Casselberry took a gamble this month and bought its community golf course for $2.2 million, in a move to retain a local fixture and end a contentious lawsuit.
The nearly 70-year-old course has been around just about as long as Casselberry and was most recently managed by a firm that wanted to sell it off for residential development.
The firm, Casselberry Golf Co., said the course was not profitable. The 18-hole course is one of the oldest in Central Florida and winds through five neighborhoods east of City Hall.
Casselberry Golf, whose principals included Bob Dello Russo, owner of Sanford air conditioning company Del-Air, brought suit to invalidate a deed restriction that said the property has to continue operating as a golf course or a conservation area without man-made structures until at least 2023.
When reached Friday, Dello Russo wished Casselberry the best, saying, "I hope they do well." But he added, "Will they make money? I don't know."
Casselberry commissioners decided to end the suit by having the city buy the property for $1.2 million in cash and a $1 million loan that will be paid back over the next two years.
The city is comfortable with the decision, seeing it as a way to improve Casselberry, despite the trend of golf courses closing because of expense and lack of use.
"We want people moving into Casselberry to regard it as a desirable place to live and invest in their homes," and a vibrant golf course will aid that goal, said City Manager Randy Newlon. "It's an amenity we have that couldn't be replaced."
Plus, for all the golf courses that are shutting down, market share is created for those that remain, Newlon said.
Still, he acknowledges, "It's a bit of a gamble."
The city plans to run the course until at least 2023, keeping with the deed restriction. After that, if the course is foundering, it would consider developing the land for residential use or other public purposes, Newlon said.
Any development would be on the city's terms, not those of an outside owner, he added. "It would be the way we wanted it."
To help set the course in the right direction, the city has hired as manager Integrity Golf of Winter Garden, which runs 23 courses in Central Florida, including Golden Bear Club in Windemere, Stoneybrook West in Winter Garden and Maifair Country Club in Sanford.
Integrity Golf plans to "strengthen the golf course's role in the community; we want it to be enjoyed by many residents," said Gene Garrote, the company's CEO. "We make it work by providing a professional and inviting atmosphere to golfers. There is also a big social aspect, like lessons in groups and theme nights."
Integrity will also have "clinics to get people familiar with the game of golf and make sure it is affordable," Garrote said.