Saturday, February 17, 2007


Fate of closed golf course to be discussed at town hall meeting


Two large trucks full of chicken and ribs stood at the entrance as people crowded into the newly built clubhouse. The champagne poured, and for that New Year’s Eve night in 1967, the few residents who purchased memberships attended the opening of the Cape Coral County Club, the new golf course constructed in the middle of a not-so-densely populated town.

“It was gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous,” recalls Grace Raso, whose husband Joe became the first club champion that year. “We didn’t even have to pay anything in the beginning.”

Now-a-days it should be celebrating it’s 40th birthday, but Cape Coral’s first premier facility sits vacant, a shadow of its former self.

“It tears me apart,” said Paul Sanborn, the first general manager of the course. “It was always so beautiful and now it’s devastating.”

The property sits on Country Club Road between Palm Tree Boulevard and Wildwood Parkway where many homes and condominiums overlook the once lush greens
It’s current owner, Scott Siler, closed the property down in December 2006 after incurring almost $4 million in losses in the five years he owned the property. It was owned by the Avatar corporation before that, which purchased it from Gulf American Land Corporation in the late 1970s.

District 4 Councilmember Dolores Bertolini will hold a town hall meeting from 6:30-8:30 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 21, at the Cape Coral Association of Realtors, 918 S.E. 46th Lane, in Club Square. to discuss the possibility of the city of Cape Coral purchasing the land.

Recently, the city council funded two appraisals of the value of the land. The city also completed a feasibility study with four possible options for use of the property.

The council will consider all these options during a workshop meeting set for 3 p.m., Monday, Feb. 26.

The first appraisal, completed at the end of December 2006, calls for the city to pay $28 million to the current owners of the property and use the land for, “the highest and best use of the site.” This option recommends the property for vacant residential development, “due to the high demand for land in the Cape Coral and Southwest Florida Market.”

The second appraisal came in last week and estimated the value of the land at $13.8 million if a golf course reopened on the property. This estimate also includes the potential to develop a resort hotel.

The feasibility study conducted in mid-December gives four possible options to fully use the land. They are:

n The city purchasing the entire property and operating it as a park or golf course.

n The city purchasing the property by selling surplus lands in other areas to help finance the sale.

n The city owning and operating a golf course on the land, with the private sector developing a resort hotel.

n A private entity purchasing the land and developing a resort hotel and golf course with city incentives.

With a city divided over what to do with a big, open space, the memory of better days is fading into the sunset for the once pristine greens.

“It was a sales tool to sell property in Cape Coral,” Sanborn said. “The course was in excellent condition, always.”

In 1972, the National Collegiate Athletics Association held its championship tournament at the club. It was the first time they played it in Florida, and future golf legends Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw teed off as part of the field. Over the years, many junior golf tournaments graced the greens and Ladies Professional Golf Association founder Patty Berg used to play rounds under the sun.

John McAlary, whose backyard has touched the driving range on the course for 23 years said he wants the club to return to its full form, but without the city at the helm.

“They haven’t been successful at Coral Oaks, so I don’t think they have the ability to run a profitable golf association,” McAlary said, referring to the city-run golf course in the northwest Cape. “They buy it, and then you lease it to somebody who is in that business, and you give them tax benefits or whatever.”

The property is currently not for sale on the open market. Siler said he is giving the city time to decide what it wants to do with their appraisals, but thinks the golf club has run its course.

“We think it’s time to do something else with the property,” Siler said. “Its failed as a golf course, and the city staff agrees.”

Mayor Eric Feichthaler, who used to shoot the pars with his grandfather, said he would like to keep it a golf course, but without the use of city funds.

“Our No. 1 priority is to find a private developer to purchase the course,” Feichthaler said. “I would feel uncomfortable using taxpayer dollars for such a facility.”

District 2 councilmember Richard Stevens said that it’s mostly those who live on the property that would like to see it re-open as a golf course.

“For the people who live right on it to keep hammering us about purchasing it to keep it a golf course, well they should get together, find out what the cost is and divide it up and buy it,” Stevens said. “ I see no reason for the city to spend a lot of money when we have other projects to build. Future generations might say we missed a great opportunity.”

Still, some long for the simpler days when the property was all they knew.

“We lived in that golf club every single day,” Raso said. “Now, I haven’t even driven by it in a while.”

The book “The Other Side of the River” by Betsy Zeiss sums up the feelings of the time towards the opening of the recreational marvel.

“Membership in the attractive Cape Coral Country Club had an unbelievably modest price tag, and saunas numbered among the features in a spread that offered the usual amenities of golf, tennis, swimming, a restaurant and a bar. The Landscaping, to top it all off, was magnificent.”