Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Last round Monday at Golf Club

Course could become housing development

Originally posted on July 25, 2006

No miracle, last-minute deal appears in the works to save The Golf Club.

This is the final week for Cape Coral's first golf course, which opened in 1961. It will officially close around 6 p.m. Monday.

"Absent Donald Trump walking in, we are fully prepared to close," said managing partner Scott Siler, who runs the place. "We have no offers. Nothing is happening between now and the end of the month."

What a shame.

I played the course Sunday and was reminded on each hole how much I believe this is a place worth saving.

It shouldn't become another 175 acres of homes — single-family, condos or apartments.

It's a golf course — full of life, full of memories, full of dreams.

What amazed me most is how, despite over 14 inches of rain this month — most of that, I think in the last 10 days — this course was surviving.

Greens were almost perfect. Yeah, the fairways were wet and rain-made ponds were everywhere, but you could play.

You also had to wonder what was going to happen to the wildlife. Once the grass starts to grow high and the many ponds start to become overgrown with weeds, where will the ducks, gators and many other birds go?

"We are not going to let the grass get waist-high, and it won't end up looking like the Congo," Siler said. "It may not get cut once a week."

Siler will liquidate things like the golf carts, course-maintenance equipment and kitchen equipment, as well as tables and chairs from the clubhouse. He has some buyers lined up.

He said people are welcome to ask for souvenirs, like the tee markers, flags, any pictures or even a clump of grass.

Siler is resolved that he can't financially hang on any longer. He's lost $3 million over the last five years and has a total debt on the place of around $15 million.

"Nobody loves this place more than me," he said. "I just don't think it makes economic sense. It could make economic sense to offer it as an exclusive club. To say it can continue on, as is, is unrealistic."

There will be one final Sunday brunch this week. "We will be cleaning out the coolers," Siler said.

Staff also plans to shave the greens down for the weekend, so putts will roll like they are on a tabletop.

Then at 6 p.m. Monday, when the final golfer finishes, the flag on the 18th green is slipped back into the hole and the cart barn locked, there will be no more golf played at The Golf Club.

Siler plans a small party for staff once play is finished. I am sure there will be plenty of hugs and many tears.

Not all the lights will be out in the clubhouse. Some employees of the Banyan Trace condo development will remain in the clubhouse because their sales office is there.

Surveyors also will be on the course next week, looking at property lines to help determine refinancing through a different bank, Siler said.

"We are not changing hands, just changing banks," Siler said.

As Siler continues to look for a buyer, maybe there is some financial wiggle room for the city to come in, buy the property and at least turn part of it into a park.

I think the worst possible scenario for this property is for it to become another area of homes.

— Tom Hayden is Cape Coral editor of The News-Press. E-mail: thayden@news-press.com