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East County Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019 9 months ago

Lakewood Ranch area fairways have soggy summer

Summer business cut 50% or more due to rain at some Manatee County golf courses.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

Lakewood Ranch’s Marty Fugardi normally golfs twice a week, but the summertime rains have limited his golfing schedule quite drastically.

“It has eliminated it,” he said with a chuckle.

He went Aug. 21 to purchase golf balls from The Preserve Golf Club at Tara Preserve but was easily persuaded to play a round for $12.99 when he saw that the course was at the 90-degree rule, which means golf carts can drive to the hole from a 90-degree angle from the path. Cart path-only means players must keep their golf carts on the cart path and walk to the holes.

“I’m happy to play the 90- degree rule,” Fugardi said. “The cart path-only wears you out.”

In dryer conditions, golfers can ride their golf carts directly on the fairways, but that hasn’t been an option for

weeks at many East County golf courses.

At The Preserve Golf Club, much of the play has been cart path-only to minimize damage to the soggy course.

“I’ve been doing this 17 years, and I don’t recall a summer like this — 40 inches of rain in the last seven weeks,” Preserve Golf Club General Manager Mark Holter said. “It easily cuts business right in half.”

He said the course had 800 rounds of golf played in July, compared to the 1,250 for which it had budgeted. In August, there already have been three days with only four golfers total — two each on Aug. 14-15 and none Aug. 16.

Holter said he and assistant manager Tim McGonegal have already started looking for tournaments and other events to host to help recoup those losses.

Holter said he has also had to postpone work on the back nine holes.

“Typically, over the summer you get projects done, but this even gets you behind on general maintenance,” Holter said. “Even trying to mow the entire property — you can’t do it.”

Heritage Harbour Golf Club club professional Billy Glanden said the volume of rain — 20 inches of rain from Aug. 1-21 plus rains in earlier months — hasn’t been the problem as much as the frequency. Rather than having a storm every afternoon with sunshine in between, there have been full days of rain and only clouds in sight.

Because of that, the course has remained saturated, which makes it difficult to maintain playing conditions. There were four days in the past month the course never even opened for play.

“It really throws business off,” Glanden said. “For us to close is a rare occurrence. Unless there’s a hurricane, we don’t close. We can stay open as long as golfers want to play.”

In the summer, the course averages 60 to 80 players per day, compared to season when that figure is nearly 200. This summer, the course has seen closer to 40 rounds per day, more than a 30% drop.

At Palm Aire Golf and Country Club, the Champions course was closed Aug. 16-19 due to wet conditions; the Lakes course was totally saturated and was closed from Aug. 16-27.

Palm Aire’s head golf professional, Jay Seymour, said that rounds for July were down about 20%. Rounds for August, however, are projected to be down 30-40% with an anticipated 1,700 rounds played compared with the normal 2,500.

Seymour said having two courses has been helpful because Palm Aire has been able to redirect play from the Lakes to the Champions course.

Wendi Patterson, the head golf professional at the Legacy Golf Club at Lakewood Ranch, echoed concerns about course play and maintenance but said golfers have waited out storms and that Legacy Golf Club hasn’t had too much disruption. She estimated it has lost 5-10% of its normal summertime business.

Patterson said golfers have waited for later tee times during heavy downpours and might change their golfing plan – golfing with a group rather than as a single player, for example.

“We’ve tried to stay open and offer people a place to go because we know a lot of courses in the area have closed — and for days at a time,” Patterson said.

As Fugardi climbed into a golf cart at Preserve Golf Club, he smiled. There hadn’t been many opportunities to play lately, and there was a bit of sunshine, at least for now. He said it was worth taking his chances.

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