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Heritage Golf Group buys Lakewood Ranch Country Club and its amenities

The new owner plans improvements to all three courses and will retain many of the club's staff members.

The Heritage Golf Group has purchased Lakewood Ranch Country Club, the tennis center, the Lodge, and all three 18-hole golf courses.
The Heritage Golf Group has purchased Lakewood Ranch Country Club, the tennis center, the Lodge, and all three 18-hole golf courses.
Photo by Jay Heater
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In announcing its purchase Friday of the Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club, its three 18-hole golf courses and its Tennis Center, Heritage Golf Group CEO and President Mark Burnett succinctly wrapped up the transaction.

"This is a big day for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch and us," Burnett said. "This is a monumental day. This will be our flagship club.

"This is one of the best residential communities in the U.S. and this is what we do. We focus on high-end clubs."

Lakewood Ranch Country Club will be the Heritage Golf Group's 37th club in the Eastern and Central U.S. to go along with three clubs in Denver. The Lakewood Ranch Country Club will be its eighth in Florida. 

Burnett said the Country Club's 54 holes of golf and multiple amenities, including The Lodge, put it among the very top clubs it owns.

That is an impressive statement considering Heritage Group Group owns, among others, TPC Prestancia in Sarasota, TPC Tampa Bay, and Venetian Golf in Venice. 

SMR President and CEO Rex Jensen alerted Country Club members in December that SMR was seeing a strategic partner to "take ownership, operate, and elevate" the existing club.

A note sent to Country Club members on Friday noted "The objective was not only to enhance the current offerings but also to collaborate on expanding opportunities, particularly in the realm of future golf capacity, for existing and future members. I am pleased to share the news that as of today, Heritage Golf Group is the new owner of the Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club. This marks a significant development in our ongoing commitment to providing an exceptional experience for our members and further advancing the golfing landscape in Lakewood Ranch."

Jensen said after 24 years of running the Country Club and the courses, SMR had "done everything we could" in advancing the club and amenities.

The Cypress Links golf course, which already is closed for renovations, will undergo even more extensive improvements under Heritage Golf Group, improvements that are planned to be finished this year. 

"Our thoughts are about improving the courses," Burnett said. "Cypress is closed right now, and we are going to increase the level of turf renovation, even more work than what was planned. We will do King Dunes next year and Royal Lakes the following year. We always will have two courses open when one is closed (for renovation)."

Jumping into immediate improvement plans was a major factor in gaining SMR's approval.

"We had an extensive improvement program in place," Jensen said. "Mark wanted to expand the program from the first day. We wanted to find someone who would own and care for this in the long term. We needed someone like Mark. He has an investment to protect. He is putting his own capital into it and he is putting his money where his mouth is. Heritage Golf Group's track record is well-regarded.

Wayne Piazza, the general manager of the Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club, will continue in his role under new owner Heritage Golf Group.

"We started with 24 firms," Jensen said of the sale process. "Heritage had all the things we were looking for, and Heritage consistently ranked No. 1 in the things we felt were important.

"Our selection of Heritage Golf Group was the result of meticulous consideration, focusing on their extensive experience and dedication to our standards," Jensen said in his Friday letter to Country Club members. "Their respect for our community and the club’s identity, culture, and traditions, along with a strong emphasis on staff retention and operational efficiencies, positions them as the ideal partner. These unique attributes, combined with Heritage's leadership team, instill confidence that The Club will continue to evolve favorably across all facets of its operations and lifestyle offerings, always with the members in mind."

Some Country Club residents said they were nervous about SMR turning over operations to Heritage Golf Group, however, Burnett covered some key points of their ownership. First, Heritage will retain Wayne Piazza as the Country Club's general manager. Burnett said SMR had given Piazza high marks and their interviews with him went well. He said other members of the Country Club's leadership will be retained as well.

"Over the coming weeks, club operations will be business as usual," Burnett said. "There are no immediate changes planned in the short run from an operational standpoint."

Another concern of members were monthly fees.

Burnett said fees to join the club are bound to increase depending on the market. He said normally existing members don't mind when it becomes more expensive for new members to join. However, he said no immediate increases are planned in terms of monthly fees.

"We always have been balanced on that, and we have to look at the competitive market," he said.

The purchase includes all three of the Country Club's 18-hole courses. All three will undergo improvements.
Photo by Jay Heater

Heritage Golf Group will begin holding member focus groups to gain insight on the members' views of course conditions, club amenities, and member programming. Burnett said those meetings will indicate what capital improvements will be considered in the future.

"We have a lot of listening and learning to do," Burnett said.

For instance, he said the County Club and the Tennis Center have many courts that are well used. He said if the membership has a need for more courts, that would be delivered in the future.

Burnett said Heritage Golf Group is very community focused calling the County Club a centerpiece of the community.

"First and foremost, this club has been operating with great standards," he said, noting that will continue, and he hopes, in some cases even will improve.

"There have been some cases where (Heritage Golf Group) has purchased a club and needed to invest substantial maintenance capital immediately for major fixes.

"This is not the situation here," he said. "This club is a jewel. We have the opportunity to look at enhancements."

He said golf course improvements will include new greens, work on fairways, roughs and bunkers, and cart path improvements. This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity."

Jensen said Heritage Golf Group's purchase could lead to additional partnerships with SMR in the future. He noted that the Country Club has a three-year waiting list and that the Lakewood Ranch area doesn't have enough golf courses to fill the need.

However, he said at the time SMR doesn't have land that can turned into to a golf course.

"I have to find more land," he said.

Burnett said Heritage Golf Group would like to be involved in that effort.

"We are a big believer in growing the game of golf," he said.

Jensen and Burnett did not release details of the sale.



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

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