The future of the Zephyrhills Municipal Golf Course is uncertain, as city leaders are considering sale of the property for possible use for a Florida Army National Guard Armory.
The 18-hole, par 68 course, at 39248 B Ave., sits on roughly 65 acres of prime real estate on the southwest quadrant of the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport.
It is regarded as a low-cost alternative compared to surrounding golf courses, where snowbirds and others flock to throughout the year.
Discussion about its future came up during the Zephyrhills City Council’s May 10 meeting when the council was set to consider a staff recommendation to approve a first amendment lease agreement between the city and Under Par Inc., to continue to serve as course management operators.
That contract includes running the pro shop and snack bar, and providing golf cart rentals and golf equipment.
But instead of considering that rather routine contract, council members tabled the issue for a future meeting and instead focused on breaking developments regarding the Florida Army National Guard’s interest in the property.
News that the organization had scouted the golf course and expressed interest in the property came about the same time the council’s meeting agenda was being prepared.
It all comes as state lawmakers recently approved allocating $25 million in appropriations to the National Guard, for a location in Zephyrhills.
With that in mind, council members Ken Burgess, Lance Smith and others figured it best to delay action at least a few weeks or months until more information can be gathered, given the present lease agreement doesn’t expire until April 2022.
“I know (Under Par) would like to have something done right now, but we do have a little bit of time,” Burgess said. “I don’t see a reason to approve it, and then six months from now say, ‘No, we’ve got to come back and do something different.’
Zephyrhills City Attorney Matthew Maggard said: “I don’t think it’s going to hurt anything to push it a couple of meetings.”
Zephyrhills City Manager Billy Poe told council members he’s set to have ongoing discussions with National Guard representatives to discuss various site alternatives and parcels throughout the city.
“We’re looking,” he said. “Obviously, we want them in the Zephyrhills area, in the Zephyrhills city limits.”
Down the line, if the golf course lease agreement as written is ultimately approved and the National Guard (or other group) later presents a lucrative enough offer for the property, a renegotiated buyout would need to be arranged between the city and Under Par, Poe explained.
Under Par’s annual rent is upward of $60,500 per year, broken up into monthly installments, which provides a solid revenue generator for the city.
The new agreement would have extended the lease for an additional 15 years, until April 30, 2037, with an option for two additional five-year renewable periods.
Per the agreement, Under Par also would be required to invest $80,000 in total capital improvements over the 15-year extension. That could include clubhouse modifications, cart cage and parking lot enhancements.
The agreement also states the lessee’s total course acreage would need to be reduced by 0.65 acres due to construction of an airport access road from Alston Avenue, which slightly impacts one of the holes.
Even though consideration of Under Par’s lease extension has been delayed, Council Vice President Jodi Wilkeson did question why monthly rent costs on the golf course property aren’t being increased from the original September 2002 agreement.
She also pondered the overall level of service and added value it provides compared to other courses in the area in terms of full-fledged youth programs, memberships and even whether there’s ADA-compliant restrooms.
“Those are the kind of questions that I feel like we should have answers to before we launch into another long-term lease with these folks,” Wilkeson said.
Later in the meeting, Wilkeson said she likely would have voted against the lease agreement, as she didn’t feel her questions were satisfactorily answered by city staff or Under Par representatives.
The course was established in 1957, then opened in 1978, according to the course’s website.
Its longstanding history prompted council members to express feelings of nostalgia.
Burgess mentioned it was the first golf course he ever played on, when he was growing up.
“We could play there for 50 cents,” he quipped.
Smith recalled similar positive experiences about the course, and said he knows there are others who feel an attachment to it.
“It’s a great course, and there’s people that have been out there for years,” Smith said. “Every winter they come down and they have their buddies that they play with, and there’s a social aspect to it as well.”
At the same time, Smith observed: “Something I can say is the golf industry is not a growing industry at all. Matter of fact, it’s going the other way; you see golf courses closing.”
Jeff Sweet assists with operating the golf course for Under Par.
Sweet asserted the course’s benefits, explaining there’s upwards of 200 rounds played on some days in the wintertime. He also noted there’s about 50 seasonal memberships sold.
“People like it,” Sweet said. “It’s a shorter course, it’s not a five-hour round, it’s three-and-a-half hours, and that really fits in. It’s more of a beginner’s course, not as much trouble, so I think it really has a niche.”
Fellow Zephyrhills golf course manager Ayako Burkhart added that youth can play the course free when accompanied by an adult. “We like to teach the kids how to play outside and be good in sports,” she said.
Published May 19, 2021