The owners of the Golden Gate Country Club have offered to sell the 160-acre golf course property. Here's what you should know. Megan Kearney, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kova Golf Management and The First Tee of Naples/Collier were hoping Collier County commissioners would give the Golden Gate Country Club property a best-of-both-worlds scenario Tuesday.
Commissioners did just that, voting 4-1 to continue the existence of the 54-year-old course, one of the few truly public ones in Collier County. The facility, also known as the Quality Inn & Suites Golf Resort, may not stay 18 holes. Commissioners voted to have Davidson Engineering look at how to put a veterans nursing home, workforce housing and some type of golf course — 18 holes, 12 holes or nine holes — on the 167-acre property.
"This is part of a process to really engage in some renewal in that Golden Gate City community," Commissioner Burt Saunders said.
The commissioners were unanimous on the need for a veterans nursing home, and they debated the need for workforce housing on the property, but all five agreed on keeping golf in some semblance.
"We're definitely pleased with the outcome to keep golf as a component in the Golden Gate property, without a doubt," said Cindy Darland, executive director of The First Tee of Naples/Collier. "... We are just pleased to be at the table."
Commissioner Donna Fiala was the most vocal on keeping the facility at 18 holes, provided the county does not have to pay for anything regarding its operation, something the commissioners agreed with across the board. She said there was other property that could be used for workforce housing, while Commissioner Penny Taylor advocated more strongly for the housing, which would be deed restricted and geared more toward first responders and teachers, to be on the golf course property.
Fiala also pointed out that the county could give the golf course a try, and still go back to the workforce housing after a period of time if golf doesn't work out.
"Let's not get caught up too much into the number of holes," said Kova Golf Management President Rick Rainville, a former general manager at Tiburón Golf Club. "We've got experts who can do this, so let's let them look at this, and let them come back and say, 'This is what we can do, and this is what's viable.'"
Then commissioners, led by William McDaniel Jr., gave Kova and The First Tee a possible bonus they were hoping for: the chance to reopen the golf course in the interim, voting 5-0 to welcome proposals for operators to do just that.
"We are fully prepared to do that, to step up and provide that for the county to reopen the golf club under the direction of The First Tee," Rainville said. "We're going to do that in very short order."
Kova and The First Tee already had planned on making proposal to reopen the course at this meeting before receiving word late last week that commissioners were going to vote whether to keep golf on the property, period.
The county purchased the 167 acres, which does not include the on-site hotel, from Robert and Mario Vocisano in July for $29.1 million. Once the sale was closed, the county closed the golf course "until further notice" on Aug. 1.
Kova Golf Management and The First Tee of Naples/Collier already had approached the county, willing to provide maintenance to the property while the county decided what to do with it.
Kova and The First Tee did so with the hope that some type of golf course could exist as part of the redeveloped property. Commissioners gave the group 60 days to maintain the course, and then two weeks ago granted a 60-day extension, which would go through November.
Rainville and Darland had met with four of the five commissioners to keep them updated on what they had done while maintaining the property and reiterate what they had in mind.
The First Tee is a national organization of 30,000 children ages 7-18 dedicated to teaching youth the game and business of golf. The local chapter was started in late 2007 and has 1,000 kids. It currently has no set home, but relies on relationships with a handful of area courses to provide facilities for teaching its life skills. Arthrex is a founding sponsor of the chapter.
Geoff Lofstead, the executive director of the South Florida PGA Section, perhaps summarized best what The First Tee does.
"They're not dedicated on developing the next great golfer," he said. "They're dedicated on developing the next great person."
Lofstead was excited about the veterans nursing home because of the possibility it could tie into the PGA HOPE program, which was started four years ago and is geared toward getting veterans involved with the game. HOPE stands for Helping Our Patriots Everywhere, and has been available at the Alico Family Golf facility in Lee County previously.
The Vocisanos purchased the course and its adjoining hotel in 1972.
The course opened in 1965, and it hosted the LPGA Tour's Sarah Coventry Classic in 1976. Jan Stephenson, a World Golf Hall of Fame member, won the tournament for her first LPGA victory.
Director of golf Tim Fredeen, who has been at the course for 32 years, had said little has been done to the course as far as regrassing or renovating it since the early 1990s.
The course, which had previously advertised all the way to the state's East Coast, had 40,000 rounds played in 2004 before the economic downturn hit Southwest Florida. The course had 25,000 rounds played in 2013, but that slipped to 14,000 last year, according to numbers provided by Fredeen.