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Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club's new owners come with a fresh vision

Virginia golf course company Heritage Golf Group believes it picked up a trophy asset in buying the Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club. Significant enhancements and improvements are on the docket.

Herndon, Virginia-based Heritage Golf Group plans course improvements at the Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club.
Herndon, Virginia-based Heritage Golf Group plans course improvements at the Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club.
Photo by Ryan Angell
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As the parent company of Lakewood Ranch, Schroeder-Manatee Ranch has developed the more than 33,000-acre master-planned community into the real estate powerhouse it is today. Lakewood Ranch consistently rates as one of the nation’s best-selling master-planned communities, and amenities like the Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club play a big part in that.

But while SMR has proven its expertise in community and commercial development, it’s not an expert golf course operator. The company is not afraid to admit there are other entities more adept at running the amenities it develops for the long term, and it’s already demonstrated this through the sales of the Sarasota Polo Club and Premier Sports Campus it developed. So it knew a similar approach would be a smart move for the Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club.

“SMR’s long-range strategy for Lakewood Ranch always included developing and holding on to certain assets until they were ripe for new owners and operators,” says Laura Cole, senior vice president for LWR Communities. “We always look at the long vision to make sure that these amenities will continue to be operated at a high level, and in fact reinvested in. Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club is a very special amenity in our portfolio; we recognize it’s a key element in our community’s fabric. But with golf’s popularity and the need to invest in the membership experience and enhancements and expand golf capacity, we felt it was a good time to find a new owner.”

SMR found that new owner in Northern Virginia-based Heritage Golf Group, which announced its acquisition of Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club in March. Rex Jensen, president and CEO of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc., laid out why Heritage proved the right choice in a letter to club membership.

“Our selection of Heritage Golf Group was the result of meticulous consideration, focusing on their extensive experience and dedication to our standards,” he wrote. “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.”

He pointed to Heritage’s proven track record as the owner and operator of 37 other golf clubs around the United States. And the company already has a foothold in the Sarasota-Manatee area as owner and operator of TPC Prestancia and Venetian Golf Club.

“Everything about Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club is exactly what we like,” says Mark Burnett, president and CEO of Heritage Golf Group. “One, it’s in an unbelievably great residential community with lots of growth opportunities in the community. Two, we really, really like full-service country clubs, not just golf but clubs that have amenities.”

Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club fits that bill, with its three championship golf courses — Cypress Links, King’s Dunes and Royal Lakes — and amenities that include practice facilities, two clubhouses, a 24-hour athletic facility, an aquatics center with two heated pools, 20 pickleball courts, and a tennis complex with 20 Har-Tru courts and a stadium court.

Link together

Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club is Heritage’s largest acquisition to date. And it’s about to get even larger, for Heritage also acquired Lakewood Ranch’s daily fee Legacy Golf Club and plans to make the Arnold Palmer Signature golf course a fourth course at the private Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club, creating the only 72-hole private country club in the Sarasota area.

Heritage will be redoing all the turf grass at the Legacy course and will be finishing improvements already started on the Cypress Links course. Once those two projects are complete, it plans to undertake similar renovations on the other two courses.

The fifth hole at the Cypress Links course, which opened in 2002.
Courtesy image

Input from members and residents will help guide the vision for other elements of the club. “We’re going to spend a lot of time talking with members,” said Burnett. “I think there are opportunities to improve the other amenities, but we don’t have specific plans yet.”

Upgrades to the aquatics center were recently completed, and Heritage plans to assess the tennis and pickleball offerings to ensure there’s enough capacity to meet resident demand. Improvements to food and beverage offerings are a possibility.

Big swing

Of course, change can be hard, especially if you’ve gotten used to and enjoy how things were. But from SMR’s standpoint, this is a change for the better. “I am confident that under Mark’s guidance and that of his leadership team, our club is in capable hands, and exciting developments lie ahead,” SMR’s Jensen told members in his letter.

“What we always look for is somebody who really is going to be able to have the financial wherewithal and built-in capabilities to really grow these recreational amenities,” says Cole. “Whether it’s the golf or polo club, when we continue to look at the long-term benefits of those recreational amenities for the community, we try to put them in the hands of people who are going to wake up every morning and think about them and reinvest in them when it’s necessary.”

Heritage, which seeks to keep expanding its Florida presence (it now has eight clubs in the state), has the size and scale to do just that. “We’ve had fairly rapid growth over the last four years, and we’re in the top four or five largest management companies at this point,” says Burnett. “What that does is gives us credibility and the ability to capitalize all of the clubs in a very balanced way.”

“Just imagine the best practices that are going to emerge from operating all of those clubs and what they can apply here,” adds Cole. “We’re very interested in having somebody who understands golf and is really at the leading edge of the trends.”

The Lodge Clubhouse is one of several key amenities Heritage Golf Group acquired as part of the deal to buy the Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club.
Courtesy image

Mike Kahn, president of St. Petersburg-based golf course business consulting firm Golfmak, hasn’t traditionally been a fan of multicourse golf management and ownership companies over the years. But in this case, it might prove a good option for the private Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club.

“Running properties like Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club has become more and more sophisticated,” he says. “Managing and maintaining a property like that needs a professional team, which Heritage has…I’d be inclined to give Heritage a chance to prove itself at Lakewood Ranch.”

Not everyone in the golfing community, however, is happy about the sale and changes. The loss of a daily fee golf course like Legacy as part of the deal is a downside for Lakewood Ranch resident Jim Govostes, who holds a golf teaching license from the U.S. Golf Teachers Federation and plays — or played — frequently at Legacy Golf Club. While Govostes could become a member of a country club, he prefers to play at a variety of courses, which is becoming increasingly hard to do as daily fee courses like Legacy get taken out of the mix and private clubs dominate the area. 

“Legacy was a very interesting and difficult golf course,” he says. “I enjoyed it, and I met a lot of people that had a lot of fun there also. What I see today, unfortunately, is that golf has turned into a game of the rich, especially here in Florida. And golf should be for everyone, not just for the privileged.”

The Legacy course was previously a daily fee course.
Courtesy image

In addition to the improvements and enhancements that lie ahead for Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club, Burnett points out Heritage doesn’t assess its club members the way an individually owned club might. “We take all the risk and invest our own dollars into the clubs; we don’t ask for assessments,” he says. 

In addition, full golf members of Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club will be offered the opportunity to upgrade their membership to “LWR Plus” in the second half of this year, which extends golf playing privileges at the other Heritage private country clubs and daily fee courses nationwide. 

Burnett hopes that members will get excited about what’s to come at Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club. “SMR has done an unbelievable job carrying the torch here at the country club,” he says. “But this is our core business. Everything we do, we’re going to want to make sure it correlates to the needs and wants of members. How do we add value? How can we enhance programming?

“Experiences, I think, are really important to people these days and where they invest their dollars and time,” he continues. “Those are the pillars of a lot of our principles and what guide us in our decisions ... This is going to be one of our trophy assets, and we’re just excited for what the future can be and all the things that we think we can do to allow the members to have some great experiences going forth.”


Beth Luberecki

Nokomis-based freelance writer Beth Luberecki, a Business Observer contributor, writes about business, travel and lifestyle topics for a variety of Florida and national publications. Her work has appeared in publications and on websites including Washington Post’s Express, USA Today, Florida Trend, and Learn more about her at