Beer sales OK'd for park golfers

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Marshall County's Beer Board this week voted to permit beer sales at the Henry Horton State Park golf course pro shop snack bar, a step that was seen as a "formality" by a county commissioner.

If an applicant meets all the criteria for a permit, then the Beer Board's responsibility is to be sure that's so and then issue the permit, according to Beer Board discussion with County Attorney Ginger Shofner.

Beer sales might begin in about a month, state officials said after the unanimous vote by the Beer Board.

The golf course at Henry Horton State Park is the third state park course that's to sell beer for golfers and others visiting those courses, according to Andy Lyon, the assistant commissioner for state parks' hospitality services in the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

"It will be sold at the pro shop and it will be dispensed at the snack bar where you buy your Cokes, sandwiches, hamburgers and snacks," Lyon said in a telephone interview Thursday. "It's a full service snack bar."

Within the last 12 months two of the state's Jack Nicholas Signature Golf Course pro shops have started selling beer, the assistant commissioner said. They are Bear Trace at Cumberland Mountain State Park near Crossville and Bear Trace at Harrison Bay State Park in Hamilton County.

"We're not advertising the fact," Lyon said. "We're hoping sales will increase this summer, but we have noticed an increase in snack bar sales. While it's not a large amount at this time, we're looking for it to be an additional revenue stream for our golf courses.

"We're starting off on the golf courses that are eternal to the state parks," he said, referring to the fact that at the state park south of Chapel Hill, U.S. 31A (Horton Highway) passes through the park with the golf course to the west and the park's restaurant and lodge on the east side of the highway.

So, at Chapel Hill, where the town's Board of Mayor and Aldermen adopted ordinances to permit beer sales by the drink at restaurants, the state park is laid out in a way that's similar to the parks at Crossville and in Hamilton County.

"They have an entrance that's external to the park entrance," Lyons said. "It's not necessarily a criteria that will hold true" throughout the state park system as requests for beer sale permits are sought.

"We're experimenting with a step to make sure we'll have the revenue to sustain our parks into the future," the assistant commissioner said.

Marshall County Commissioner Scottie Poarch opened the Beer Board meeting in the Courthouse Annex on Monday evening when county leaders reported comments from constituents on the subject.

Apparently a husband and wife visited the Courthouse Annex to voice opposition, the Board was told.

Commissioner Billy Spivey said one person he spoke with was for the permit and two others simply said they had "no problem" with the idea of beer sales to golfers at the course.

The remainder of the people advising Spivey of their opinion were "adamantly against it," the commissioner said.

There were various reason which he summarized as a preference for maintaining the family atmosphere at the park's restaurant.

"One said he takes his family there on Sundays," Spivey said.

The distinction between beer sales at the park restaurant and the pro shop snack bar became clear later in the meeting.

Beer would be sold on the other side of the highway, Commissioner Larry McKnight said.

Furthermore, the Board is restricted to consider health and welfare issues, he said.

Nevertheless, "I was surprised," McKnight said. "I always thought state parks were devoid of alcoholic beverages.'

The county attorney then reviewed laws applicable to the Board.

"The Board has discretion within parameters," Shofner said. "But, it's more to the issue of doing background checks on the employees."

And since her review of the codes and laws, she reported that she was 'surprised" that Marshall County has not adopted regulations designating prescribed distances between alcoholic beverage sales and various institutions which might include churches and schools.

"So a distance rule would not apply," Shofner said. "And even if they did, they (opponents) would have to be here" at the meeting.

She reviewed case law on the subject and reported moral objections are not a useful point to prevent issuance of beer sale permits.

There are aspects of the law that would sustain an objection to permits, she said. One is if the location has a history of crime.

Commissioner Jimmy Wolaver confirmed his understanding of the proposal - that the golf course would be selling the beer. That's true, according to Lyon and discussion during the meeting that indicated beer would be carried onto the course by golfers.

However, the pro shop won't have waiters "setting up" beer sales at the greens, according ton discussion between the commissioners and the three state officials at the meeting.

Lyon attended with Rusty Jones, a hospitality assistant at Henry Horton State Park, and Jim Webb, the director of golf administration for the state.

Spivey pointed out that as state property, Henry Horton State Park does not generate property tax revenue for the county. Lyon replied that the park's administration will charge sales tax, including a beer sales tax, and that will generate a revenue stream that the state must share with the county.

Lyons added that he's aware that there's a occupancy tax on motel room rentals that applies to the park's lodge and cabins. His point was that if more people stay at the park, there would be more revenue for the county.

McKnight moved to approve issuance of the permit. The vote was unanimous and Spivey commented, "This was a formality. What other vote could we have?"