days ... if golf might be construed to be a public utility.
Of course that leaves the little obstacle to get the City Council to invoke its authority under Section 155 (for the first time ever) for the purpose of declaring municipal golf a public utility. This is where Keyser's mettle and tenacity really shine through. Through this process he would, in my eyes, earn a PHD in political theory, masters in business administration, a minor in human psychology and win over the court public opinion.
Plus a kiss from lady luck, as it all started with a great golf shot. The player was none other than C.A. Bigelow the most crucial lynchpin of the plan as the Commissioner of Finance. His blessing was necessary as the certificates would be issued and sold by his office. Apparently he was guardian of the city rating (which assured municipal bonds would fetch highest possible rates) and may not have agreed, where it not for this amazing tee shot at Eastmoreland just a few weeks earlier "made the 10th hole in one shot from the tee." Unlike the documented Shot for the Ages, this miracle took place on the 10th hole, which at the time 1921, it was actually Hole #11. (Further posts will talk about the changing of the order of the back 9 - sometime in the 1950's, to make the old #18 to become the new #10 and then going around in the same order with old #10 as the new #11)
Given that the #10 hole of 1921 as well as the current #11 hole is a dogleg par 5 - it's technically possible to drive the green in one shot though it would be a ripping slice (the type a rank amatuer might hit - I might add). Still getting a hole in one on a par 5 would probably be in the newspaper, so we will look into this further. At the very least he hit a boomer and had a putt for double eagle, which itself is almost as unbelievable. What's interesting is the author mentions his love of goal was not purely "by accident" so it's a wonder if maybe he happened upon a nice set of clubs - some lessons from the early club members. After all it's nice having the Commissioner of Finance on your side (and may explain how they "happened" upon $40,000 over the prior 4 years).
With Bigelow on board and ready have his office do it's part to keep the hallowed fairways a going concern, the next challenge was to sell to to George Baker, Portland's Mayor. His reaction was unsurprising "Are you crazy?" and Keysers deadpanned response, "No, serious." So he send Keyser on down the road to speak with the City Attorney would would have to, at the very least, issue an opinion that golf can be construed as a public utility before the City Commissions could pass such a measure.
The City Attorney Frank Grant found the idea preposterous. From a rational standpoint he has a point - this Section 155 was certainly meant for municipal services, the type that are required for a modern city to function. The loophole is designed for City Council to intervene to make sure the city doesn't cease operations and die and golf certainly does not qualify. Yet, from a golfer's standpoint it's clear Frank never heard the birds chirping in spring, the smell of fresh cut grass or the music from Augusta announcing the start of the Masters on TV (which to Frank's credit not exist - nor Agusta for that matter) that compells you to book a tee time that very Sunday - or you'll just keel over and die.
"Are you crazy?" Portland's Mayor George Baker upon learning of Keyser's scheme to construe golf as a public utility.
Here we are: facing a sudden demand for $95,000 that we are unable to satisfy: in possession of as fine and well appointed a golf course as one might covet, on with $135,000 of a projected $230,000 had been expended; a most excellent going concern; a facility for the use and benefit of an appreciative public. Murphy, who claimed he could have done better everything considered, had he written off the land as a gift to the city in 1916, rather than paying carrying charges on it over a period of six years, declined to temporize further. In the meanwhile, incidentally, he had sold 18 improved Acres of adjoining land for $3,000 per acre, which goes to show that his demand for $1,000 per acre was not avaricious. When Mulkey clamped the lid, he demanded $95,000 in cash or equivalent for the land occupied by the second 9 holes of golf that we had built in anticipation of ultimate ownership, or else he would find a buyer for it. The prospect was grim. The City Charter forbade the City Council to engage in deficit spending, and there was a fixed limit on bonded indebtedness even if we could have stalled along until such time as bonds might have been issued for the purpose.
But there is a key to every lock. This one would also require the working of a combination. Reflecting on the Mulkey's dictum that golf should be self-sustaining the superintendent of parks figured if he had a revenue getting going concern there ought to be a way out, and that the City's credit should be somehow made available in this exigency. Searching through the City Charter he came across a brief section in only 2 paragraphs; this Section 155 had therefore never been marked, and lay is a dead letter, which provided for taking over of Public Utilities by municipal government in the discretion of the City Council in exchange for public utility certificates of indebtedness and they were not to be reckoned as General Obligations of the city's debt structure that is: they would be outside the municipal Corporation statutory bonded indebtedness limit. The deal could be all tidied up in 90 days by special ordinance V golf might be construed to constitute a utility and if Murphy would bide a wee and accept the utility certificates in lieu of cash. He first took this Eureka to C.A. Bigelow, Commissioner of Finance.
Bigelow was a rather cagey watchdog of the treasury and also jealous of the credit rating the City of Roses and he may not have been persuaded if it had not chanced, like fitted in magic, that he recently as a rank amateur in golf made the 10th hole in one shot from the tee.
It had not been altogether by chance that he had been put in a way of being bitten by the bug, however. He chimed, “That's an idea! Why not? Go sell it to George.” (Baker, the Mayor). Said George “Are you crazy?” Keyser, “No, serious.” Baker, “Well,l go take it to Frank.” Frank Grant the City attorney thought it preposterous and declined to consider it seriously. Again Keyser's hopes were dashed, but he went to work on the combination. He went over to the University Club and sat at lunch in next to his friend lawyer friend Bill Johnson, and Johnson listened. First he said maybe, then yes after pondering the question for 24 hours. Now Frank Grant on his record with as good and able a City Attorney as a City has any need of, but Keyser happen to know that he felt he was wasting his time and talents in the humdrum of City Hall. Throughout Frank’s never brilliant career he cherished an ambition to be a member of the top-flight firm Corporation lawyers as was Johnson.