Tavares should run from request to buy golf course

Article Courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel

By Lauren Ritchie     

Published June 5, 2017


Residents at Baytree Villas want Tavares to buy an 18-hole golf course in their development that closed last week without explanation and run it as a “first-class facility.”

Talk about really bad ideas. Municipal golf courses typically cost taxpayers a small fortune because of what analysts call “persistent unprofitability.” This is one offer the city can afford to refuse.

Instead, city officials are going to crunch the numbers involved in the course off Dead River Road and report back to City Council members. There’s a second perfectly good opportunity to just say no.

“Are you buying a governmental asset for all citizens to benefit from and participate in the cost, or an asset for a very few and then charge a reasonable fee?” City Administrator John Drury asked. “That’s the balancing act.”

It’s not like Drury to miss a third obvious option: The city buys the course and unceasingly pours money into it — until the council gives up and sells it for whatever it can get. Perhaps that is why the course closed Saturday — a spokeswoman for the owners refused to provide any information, and the real-estate agent handling the sale said he wasn’t at liberty to talk about the course’s finances.

Baytree Executive Golf Course closed Saturday, just as the community's homeowner association asked the city of Tavares to buy it for more than $1 million.


In 2003 — the year after the number of golfers in the U.S. peaked — folks who played a now-defunct golf course at the Silver Lake Country Club behind Lake-Sumter State College wanted Leesburg to buy it before it went belly up. Even Leesburg, a city known for embracing just about every ill-conceived, expensive idea that comes its way, took a pass.

Since the late 1990s, municipal golf courses have been tanking all over the country — unless they are supported by taxpayer dollars. Let’s look at the closest ones.

Ocala, 34 miles from Baytree, owns four of them — three at one location and one at a second. Last year’s budget shows they had to be bailed out to the tune of $777,481, and that’s just to break even, not to make money.

Mount Dora owns a golf club seven miles to the east of Tavares that is run by the golf club with which the city contracts. The city gets either 5 percent of the course’s profits or 5 percent of the amount of its utility bills. This year it was $40,488, calculated off utility bills. Those who have played the course rate its maintenance poorly, according to online reviews.

Baytree course owners declined to be interviewed or provide information, but Drury said the owners would rather sell the property to developers than to any buyer, including the city, who wants to run it as a course. Apparently, the 89 acres are worth more without the course because the city gave permission in the early 1990s for 118 more homes on the land. The asking price is $1.18 million or about $13,258 per acre.

The listing agent for the course, Rick Gonzalez, said four development groups are researching the property and considering whether to purchase it. While they are talking about developing it all, Gonzalez said he thinks there could be room for a developer to build some houses and still keep nine holes of golf.

Drury suggested another compromise — three local homeowner associations in developments close to Baytree could band together to buy and operate the course.

Of course, it’s much better when the city will just step up and buy it. Unfortunately, Tavares would have to borrow, pay interest and then dump cash into the operation to make it run efficiently. That would be OK if the city had enough demand.

Otherwise, Tavares should run the other way. Too many cities are getting into businesses that compete with private operations. Tavares has gone far enough in that direction.