Lodge and villas will create a "stay-and-play" destination to help assure the course's longterm stability.
The owners of Heritage Harbour Golf Club & Eatery announced a conceptual plan to build golf villas, a resort-style pool, corporate meeting space and a lodge to improve the club’s amenity offerings and to make it a community centerpiece for the future.
“This area has several golf courses but doesn’t have a place for golfers to stay and play” said Mark Bruce, the club’s principal owner along with Chris Bradshaw. “This would create a positive shift in our business, reaching a whole new segment of golfers who are coming to the area.”
The plan, which would have to go through the county’s approval and permitting process, would result in a multistory lodge of 95 to 120 rooms and approximately 60 to 80 villas. The project would cover 7 acres and would basically be located where the No. 1 hole currently runs along River Heritage Boulevard.
The existing clubhouse and parking lot for the club would remain intact with the lodge being placed between the lot’s western edge and River Heritage Boulevard. The villas then would run along what is now the No. 1 fairway. Bruce, also a PGA professional since 1993, already knows where the new hole replacing No. 1 will go.
“Our 11th hole currently measures 615 yards and plays as a really tough par 5 for players of all levels,” he said. “We had a golf course architect render that space into two holes, creating a challenging par 5 and a beautiful par 3.”
Bruce and Bradshaw led an ownership group that purchased the club and the 160-acre course in February 2018, from It Works Global. In previous years, the course had fallen into disrepair and needed immediate infrastructure and turf improvements in several areas to bring community members and local players back.
Its previous poor condition had led to decreased play, about 100 golfers a day during peak season, and the new ownership group’s conditioning efforts have turned the tide in a year’s time.
“We care about the customer experience,” Bruce said. “From improved course conditions to friendly service in the eatery, we want people to enjoy their day.”
Bruce said the club’s future relies on ways to bring in additional capital for major course improvements and increased annual revenues to restore the course's conditioning standards that were so popular when the course opened in 2001.
“Anything that improves the golf course is good for the HOA,” said Gene Zeiner, who is president of the Heritage Harbour Master Association, the homeowners association that covers all three communities (Stoneybrook, Lighthouse Cove and River Strand) within the Heritage Harbour development. “Our home values are directly linked to the golf course and its success.
“We have to actively support it, and I’ve been briefed on the plans. I think it’ll be a great idea. It’s a very ambitious project. The course could always use upgrading, and the new greenskeepers have done wonders since they took over. The owners are trying their best. It’s a tough business.”
Bruce said preferred programming and access to Heritage Harbour and Stoneybrook residents will remain a top priority. He said a lodge partner has not been determined.
"Finding the right strategic partner for development and operation of the lodge is very important,” he said. “The uniqueness of this opportunity and the prime location will bring us the right partners.”
Bruce realized there was a “stay-and-play” void in the marketplace during his 10 years as co-owner of Play Golf Sarasota, a website and magazine that launched in 2009. As his readers were calling him to set up golf vacations, he could never close the gap on where the visitors could stay and have on-site access to a course coupled with easy access to other courses in the area.
He said Innisbrook in Palm Harbor and Saddlebrook in Tampa are the closest golf resorts to the north and that nothing else can be found south until you get to Naples.
“This Interstate 75 corridor is exploding,” he said. “This is where everything is happening. Our project simply aims to raise the bar for our recreational and amenity offerings that is now the norm for the new resort communities coming online.”
A year ago, Bruce and Bradshaw hired the Rule, Joy, Trammell and Rubio architecture firm of Atlanta to do a design of the overall project on the 7 acres. Bruce, a licensed real estate broker and development strategy consultant, said the planning and permitting stage is expected to last about 18 months, and then it will take approximately a year for construction once ground is broken, tentatively in May 2021. He foresees the lodge being open in late 2022.
“Our success will be the community’s success, and vice versa,” he said. “This is a resurrection story of a golf course. Nationally, golf courses were once thought of as the easiest business in the world, … and that’s just not so. The cost of maintenance would make your chin drop. We have to figure out a formula here as to how to make this business sustainable for the long term.
"This will be a new beginning of sorts for the Heritage Harbour and Stoneybrook communities, creating several benefits for everyone living or wanting to live in this great community.”