WEEKI WACHEE — The men sharing a round of beers Monday after their golf league game at the Dunes Golf Club at Seville weren't sporting their normal joviality. Come next week, they will have to find another place to hit the links.
Owners of the course, which is considered by many enthusiasts to be one of Hernando County's finest golf venues, announced late last week that play will be suspended at least for the next several months due to the "negative golf economic climate in Hernando County." They say they anticipate reopening in the fall.
Longtime course manager Jim Cocchi said the decision was made in an effort to spare the cost of course maintenance during a time of year when business is slow. However, he added that at least part of the Dunes' current financial strife came from back-to-back hits by two tropical storms last summer that caused more the $350,000 damage.
"It's tough news for us," Cocchi said. "I have to lay off 21 people this week, and that hurts."
Located within the 1,100-acre Seville development on U.S. 19, just south of the Hernando/Citrus border, the Dunes opened during the late 1980s and has been under the ownership of Optima DHM Corp. since 2010.
Cocchi said that he and company president Nachum Kalka decided earlier this month that anticipated revenue during the summer probably wouldn't be enough to sustain the 18-hole operation.
"When you factor in salaries and what it costs to maintain the grounds, there just wasn't enough there to make it financially worthwhile," Cocchi said. "You look around the area and you'll find a lot of golf courses that are economically in bad or worse shape."
Bob Carson, director of operations at the Quarry Golf Course in Brooksville and a golf course owner for nearly 40 years, said that he has never seen the golf industry in such a depressed state. Hernando County, he said, seems to be suffering worse that many places in Florida due to an overabundance of courses and not enough players.
"There's no doubt about it," Carson said. "Everyone was relying on older people to keep their business up. The trouble is, they're all dying off and the young people aren't taking up the game."
Cocchi, a PGA professional, agreed, saying that the Dunes has been unable to attract a younger golfing crowd, despite its reputation for being both golfer friendly and challenging for experienced players.
Seville resident Pete Moschinger, 71, said he was sorry to hear about the suspension of play. An avid golfer who plays four to five times a week, he fears the temporary closing may wind up becoming permanent.
"Things haven't been good out here for a while," Moschinger said. "The members are getting a little impatient with the whole thing."
Cocchi said while he doesn't have a firm date, he expects the Dunes will likely reopen sometime in October. He also is fairly confident that the majority of the staff, including himself, will return.
"Hopefully, when we come back it'll be to better times," he said.
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.