Myakka City, mostly known for its farms and ranches, is about to become a “golf destination.”
That’s according to David Leadbetter, a man who knows a thing or two about the game. As a coach and instructor, he’s led players to 26 Major Championships and over 100 individual worldwide tournament wins.
The new Soleta Golf Club, located at 33720 Singletary Road, will be the site of not only a Nick Price designed course, but a Leadbetter teaching facility. Soleta held a groundbreaking event on Dec. 5.
“I’m extremely excited to do this with my good buddy Nick,” Leadbetter said of Price. “We go back a long way.”
Leadbetter coached Price in the 1980s before Price went on an impressive run on the PGA Tour in the early 1990s. Price racked up 18 PGA Tour wins over the course of his career.
It's a power pairing for the new course.
Leadbetter is designing Soleta’s 30-acre practice facility, and Price is designing the 7,400-yard, par-72 golf course.
The developers on the project are David Turner, John Galt and Charles Duff. Duff, who’s father used to live within a mile from the site of the new community and golf course, lives in Lakewood Ranch while Galt lives in Windermere, and Turner lives in Richmond Hill, Georgia.
Why Myakka City?
Leadbetter said the area isn’t known for golf. So why choose Myakka City for an elite, members-only club?
“I wouldn’t say as much, ‘Why Myakka City,’ but ‘why further out east in Manatee County,’” Turner said. “That was sort of our calculus here. We know the developments are coming. Are we too early? Are we too close? Are we too far? But we feel like it does stand on its own with the golf.”
Turner used the Concession and the Longboat Key Club, among others, as examples of comparable clubs in the region that have done well and have waiting lists for memberships. He and his partners felt the Lakewood Ranch/Sarasota area needed another high-end place to “play and stay.”
In addition to 93 homes, plans include 14 “club cottages,” which are essentially hotel suites. The cottages can have microwaves and mini-fridges but not stoves.
Without Duff’s local knowledge and connections, the project might not have happened.
“If it was a market that one of us wasn’t local,or some of the people that we used to help get this planned and entitled, maybe not,” Turner said. “It came together because we were able to do due diligence very quickly and get comfortable.”
Duff grew up camping on the Myakka River. He’s known some of the people who are working to make the community a reality since he was a teenager, which was especially helpful because Turner said they bought the 537-acre property without entitlements.
The first recorded deed in the county’s property records dates the land back to 1966, but there’s also an unrecorded deed from 1931 that names Frank Bellino as the owner. After owning the property for nearly a century, the Bellino family left it virtually untouched.
It was used for recreation, and they kept some cows in the pastures. Joe Bellino is now a partner in the project.
Turner said it took just under 11 months to have the property entitled, and that it was a risk to invest $14 million on a project that hinged on a seven-person Manatee County Commission vote. The property is beyond the Future Development Area Boundary, and there are no county utilities in the area. It was zoned for agriculture.
In June, only Commissioner James Satcher voted against the project even though several residents opposed the project, Commissioner George Kruse said this is the type of project that residents have been asking to be built east of the FDAB.
“At one unit per five acres, they can build 107 houses right now,” Kruse said, “So anything about light pollution, anything about traffic, they can build that now. They don’t have to come here and talk to me about it.”
Homes off the range
The difference is that the 105 units will be clustered on one-, half- and quarter-acre lots instead of spread out on five-acre lots. That aside, some locals see a bigger problem with the project.
“The whole property and surrounding properties were four feet under water during Hurricane Ian,” said Carol Felts, who is a candidate to be the District 1 commissioner.
But Duff said the flood analysis showed different results for pre- and post-development.
“They modeled Ian’s flood,” he said. “It’s better in the post-development state than it is currently. The storm drainage is designed to handle an equivalent of Ian again without pushing any more water back upstream or downstream. They tested it both ways.”
The intent is to keep the land as natural as possible. Instead of hauling in dirt and trees, the property’s natural resources will be redistributed.
“It’s not going to be lined with palm trees in the front. Our goal is to have it to where you might not even know it’s back there as you’re driving Singletary,” Duff said. “We’re not bringing anything in. Any trees that are on the golf course are coming from the property.”
The grass, too, as certain areas of the property get cleared, the grass will be moved into a nursery.
Every effort is being made to provide a “pure” golf experience, so homes won’t line the course either. The luxury homes, starting in the $2 million range, will be set back from the course and custom built by homebuilders John Cannon Homes and Anchor Builders.
Neighbors expressed concerns about the light pollution that a golf course and 93 homes might cause.
“There’s no lighted golf course area,” Duff said. “Anything we use outside will be the low emission lights to try to limit any sort of light pollution. Obviously, the people who are going to live there are going to want the same thing, as well.”
Duff also said the area between Singletary Road and the homesites will remain wooded, so they don’t anticipate backyard lights shining through.
Gotta pay to play
It doesn't impress Felts.
“This is not for us,” Felts said, referring to Myakka City residents as "us."
With initiation fees of $100,000, she’s likely right that the vast majority of locals will never have an opportunity to tee off at Soleta. However, there are a couple benefits to the course being built in Myakka City.
“There are quite a few employment opportunities out here,” Said Clay Batson, who will be the director of grounds. “We have the golf course maintenance, which I’ll be in charge of, and there’s the food and beverage department.”
The practice facility and club cottages will provide jobs, too, but there’s one more upside when considering how rapidly development is moving east in Manatee County.
Kruse laid out two options during the meeting. In the first hypothetical option based on past requests, a developer asks to build three units per acre, put up a Walmart and turn Singletary Road into a thoroughfare.
The other option was Soleta’s request of 93 homes tucked away with a golf course, leaving 60% open space and no impact on the wetlands.
“Between those two options, I’m taking this project all day long,” Kruse said.
Construction of the golf course is expected to take a year. Construction on the homes is expected to begin sometime over the summer of 2024.
Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.