A roomful of passionate golfers could be seen holding up signs reading, “Save, Save, Save Our Course,” at a June 14 Zephyrhills City Council meeting.
The showy display of activism inside City Hall chambers came in response to recent reports of the Florida Army National Guard scouting the Zephyrhills Municipal Golf Course as a prime spot for a new $25 million armory development.
Turns out, these residents need not worry about the future of the longstanding 18-hole, par 68 course, after all.
That’s because the National Guard has all but changed course — instead evaluating a number of other would-be armory locations, so as to not impact the golf facility, located at southwest quadrant of the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport, at 39248 B Ave.
This includes strongly considering a 14-acre tract on the northside of the municipal airport, Zephyrhills City Manager Billy Poe said during the meeting.
“We’re trying to find another location (for the armory),” Poe said. “Nothing has been finalized yet, but we are working on that.”
State lawmakers recently approved allocating the substantial appropriation to the military organization, for a future training ground in Zephyrhills. (Armories are used for
equipment storage, recruiting, personal training, educational training, and general administration offices.)
While an armory location has not yet been finalized, the city manager assured council members and residents the city golf course more than likely will stay in operation.
Said Poe, “I can’t say that it’s completely off the table until everything’s signed, but the serious conversations are on the other (14-acre) parcel, because the guard realizes that they don’t want to take over an existing golf course; they’ve made that comment.”
Poe also made clear that he’ll keep the community abreast on any changes in conversations between the city and the guard.
“It’s not a decision that’s made in the dark, in a vacuum by staff,” he said.
“It has to come back before council, so right now, the guard is evaluating if that 14 acres is sufficient for their needs.
“The last conversation we had (with the guard), it appeared to be, so that is the direction we’re moving — the golf course will remain, and the guard will land on another property.”
The municipal golf facility was established in 1957, then opened in 1978.
It’s regarded as a low-cost alternative compared to surrounding courses, where snowbirds, seniors and others flock to during the year.
It’s also been described as veteran-friendly, accommodating to beginners, slower players and individuals with physical disabilities.
Course management staff have stated the facility can average upwards of 1,500 players per week and some 6,000 rounds per month, during the busy winter season between October through February.
The course’s future has been a hot topic over the last several council meetings, given the guard’s armory situation and questions surrounding the golf facility’s upkeep and overall value to the community.
Even with Poe’s well-received revelation, several town residents still felt the need to stress the importance of the outdoor recreational staple.
Tom Darby, who lives in Tropical Acre Estates, said the airport golf course is “one of the best courses for senior citizens,” given its shorter yardage and lack of hills compared to other nearby offerings.
Darby also suggested if the golf facility was to shut down to make way for an armory — “the worst-case scenario,” he said — the city should develop another municipal course somewhere else in town to accommodate an area “full of senior citizens.”
Meanwhile, Zephyrhills resident Valerie Snell questioned why city administration would bring the golf course issue to the fore during a time many snowbirds who play the course have already left the area to spend summer up north.
Snell observed, “The population of this city drops by 75% in the spring, because of all the snowbirds that go back home, and I know that there are a lot of people that use that course, and before any decisions are made, I would hope that you would let them be heard, also.”
Regarding this statement, the city manager acknowledged wintertime would’ve created “perfect timing” for snowbird residents being in town to comment in person.
However, state appropriations being at stake is “why the conversation started now” compared to delaying the task for several months, Poe responded.
“It wasn’t to eliminate or prohibit citizens from coming in and speaking, it’s just the circumstances dictated the timing of it,” he said.
“Unfortunately, circumstances sometimes dictate when we have to make decisions and when we have to have the meetings, and this is one of those times, where conversations have to take place now and can’t wait until the wintertime, so that’s the reasons why the conversations started a few weeks ago.”
Snell then asked if these part-time Zephyrhills residents, among others, could send letters of support for the golf course.
In response, Poe encouraged the community involvement on all fronts: “That’s perfectly acceptable, to have them send letters of support. I’ve received a couple in the last couple weeks, so if there’s individuals that want to send letters of support, that’s perfectly fine, and those can be entered into the record, just the same as you are here today.”
Toward the end of the meeting, the course’s pro shop manager Craig Sexton submitted a stack of hard-copy petitions from local golfers pleading the council to keep the facility in play.
He also made some brief comments addressing council members: “I’d just like to leave (these petitions) with you, and I’d just like to simply say, ‘Thank you.’ It takes a lot of stress off us.”
The municipal course has at least one ardent legislative champion in Councilman Charles Proctor.
He made it clear he would not support any development project that would jeopardize the links — a position which drew rounds of applause from those seated in attendance.
“I would just like to let the people know that are involved with the golf course that I would never vote to take away your golf course,” Proctor said.
“I know you all enjoy it, you get a lot of use out of it, so I can’t speak for the rest (of the council), but I would never vote to take away your golf course. It’s been a part of Zephyrhills for a long time, and I wouldn’t even attempt to try to take it away.
“Nothing is ever in stone in life, we all know that, but I believe our city manager and our city employees are working hard to make this work for both parties.”
Discussion about the course’s future originally came up during an early May meeting to approve a lease agreement with Under Par Inc., to continue to serve as course management operators.
Poe at the time disclosed how the guard had targeted the golf course property for purchase — likely to be a substantial offer — among other site alternatives and parcels throughout the city, following the wave of expansion funding from the state.
Armed with that information, council members tabled the lease renewal for future discussion, as the city’s present agreement with Under Par doesn’t expire until April 2022.
Published June 30, 2021