When the Plantation Palms Golf Club closed in 2014, it appeared to be another casualty in the trend of a shrinking golf industry. Nearly two years later, after a developer proposed turning the property into home sites, residents decided to take matters into their own hands.
In an effort to prevent the course from meeting a fate similar to that of nearby Quail Hollow Golf and Country Club in Wesley Chapel, which is set to be converted into a gated community of detached homes and townhouses, the Plantation Palms community formed a Bring Back Our Course group. The group actively recruited Bill Place and his wife, Su Lee, owners of Ace Golf, to purchase and restore the golf course.
Ace Golf, a local company that owns two driving ranges and three other golf courses in the Tampa Bay area, purchased the Plantation Palms Golf Club in May. With weeds reaching higher than 6 feet, destroyed fairways and nonexistent greens, owner Bill Place admitted that the project — the fourth local course he has renovated — required much more work than any of the three he has acquired.
After six months of restoration and renovations, Plantation Palms has reopened as a new and innovative club. Not only does it boast what Golf Digest rated as a four-star course, but there is now a miniature golf course and Mulligan's Irish Pub. These additions, Place said, should help ensure the club's success.
"We want to appeal to the entire community," he said. "My experience is with more than just a golf course. So what we do is a little different than most golf courses."
The reopening has come in several phases. First was the opening of club's restaurant in October. Unlike the typical "sleepy and overpriced" restaurants at many golf clubs, Place said, Mulligan's Irish Pub is a "family sports bar" that offers an expanded menu and 12 craft beers on draft in an atmosphere of high-top tables and large-screen TVs. There is also live music on Fridays.
"We took what was a bland little restaurant and made it an interesting and exciting Irish pub," Place said.
The second phase is perhaps the most innovative — an 18-hole miniature golf course built next to the clubhouse that opened in November. It is the first miniature golf course to open at a regulation-size golf club in the area and features waterfalls, ponds and streams, trick shots, tropical landscaping and lighting for nighttime play.
With the goal of drawing more people to the sport, Place expects that families who come to play miniature golf might work their way toward the big course. It is the first step at introducing children to golfing, with other draws to include a kids club, after-school and weekend programs, and clinics.
"The sport needs more players," Place said. "This is a way to make golf fun."
The golf course opened in December to the public, with new greens and manicured fairways. Place said it should take a year to get the course in top condition. In the meantime, low rates of $15 to $25 will be offered through the summer.
"We want people to come back out and see the course," he said. "There is a reason why Golf Digest viewed this as a legacy course, one that is unique and has a favorable design."
Other projects in the works include an expanded driving range, which is expected to open in February. It will include LED lighting for nighttime use. Plans are also under way to build a banquet hall by summer that can be used for events, meetings and weddings.
In an industry that Place admits is "not terribly healthy to begin with," he is confident that the uniqueness of what Plantation Palms Golf Club will lead to success.
That confidence, he said, is due to the Plantation Palms community itself. As part of the purchase, members of the Plantation Palms Homeowners Association agreed to buy social memberships to the club for the next five years — 821, or one for every home in the community.
And that was just the start of what the community has done, Place said. A group of 20 volunteers came out and planted the tropical plants throughout the mini golf course area. There are also volunteer "ambassadors" who drive around the golf course and greet people.
"This is the most organized and wonderful group of people to work with," Place said. "This is a community that loves its golf course and is happy to have it back. I can tell you, we don't see that kind of support very often."