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Side of Ranch

Golf continues to thrive in Lakewood Ranch area

Soleta developer Charles Duff and Hall of Famer Nick Price are combining on just one of the new golf ventures coming to East County.
Soleta developer Charles Duff and Hall of Famer Nick Price are combining on just one of the new golf ventures coming to East County.
Photo by Jay Heater
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When I moved to Lakewood Ranch a decade ago, I figured I would be playing a lot of golf.

I didn't think I would be writing about it so much.

That's because shortly after I arrived, I heard all the arguments why golf courses were a thing of the past.

First, and most notably, land is just too darned expensive. Every fairway could be a row of 32 townhomes. That's lost revenue.

Next, younger generations don't like strolling a golf course for five hours when they could be on social media.

People don't like to be forced into an expensive golf course membership if they want to move into a certain community. It's hard to write that $800 check every month when all your puttering is done in the garage.

Golf courses are so expensive to maintain, it's near impossible to turn a profit, or in the case of a private community, sustain financial viability without assessing the residents on a regular basis.

People want a multitude of amenities in their new communities, and a golf course can detract from the ability to provide those amenities, especially in terms of space.

So the last thing I expected when I moved to the area was to see more golf courses being built, or companies putting major revenue into existing courses.

Certainly, the market seemed to be slowing down at the time.

A 2018 story by USA Today said that municipal golf courses in Florida had lost $100 million over the previous five years. A 2018 story by Builder magazine asked "Are golf communities a thing of the past?"

The market, even in a vacation oasis like Florida, was saturated. Golf was dead.

Or so it seemed.

Flash forward to today. Golf is not just a topic in East County in 2024. It's "the" topic.

On March 8, Schroeder-Manatee Ranch announced it was selling its Country Club, The Lodge, court facilities and three 18-hole golf courses to Heritage Golf Group, which specializes in infusing capital into high-end clubs and courses and making them even higher-end. Let's me repeat that ... infusing capital into high-end clubs.

If you are an existing resident or club member, that has to be good news. Your amenities are likely to be well maintained, which protects your investment. If you are a golfer, it means the ball is going to roll just a little bit smoother and that the fairways will be near perfect.

SMR's Rex Jensen said Friday that his company has taken the amenities about as far as it could. If you have followed SMR's strategy in the past, the sale of the country club and the courses should not be a surprise. SMR sold the Premier Sports campus for the same reason because Jensen and company thought someone who specialized in such an endeavor would be better equipped to run a quality operation. The same can be said for the Sarasota Polo Club.

But the County Club's sale is not the only golf news in Manatee County. Two high-brow, elite golf courses are either under construction or nearing construction in Myakka City. The first is Soleta, a 530-acre community that will be home to a course designed by World Golf Hall of Famer Nick Price, a training facility designed by legendary instructor David Leadbetter, and 93 luxury homes. The Soleta course is under construction and expected to be open by the end of 2024.

The other is Steve Herrig's Miakka Golf Club, which will break ground April 25. The course is near Herrig's TerraNova Equestrian Center at 31625 Clay Gully Road. The course is being designed by former PGA Tour star Paul Azinger along with Fry-Straka Global Golf Course Design. The course is being constructed on 1,100 acres along the banks of the Myakka River and will be a 7,700-yard monster.

The golf facility will feature a 12-hole, Par-3 course, a lighted putting course, a performance center and a 360-degree practice range. The main course is expected to be open spring of 2025. A 50,000-square-foot clubhouse will open late in 2026.

At Heritage Harbour, plans are about to be announced for the new Club Homes at Heritage Harbour, which already has broken ground. That followed a multimillion dollar renovation of the golf course. Waterlefe Golf & River Club put $5 million of renovations into its course last year. Palm Aire has spent millions on a course renovation. Esplanade added another golf course community at Esplanade at Azario to the one it already had in Lakewood Ranch. It goes on and on.

And there has been plenty of golf news making the headlines as well. The Korn Ferry Tour returns to Lakewood National April 18-21. The World Cup, which made its debut at the Concession in December, has signed up for three more years at the area course. The Concession is awaiting a decision on its bid to host the 2031 PGA Championship.

Quite the decade. Golf in the area has gone from "its time has passed," to one of the top hotbeds for the sport in the U.S.

All this does have a downside, at least for me. When I got here, Legacy Golf Club was pretty much a dog patch of a course that had a hard time getting anyone to play it. It was so bad that I would go out in the summer and pay $12 for 18 holes, a cart and two free drinks, in the middle of the day. Since I had been playing crummy muni courses for years, I was more than happy to play the Arnold Palmer designed course, even if it was rough. The price was right.

Alas, Jon Whittemore and Kevin Paschall bought the club in November 2015, and they began putting millions into its renovation. The dogs patches went away, and so did the low greens fees. In a couple years time, the Lakewood Ranch area had one more quality course.

It was a good story, one of many that have followed.

Now if I could actually stop writing about golf so I can play a few rounds.



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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