Side of Ranch: Jay Heater
Steve Dietz, general manager of golf operations at the Waterlefe Golf & River Club, talks about his course’s pride in the pace of play.
Those of you golfers who have experienced the six-hour round on a busy Saturday, understand fast play isn’t the easiest thing to accomplish. You can get those 40 handicaps who insist on lining up their putt for a 10. Or you run into the occasional ball hawk who spends more time searching through the bushes for other golfers’ lost balls than he does hitting his own shots.
To combat those situations, Dietz makes sure he has marshals — golf course police if you will — who take the job seriously.
They make sure those clogging the system catch up. A little monitoring can go a long way.
It’s just one example of how Dietz and his golf course employees stay right on top of the things they can control. The things they can’t, however, offer different challenges.
Consider the area’s pace of play, or growth. It might produce uncomfortable problems when it comes to traffic, that we all know.
When it comes to golf, well, it has created an uneasy keep-up-with-the-Jones mentality.
Last week, I wrote about Legacy completing a $950,000 improvement program over the summer to bring its course back to a resort-level condition.
The new Lakewood National course is not only impressing those who play there, but it has landed a Web.com Tour event in
February. An 18-hole course is being planned for a new development just east of Lorraine Road in Lakewood Ranch. New owners have taken over the River Club and Stoneybrook golf courses in East County and have begun to spend money for improvements.
“It’s not an easy market,” Dietz said.
That’s an understatement.
The number of rounds played at local courses is up significantly. But are there enough new golfers to support all those choices?
Is golf healthy for the long run in East County?
“They keep building golf courses, so everyone thinks it is,” Dietz said with a laugh.
I went over to talk golf with Dietz last week because I view Waterlefe as an absolute success story. When I first arrived on the scene here at the East County Observer three years ago, Waterlefe was going through some hard times as a community.
The developer, WCI Communities, declared bankruptcy in 2009, and the revenue bonds the developer used to build the course had saddled it with debt.
The residents were not happy they were going to be forced to contribute to pay off the bonds to keep their beautiful course.
The CDD was able to negotiate a deal in August 2016 to settle an $8.3 million debt for $2.55 million. The homeowners’ bill
of $7,000 apiece spread out over 20 years came to $340.49 a year.
Better yet, the CDD lowered its budget so the homeowners were hardly affected.
Even so, some of the homeowners were worried if the course could pay for itself.
Dietz had worked at the course since 2005, and he has spent the past three years in his position as general manager. He was confident that without the bond debt they could operate in the black.
“The golf course operations are self sufficient,” Dietz said, noting the CDD has run the course operations since 2014.
Not only has the course been self-sufficient, but it has produced funds that have gone back into keeping the layout in pristine shape.
Whether it is keeping up with the Jones, or maintaining its status as a jewel that has hosted six U.S. Open local qualifiers, Waterlefe has seen more than $250,000 spent in a two-month program this summer to “renovate” all the sand traps on the course along with improving drainage systems.
Dietz drove me around the course last week, stopping at place to place, his pride bursting at each destination. Indeed, the course looked terrific.
“We have had 42,000 rounds this fiscal year (which ended the final day of September),” Dietz said. “That’s our most since
2008-9. “It’s due to a couple of things. One, our membership is growing and members play more. Second, we are well known for our course conditions and customer service.”
Then there’s that area growth.
Membership at the club hit bottom in 2012, then rebounded from that point. Dietz said during the past four years, membership has been climbing rapidly to its current 148.
Janice Reed, membership marketing director, has been trying to make sure the community knows Waterlefe is a public course so anyone can play a round or join as a member.
Being a gated community of 617homes, that can be hard for the public to understand.
Those who want to check out the membership deals can go to waterlefegolfandriverclub.com.
Dietz, of course, is biased, but he notes, “It is an unrivaled setting. Where else can you navigate through a nature preserve?”
He said Waterlefe offers “target-oriented” golf and is not overly difficult around the greens. Nine tee choices can make for an enjoyable round for the duffers, and the back tees have earned a course a reputation as one of the toughest challenges in the area. The course offers TifEagle greens.
“We are the golfers’ golf course, and they are looking for an experience that is second to none,” he said.
Meanwhile, development continues along Upper Manatee River Road and more cars pass Waterlefe every day.
It appears Waterlefe is keeping up with the pace.