The developer who is currently pursuing the purchase and development of West End Golf Course is justifying his actions on the presumption that the golf course industry as a whole and West End specifically, have seen declining play and interest and in turn have become unprofitable. Therefore, the only path forward is to develop the land with 487 homes and apartments, an 80-room hotel and retail stores.
This broad characterization of West End is incorrect and quite frankly disingenuous to the tens of thousands of individuals in the community that have enjoyed learning and playing the game of golf at West End for over 50 years. There is no question that West End became unprofitable. That downturn occurred around 2014 when there was a change in management coupled with a deliberate strategy by the owner to stop any significant investments in maintaining the golf course, equipment and facilities. The owner’s strategy worked very well as it only took a few years for the course and driving range to fall into disrepair and become unplayable. The owner then became positioned to leverage a false narrative of a bad economy and declining interest and play to support his intention of selling the property for development.
The owner never had any interest in selling the property as a golf course, given he turned down several offers that would have kept it as a golf course.
Property value for development is 3-4 times greater than that for recreational use.
Success or failure in the world of golf is very situational. There are countless examples of the growing interest in golf, especially youth golf across the county. Traditional large golf courses/county clubs are making way for smaller 18 or even 9 hole courses that are more affordable and geared toward those new to the game or simply want a quicker, less expensive round of golf.
West End was able to sustain itself for over 50 years because it fit a niche in the golf market in this area. The following are examples that demonstrate and underpin the success and viability of West End Golf Course for over 50 years:
- The only lighted golf course and practice area in the region.
- The business regularly returned a profit. At its peak, averaging $250,000 per year. To that end, the owners were able to pay off their mortgage ahead of schedule.
- The driving range was the best in town and encompassed eight acres and entailed 22 hitting mats and one grass section that handled an additional 18 players. Range balls were sold in large, medium and warm up baskets. Range memberships were available. The range had nine target areas for aiming purposes. The driving range generated $300-$500 per day.
- There were six golf leagues (men’s, women’s, and co-ed) supported by various organizations throughout the year.
- Lessons were available and provided by five outside instructors.
- Several area high schools used West End for competitive play. Newberry High School used it as their home course.
- The Gator Junior Golf Association, a non-profit entity supporting youth golf instruction and life lesson learning was a key stakeholder to West End. They started with 25 youth golfers a few years ago and quickly grew to 200. West End was a key central location to support their program in providing access to practice facilities, play days and tournaments.
- Golf tournaments were held on a regular basis that involved local corporate sponsorships that supported a number of local charities and community efforts.
- West End had a long-standing relationship with Santa Fe Community College that facilitated adult education / golf lessons at the course for many years.
- Food and beverage were available and supported at the course snack bar. There was a limited menu of light grill food and snacks along with a variety of beverages. The snack bar accommodated / sat 50 patrons and served as a great venue for leagues to assemble before and after rounds as well as hosting tournaments and youth programs.
- The pro shop supported a merchandise section that sold an assortment of golf accessories, clothing, hats, shoes and clubs. The pro shop also handled basic club repair and re-gripping services.
- A few years prior to closing, West End added Footgolf facilities that allowed a soccer-style game intermingled with traditional golf. The Footgolf program at West End enjoyed some early growth and earned a tournament rating from the American Footgolf League and attracted tournament players from as far away as Miami. Although the Footgolf program had potential to grow, the facilities and promotions that supported it were abandoned before it could be fully realized.
Past performance can, in some cases, be a good indicator of future outcomes. The fact that West End Golf Club was able to sustain itself for 50 years is a good indicator. Despite the previously noted financial downturn due to owner ineffectiveness, there are significant positive elements to this property and potential future land use strategies that can be leveraged to make it a thriving asset to the community, for example:
- The property is located in one of the most rapidly developing areas in Alachua County. There are thousands of homes, townhouses and apartments currently under construction within a 5-mile radius of the property. All these new residents will need recreational / greenspace.
- A creative plan can find an appropriate and sustainable balance between the needs of a highly developing area and the benefits of maintaining key recreational and green space areas for the general public.
- Community greenspace and recreational facilities, to include a youth education and community event center could add tremendous value to the community.
- Pursuing a recreational / greenspace strategy aligns well with the Alachua County Comprehensive Land Use Plan in that it incorporates eight of the county’s 15 land use elements.
Paul Hornby is an Assistant Instructor for the Gator Junior Golf Association which is a 501(c)3 non-profit youth development program that focuses on teaching golf skills and life skills through the game of golf.