Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Golf Club’s buildings gone this week

By Don Ruane
Originally posted on June 26, 2007

Demolition begins today with cart barn

Once the social center of Cape Coral in the 1960s and 1970s, the clubhouse at The Golf Club will be torn down Thursday.

The cart barn at the golf course facility will be the first to go, starting today.

“Boy oh boy oh boy,” sighed Paul Sanborn, general manager of the clubhouse for its first two years.

“We opened in 1967 on New Year’s Eve. We sold drinks for 50 cents,” Sanborn said. “There was a New Year’s Eve party every year.”

When Benchmark Construction workers and their equipment roll in today to start the demolition, those parties will only be a memory.
“Our intention is to go from the cart barn over to the clubhouse without missing a stroke,” said company President Mark Anderson, who still has an ownership interest in the property.

He is part of a group of investors who bought the property in 2001 and then went into a partnership last year with Florida Gulf Ventures LLC.

When heavy equipment rips into the buildings, it’ll also rip into the history of the city as well.

The building was a focal point in many ways.

“It was an outstanding meeting place at one time,” Sanborn said. “My Rotary Club met there for 20 years.”

Families held celebrations there.

“My oldest daughter’s wedding was there,” Sanborn said.

The facilities were upscale for the time, with a large banquet hall on the second floor.

There were dinner dances, valet and concierge services, a lobby done in Brazilian rosewood and crystal chandeliers illuminated the dining room. Stars who appeared or performed there included Count Basie, Roy Rogers, John Cameron Swayze and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.

The second-floor banquet area was eventually closed, but a restaurant, bar and pro shop remained on the first floor.

The course, which first opened in 1961, and a 100-room hotel were built by the Gulf American Land Corp. as a way to entice people to buy land in Cape Coral

The demolition plan brought back the memory of another Gulf American building that met a similar fate in 1998, Sanborn said. That was the four-story office building at Cape Coral Parkway and Del Prado Boulevard that once was Gulf American’s home office.

But the once-proud course, the first in the city and host of the 1972 NCAA golf championship, struggled financially, losing millions before it closed in July of 2006.

Now the land is barely recognizable as a golf course. High grass and weeds present a stark contrast to the once manicured fairways and greens that proved such a challenge for 1972 NCAA co-medalists Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw.

But razing the clubhouse may be the first step in a plan to make the land more attractive to buyers for owner, Florida Gulf Ventures and its partners.

“I’m sad and disappointed that it didn’t work,” said Anderson. “We want to make it an asset to the city.”

The owners have asked the city to expand the uses allowed on the property from single family and recreation to include multi-family, retail and office space.

Save Our Recreation president Mary Neilson said the loss of the buildings might make it easier for her group of residents and businesspeople to achieve their goal.

They want golf restored to the property.

“The investors let it deteriorate to point where something has be done about it. Hopefully it clears the way for a buyer to come in and look at it as an 18-hole golf course and resort,” Neilson said.

A $28 million bid to buy the 178-acre facility and redevelop it as a golf course resort was rejected by the owners last week.

Banyan Trace condominium owner Robert Elliott of Atlanta said he doesn’t know if the demolition will be an improvement or not.

“It doesn’t do any good to have the buildings sitting there idle and deteriorating. Anything that elevates the value of my property is what interests me,” said Elliott.

He wants the land use to stay the same and to see a golf course resort with a hotel developed, Elliott said.

The demolition process will take three to four weeks.