Winter Pines Golf Course Has Good Round
by Geri Throne / January 31, 2022
Now that Winter Park commissioners have decided to pursue buying the 18-hole Winter Pines Golf Course, the next step is how to pay for it.
A 20-year municipal revenue bond is likely. A price tag of $7.4 million would give the city a busy 18-hole public golf course, pro shop/snack bar, driving range and maintenance buildings and equipment.
In recent years, the privately-owned course has netted more than $600,000 annually. Even if that revenue drops, city staffers told commissioners last week, it should be enough for the debt service. A bond issue would not require voter approval because it is for parkland.
Despite concerns about future costs and a waning national interest in golf, commissioners were attracted by the opportunity to add 93.13 acres to the city’s green space and stop owners’ attempts to redevelop the site.
Over the past three years, Winter Pines golf course owners have twice approached the city with plans to convert all or part of the site’s zoning from parks-and-recreation to residential. Each time, they withdrew after learning about impediments to redevelopment in the city’s comprehensive plan for future land use.
The comp plan, as it is called, guides important city policy decisions about growth and change, but the document isn’t set in stone. Right now, all it takes is a simple majority vote of three commissioners to revise it. Proposed city charter amendments on the March 8 ballot would set a higher bar for major revisions. For example, applications to turn parkland into a subdivision would require a supermajority of four votes to pass. Such requests could still be approved, Mayor Phil Anderson points out, but they’d face higher standards. “For me, as a resident, anything that makes a significant and irreversible change to the city deserves a higher standard of care. The key for me is, is it irreversible?”
City commissioners hope the purchase of the course guarantees it remains open space. If it stays in private hands, redevelopment pressure is sure to continue, City Manager Randy Knight told commissioners. The reason is simple economics. Rezoning the land into developable property would make its value leap to $30 million – more than five times its value as a golf course.
An Offer to Sell
Negotiations for the purchase began months ago, after the owners presented an offer to sell the city the golf course. The $7.4 million price tag mirrors the $14.8 million that Seminole County paid last year for two courses. The Pines owners asked for more than the $5.8 million assessed value because it is giving up potential development rights, Knight said.
Commissioners unanimously agreed on entering the contract. Commissioner Carolyn Cooper expressed the most reservations. The city needs to be ready to make improvements to the property to enhance its revenue, she said, noting that the sport of golfing has seen a “serious decline in participation” since 2008. “I don’t want taxpayers to have to subsidize yet another golf course,” she said.
Abandoned golf courses have become a national trend as the sport’s popularity has declined. Some owners have redeveloped the land into everything from homes to detention ponds. Some owners have just walked away. Others have sold the courses to cities and counties, which either convert them into public open space or keep them open. That’s what happened in Seminole County, where cities and the county have bought up five privately owned courses since 2015.
Commissioners envisioned a number of additional uses for the Pines property under city ownership, from a restaurant to Frisbee golf. They agreed with Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio that a citizen advisory board be created to assist with the transition to a city-owned facility.
Commissioner Marty Sullivan supported the purchase, even if the course ends up costing taxpayers money to maintain. “There is that risk of it potentially costing us. I am okay with the risk because green space costs us money. It’s an asset to the city and residents.”
As the hearing last week drew to a close, city planner Jeff Briggs added his personal endorsement. “I’ve been coming to these meetings for 40 years. Rarely does the city commission get a chance to make a decision that’s forever. We need to celebrate.”
If interest in golf has declined, locally or nationally, I would appreciate hearing the evidence.
My understanding is that golf has proven to be one of the most resilient sports during the COVID Pandemic. It has certainly withstood the curse of social distancing and other mandates.
Golf even has its own cable channel. In fact the Golf Channel is headquartered in Orlando.
Winter Pines has been beautifully maintained over the years. For golfers It’s one of the best deals in town.
Thanks for the article. It seems like to me that buying the golf course is close to a no brainer. Then, I have yet to read of anyone with a good case to not buy the golf course. Sure there is a risk of it not being profitable in the near or medium term and if that occurs the city will be in a good place to decide what to do with the property and/or profit from that decision and/or at least break even seems to me. Perhaps someone like maybe Pete Weldon would have a good case for not buying the course that would give me pause in the matter.
People who say golf is dying don’t know what has been happening recently. Nationwide the number of rounds played was up 14% in 2020 vs. 2019 (according to the National Golf Foundation). And rounds played continued to grow in 2021.
Winter Pines is one of the most played courses in the U.S. My children developed their love of the game there. I’m delighted Winter Park is preserving that wonderful facility for posterity.
Better than an overpriced post office.
Winter Pines is an institution in 95892. No high density residential….Section 8…..in the Pines.
So glad this commission has the “FORE! sight” to acquire this green space. The acquisition makes sense. Thank you, Geri Throne for this summary of the facts surrounding the proposed purchase. I have tried to find a downside, but I can’t. The thought that this property might end up in the hands of Orange County or a developer with a very long time horizon is not acceptable. City voters should vote yes on the proposed Charter Amendments on March 8th to protect this valuable park space.
Residents top three places they’d most like to see become a golf course:
2) Winter Park Library and Events Center
3) Rollins’ Fairbanks Parking Garage
Specifically, how would the acquisition of the golf course affect the taxpayer: 1. the money to purchase ($7.2 million) and what are the potential maintenence costs, yearly, to the WP taxpayer?
It would be an astute move for the City of Winter Park to purchase the Winter Pines Golf Course. The price seems reasonable for the amount of land that the city would acquire and the additional green space would benefit the Winter Park citizens and the environment. The golf course currently is heavily used and it would be a wonderful that the Winter Park residents would have this additional recreation area.
Thank you WP City Council for moving to preserve this 93+ acres as
green space in our Town.
Have been playing there since 1971 and have lived in the Orlando, Winter Park, Ocoee and Pine Castle areas since 1957. Have supported the course through playing and their golf leagues and tournaments and will continue to do so as long as the course is still in existence and playable. Thank you.