Palm Beach County has been calling itself “Florida’s Golf Capital” for more than 20 years and even consolidates its status with a trademark.
To uphold that claim, given country clubs struggling to maintain membership and stave off development pressures, the county could approve an amendment to its code to allow country clubs to build hotels on site.
Boca Lago Golf & Country Club is calling for this code change “to provide an alternative source of income” to prevent “the closure of a non-profitable golf course,” the county documents read.
While the proposal specifically applies to Boca Lago, which is on the northwest corner of Palmetto Park Road and Florida’s Turnpike, the code change, if approved, may apply to other proposed golf course units in suburban Palm Beach County using the location of the Future hotels will be limited to the commercial area under development, said Jeff Brophy, an agent from WGI who represents Boca Lago.
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“How can we keep subsidizing the club without just closing golf holes and selling them as a pavement until the next holes close?” Said Brophy. “This is where the use of a hotel came into play.”
The application received its first approval on Thursday. The proposal will be submitted to Palm Beach County Commissioners at a later date.
“That’s big,” said Commissioner Maria Marino, who is a professional golfer. “I would like to see what we can do to keep golf as an economic engine in our county. It is our responsibility to do this. “
Boca Lago, which now has three nine-hole golf courses, opened as a stock club in 1975, Brophy said, meaning the members owned a stake in the club. When membership was turned down, residents voted to become a private non-equity club.
“That was really very damaging,” said Brophy. “It’s these non-equity clubs that are going under.”
The country club “continues to lose millions of dollars annually for failure to maintain membership,” he added.
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The proposed code change could also apply to Aberdeen west of Boynton Beach, Boca West, and Cypress Lakes near West Palm Beach.
“We know what has happened in the last 15 to 20 years because these golf courses have either been closed or partially closed,” said Brophy. “We will see this trend continue.”
In 2017, Boca Lago closed part of one of its golf courses to a developer to build 130 townhouses.
Two years later, the district commissioners unanimously approved an application to build 436 residential units on the 110-acre closed golf course at Villa Del Ray.
In early 2020, the first residents moved into the converted Polo Trace housing estate on a 150-acre golf course west of Delray Beach.
Last December, Mizner Trail Golf Club, west of Boca Raton, was sold to a real estate company for $ 33.3 million. The property was approved for the construction of 252 apartments six years ago, but the project never saw the light of day.
The idea of increasing country club revenues through hotel stays is not a new idea, Brophy said, citing two examples in the Palm Beach County communities. Built in 1981, the PGA National Golf Course at Palm Beach Gardens is thriving with its 339-room hotel, and the Banyan Cay Resort & Golf Club in West Palm Beach will be opening a 150-room Hyatt hotel this year to support that the club.
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“We’re not going to build a $ 20 million hotel unless we think it will work,” Brophy said. “We’re just trying to put another tool in their toolbox to keep this club open.”
Attaching a hotel to a golf course needs careful consideration, however, as it can be an expensive, time-consuming, and risky endeavor, said Shai Zelering, managing director of Brookfields Real Estate Group, who represents the owners of PGA National.
“I think it’s the wrong cure for the disease,” he said.
The five-course golf resort in Palm Beach Gardens could play in a league of its own as it is affiliated with a national brand and hosts the annual Honda Classic. The resort is investing $ 100 million in renovating its facilities and buying existing golf courses to build its portfolio.
But smaller, individual country clubs with one to three courses, which are made accessible to the public with a hotel, can create an oversupply of golf resorts and reduce membership even further.
What could be more beneficial for these clubs, Zelering said, is working with other clubs to create broader membership in order to save costs and achieve economies of scale.
“Membership is about exclusivity,” he said. “It’s a very delicate balance to keep both the temporary business and the members happy.”
Also at the zoning meeting on Thursday, the commissioners approved:
- A request to redesign a 7-Eleven gas station on the northeast corner of Military Trail and Lantana Road near Atlantis to expand the supermarket and enable 24-hour operation.
- A luxury auto warehouse where members can “store and display their vehicles with the intention of storing and displaying a country club atmosphere” and for sale. The site is on 10.5 acres south of Ranch House Road and east of Congress Avenue near West Palm Beach.