The Real Deal Miami

Falling popularity of golf forces a change of course

Some golf club owners are turning to resort-style amenities that appeal to non-golfers

November 28, 2015 10:30AM

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The Bonaventure golf course.

The Bonaventure golf course.

Florida has more than 1,000 golf courses, more than any other state, but the sport is undergoing an upheaval that has shrunk some courses and closed others. In South Florida, developers are building houses and condos on the former grounds of some golf courses.

Nationwide, 130 to 160 golf courses are closing every 12 months, and the trend will persist for the next several years, according to the National Golf Foundation. The foundation calculates that the number of golfers in the United States has fallen by four million in the last decade.

Many private golf clubs have stayed in business by reducing membership fees, reducing the number of golf holes, and introducing non-golf amenities.

For example, Mark Schmidt, owner of the Woodmont Golf Club in Tamarac, plans to reduce the 36 holes to 18 and to build a commercial center spanning 4.5 acres plus 152 single-family homes on the property. Schmidt also told the New York Times that his golf club also will be getting a new clubhouse, fitness center and swimming pool.

“Without these adjustments, golf would be in desperate trouble,” he told the Times. “This is an absolute necessity.”

A $50 million renovation of the Boca West Country Club, home to about 6,000 residents, includes construction of a new activities center spanning 150,000 square feet and upgraded fairways.

Michelle F. Tanzer, a Boca Raton attorney whose clients include developers and owners of resorts, told the Times that Boca West is adapting well to the new business reality of golf: “They’re spending a fortune on making the place family-friendly. It’s home run.”

Jay DiPietro, the president and general manager of Boca West, said the problems at other golf clubs center on bad management and a misguided emphasis on “the business of selling houses.”

At Boca West, which charges new members $70,000 to join, “we’re in the people-pleasing business,” DiPietro said told the Times. “These people paid a lot to be here.”

Oliver K. Hedge, a golf course appraiser with Cushman & Wakefield, said many closures have involved public golf courses and semi-private courses that have membership programs but allow non-members to play by paying a fee.

Hedge also said luxury golf courses are experiencing a revival, citing $20 million of renovations at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter and $250 million of fix-ups at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa in Miami-Dade County, now known as Trump National Doral. Presidential candidate and developer Donald J. Trump added both South Florida properties to his portfolio of golf courses in 2012. [New York Times] — Mike Seemuth