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Sun City Center willing to open golf course to nonresidents

SUN CITY CENTER — With hopes of drawing more golfers and salvaging what was once the backbone of this retirement community, local leaders this week voted to open the North Course to residents outside Sun City Center.

The board followed a recommendation proposed by a task force formed last year in the wake of the bankruptcy filing of WCI Communities Inc., the developer that built much of Sun City Center and runs its golf courses.

The board must reach an agreement with WCI to change the North Course rules.

With golf course use plummeting, community leaders mobilized to find ways to reverse the slump in golfing and to prevent WCI from closing its courses. The task force recommended a variety of options to encourage more people to golf more frequently at the North Course, including opening it to nonresidents, holding tournaments and providing food vendors.

Ed Barnes, the board's president and leader of the task force, said closing the Sun City Center courses would impact many residents' home values, whether they golf or not.

"We were built as a golfing community," Barnes said, calling the courses an important aesthetic part of Sun City Center as much as recreation.

However, he cautioned that the move to open the North Course to the public does not guarantee its survival, especially if the change fails to attract more golfers. WCI could still decide to close it, he said.

"However, by making these changes, we are trying to eliminate as many WCI excuses as possible," Barnes said.

He said that community association members will receive priority on tee times.

John Luper, WCI's regional general manager of amenities, said a spike in use at the North Course could definitely help its prospects.

Closing the course would be the "last thing we would want to do, but never say never in this economy," Luper said.

In voting to open the North Course to outside residents, the community's board said it will work with WCI to amend a 1984 agreement that restricted use to residents and their guests.

But board member Patrick Long said he worried too much time might pass before the sides hash out the amendment. The North Course needs to open to outsiders and start making money right away, he added, before WCI closes it.

"This has been going on for six months," Long said at the meeting about the task force study and recommendations.

In addition to amending the 1984 agreement, on Long's suggestion the board also voted to enter a temporary agreement with WCI to open the North Course to nonresidents as soon as possible. The temporary agreement would stand through 2010.

Saundra Amrhein can be reached at amrhein@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2441.

Sun City Center willing to open golf course to nonresidents 05/14/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 14, 2009 4:31am]
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