Friday, April 24, 2009

Cape Coral golf course rehab pricey

Repairs likely to cost $1 million or more

By Brian Liberatore • • April 24, 2009

The next owner of The Golf Club in Cape Coral can expect to pump about $1 million into the course to make it playable.

Golf course rehabilitation experts say the owner may have to replant the entire 175-acre course - or at least the fairways and greens - which have been left to the weeds for the past 2 1/2 years.

"It's not prohibitively expensive to get the golf course up and running again," said John Jacobsen, director of the Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency, which is looking to purchase and rehabilitate the closed course. "It's still a golf course. It's not as easy mowing and playing it. But it's not as hard as building a new course."

The single largest expense on a golf course, said Lakeland golf designer Ron Garl, is the irrigation system. And The Golf Club's irrigation system was replaced as part of a complete renovation in 2001.

"There were brand new pumps stations and everything was new when we did it," said Brad Moretti, who runs Titan Golf Services in Fort Myers. Moretti oversaw the rehabilitation of the course when he worked with Highland Golf in 2001. "The irrigation system is probably functional."

Without the expense of irrigation lines, which could run about $1 million, the cost of rehabilitating the course lies in replacing the grass.

"Once it's laid fallow (uncultivated) for so many years, it's got so many garbage plants and weeds, you really need to re-grass it," said Moretti.

Garl, who has rehabilitated courses across the country, said a lawnmower might do a lot of the work outside the fairways.

"Mowing is going to kill 70 percent of the weeds," Garl said. "The rest we can kill with herbicides. You're going to get it pretty clean even without the replant (of the grass)."

Planting the fairways, tees and greens, rehabbing the landscaping and other maintenance work could cost up to $1 million, Garl said. Burch said his research showed the rehabilitation costing about $1.2 million.

The rehabilitation of a fallow 18-hole course in Casselberry, near Orlando, cost $1.5 million in 2002. A complete overhaul of the Eastwood Golf Course in Fort Myers in 2008 cost $1.5 million.

Renovations could take about two months, Moretti said, with another three months for the grass to grow.

The golf course - Cape Coral's oldest - hasn't seen playable greens since July 2006. Florida Gulf Ventures LLC closed the course after losing $3 million in five years. Unable to find a buyer, the company tried and failed to change the land use to allow for a mixed-use development. The clubhouse was torn down and the course neglected.

The CRA stepped forward last year with a plan to break the deadlock and bring The Golf Club under municipal control.

"The goal," Burch said, "is to restore a championship golf course that's been a part of our history, that's been a part of our economic engine."

Part of making the course viable includes replacing the clubhouse with a multiple-use facility - one that could accommodate conferences, weddings and large events.

In a down economy, with golf courses struggling around the country, Garl said courses need other amenities to stay viable.

Building the structure, Burch said, is the next step after making the course playable.

The CRA, Jacobsen said, has no desire "to be in the hotel business." The agency would look to a developer to work with the city to build and operate a facility on the course.

"We want to bring in as many private developers as we can. This whole thing is about helping the area grow, helping businesses grow," Jacobsen said.

While hope is building the CRA's plans could come to fruition, there are several steps facing the agency. The City Council must approve the expansion of the CRA district and the course's owners have to agree on a sale price.

The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit dedicated to land preservation, is negotiating on behalf of the CRA. The Trust and investors with Florida Gulf Ventures, LLC have brought in an appraiser to settle on a price.

"To me this is as important as it gets for this city," Burch said. "I believe it can be a very pivotal economic tool for us. I just hope people don't lose sight of this."