Monday, August 08, 2005

Various possibilities suggest bright future for Golf Club

By Gary Tasman THE BREEZE August 6, 2005

Like the property itself, last week's column on The Golf Club generated a great deal of interest from area residents, particularly nearby homeowners, Some of them directed me to a Web site devoted to sharing information, thoughts and ideas about the club. Established by Cape Coral real estate agent Mary Neilson, features links to newspaper articles about the club, and invites readers to post their thoughts, and comments concerning its future and potential sale.
I'd also like to thank reader Paul Sanborn, who wanted me to clarify that while the golf course's first nine holes debuted in 1963, the clubhouse did not open until 1967. I have no doubt that Mr. Sanborn is absolutely correct, as he is president of the Cape Coral Historical Society/Museum and official historian for the City of Cape Coral. Please accept my apologies for any confusion - and keep those calls and e-mails coming!
As I discussed last week, that golf course needs to stay a golf course. It's much more of an asset to the Cape than if it were developed as an academic complex or used for anything other than its original purpose. However, for it to remain a golf course, it must become a solid, supportable economic venture, not the money pit that its current owners report. As promised, here are highlights of just some of the possible options that could restore The Golf Club's economic viability.
City Involvement. Although some people have suggested that the city get involved in an ownership capacity, I don't believe that it needs to be in the golf course business or any business other than governmental. The city needs to support the club philosophically and help promote it in the context of its tourism and economic development efforts, but I think that club ownership needs to be a private sector function. If the current owners can't make it profitable, then why should taxpayers foot the bill? Typically, such "solutions" end up costing residents substantially in the long run. And if you don't believe me, just look how much it has cost the City of Fort Myers to keep a restaurant going at the Fort Myers Country Club. At least that's a public golf course (not that it makes the city's ongoing assistance any more palatable to taxpayers).
Improvements. Many residents, builders and developers have visions of making Cape Coral "the next Naples" without considering one of Naples' star attractions: its lush and lavish golf courses. For that reason, significant, additional upgrades are necessary at The Golf Club. Although Scott Siler has made more than $4 million of improvements to the course since he bought the club in 2001, the facility is still not up to current country club standards.
If it hopes to ever reflect an upscale golf community and compete with better courses in south Lee County and Naples, additional upgrades are mandatory. One of the first things the owners should do is demolish the old clubhouse and build a state-of-the-art facility with renovated pools, an upgraded restaurant and possibly, an expanded pro shop. Additional landscaping and continued improvements to the course would also make the club a lot more appealing.
Of course, this will mean increasing the membership and greens fees (which some golfers complain are already too high). However, in order to the make the club attractive to major golf tournaments in the future, price hikes are inevitable.
Increased Density. Besides presenting a more attractive amenities package, the club would benefit from increased density around the golf course. That's where I see the city getting involved. In the foreseeable future, I predict the city council will approve additional development around the club, as well as taller buildings (70 feet or higher vs. the current 35-foot cap). Further, it will probably offer financial incentives to encourage the owners to improve the club.

Sale to Private Developers. Sometimes, it takes an experienced, well-capitalized developer to turn around an unprofitable property. For example, in the mid-1990’s, development of River’s Edge, a country club community in Fort Myers, was at a standstill until WCI transformed it into the prestigious, gated community of Gulf Harbour Yacht and Country Club.

The Golf Club could enjoy a similar rejuvenation, now that the county school board is out of the picture. Although the property is not officially on the market, developer Gary Fluharty, one of the club’s previous owners, has expressed interest in buying back the golf course and keeping it as a resort. Although nothing specific has been proposed, Fluharty’s preliminary plans reportedly include a hotel and other amenities. That would certainly help breathe new life into the club.

Regardless of who buys the property, I think you’ll see redevelopment occur all around the golf course. I expect that many of the older houses around there will be torn down and replaced by much larger, more expensive homes – much like what’s happened all along Southwest Florida’s waterfront. As a result, property values in and around the club will probably skyrocket. Ultimately, the city will benefit by collecting more taxes and local residents will retain one of the area’s crown jewels.

Gary Tasman is a commercial real estate advisor with VIP Commercial-TCN Worldwide in Fort Myers. For more information, please contact him at (239) 489-3303 Ext. 214 or