Homeowners, ex-employees and golfers are left with questions for owners of Seven Hills Golfers Club and Spring Hill Golf and Country Club

Seven Hills Golfers Club in Spring Hill sits empty after the owner closed it and sister course Spring Hill Golf and Country Club.

MIKE CAMUNAS | Times

Seven Hills Golfers Club in Spring Hill sits empty after the owner closed it and sister course Spring Hill Golf and Country Club.

SPRING HILL — It's normally a good thing when a golf course is quiet.

But that's not the case at two local courses that abruptly closed last week.

All that remains at Seven Hills Golfers Club and Spring Hill Golf and Country Club are empty parking lots, locked doors, unkept greens and carts parked in the barn.

The only sign of former life is a notice in the window at each course.

It reads, in part: "Due to the ailing economy and lack of support from our staff, residents and customers, we have been forced to close our doors indefinitely. — Management."

What used to be popular courses are now just more examples of the ailing golf industry. But the abrupt closing Wednesday of the sister courses has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many, especially the employees.

"There was always some hints that it might happen, but never anything definite or anything we had to worry about," said former employee Matt Chaple, who worked at Seven Hills for eight years, the last few as crew foreman on the course. "I was shocked, and I'm upset, too. I needed that paycheck. That job was my livelihood."

Answers and explanations are nonexistent.

General manger Jim Kahanyshyn has dodged all of his former employees, and no one answered the door at his home in Spring Hill on Monday. His father and the owner of Lemkco Florida Inc., Michael Kahanyshyn, has refused to talk to anyone. When reached at his home in Alberta, Canada, Michael Kahanyshyn hung up on a Times reporter.

This is not the first time the Kahanyshyns have purchased a golf course and then been accused of neglecting it.

They previously owned Costa Del Sol Golf Course in Miami. Now called Costa Greens Golf Club, new owner Russell Breiner said Monday that the Kahanyshyns let the course go downhill before he bought it.

"They did not do a good job maintaining it," said Breiner, who, 10 years ago, spent more than $700,000 to fix up the course. "It's a fair statement that it was in bad shape. For whatever reason, they let the condition slide."

Chris Karamitsos, who works for Marcus & Millichap Brokerage Co., a national commercial real estate investment firm that has a division in Tampa that helps people buy, sell or get loans for golf courses, said he did not know the Kahanyshyns or that they were thinking of selling or closing the two Hernando courses.

Karamitsos has played both of the courses and says he has a pretty good handle on the golf course market. And it's a tough industry to be in right now, he said.

"Golf courses are considered assets that are nearly toxic," Karamitsos said.

He said the closings didn't surprise him "because this will be a bit of a trend going forward."

Employees are upset because of the lack of answers and shocked by the suddenness of the closings. They wonder: Why not sell the courses instead of laying off more than 30 people without any warning?

According to employees at both courses, Jim Kahanyshyn was not easy to work for.

Chaple said Seven Hills went through numerous superintendents over the past few years.

Several people said the Kahanyshyns were ill equipped to run the golf courses.

"Look, if I owned a golf course, I'd be there all day to make sure it was running," Chaple said of Jim, adding that he was gone most days before noon. "They just had no clue what they were doing. We told them, 'we need to do this,' and nothing ever happened.

"He basically just screwed 30 people without any warning. At 1:30 when I found out, I pulled (the grounds crew) in from the course. There was no use in them working in the heat. Everyone was in shock."

Ken Volk, the crew foreman for the past 11 years at Spring Hill, never thought the course would close, but admits he was concerned when the winter rates this past season did not increase from summer rates of $15.

"I would like more answers," Volk said.

"When Jimmy started running the courses, they went downhill. He basically didn't have any experience, and he couldn't care less about me or anyone else at the course."

When the employees were informed of the closing, they were still owed money. Volk said they were told their final checks would be mailed. He said Monday he was "keeping my fingers crossed."

Customers also have lingering questions.

Theresa Rifino thought she would do something nice for her husband and father-in-law, so on June 19, for Father's Day, she bought $50 worth of gift certificates from Seven Hills. With the courses closing and no answers from the Kahanyshyns, she's pretty certain her money is gone.

"Both places aren't answering their phones," Rifino said. "Fifty dollars may not be a lot to some (people), but it is to me."

At Spring Hill Golf and Country Club, only a few houses are scattered on the par-72, 6,897-yard course. But at the par-72, 6,746-yard Seven Hills, homes line nearly every hole. So someone such as Carroll Duncan, whose house is near the No. 10 tee box and about 100 yards from the abandoned Seven Hills clubhouse, is not exactly thrilled to have to look at an empty course from his pool deck.

"I'm really going to miss the (golfers)," said Duncan, who golfs himself and who moved to Seven Hills two years ago to live on a golf course. "I would always joke with the golfers when they (teed off), and they would always compliment me on my yard.

"Now it's just going to get overgrown, and what about my property value? I don't think I should have to pay extra taxes to live on a golf course that's not open."

Duncan did joke that he might play some free golf before the grass grows too high, but added that he will probably end up mowing the grass leading up to the tee box because it blends with his back yard and he doesn't want it to look bad.

The Seven Hills Homeowners Association also had no clue what the Kahanyshyns were planning. Moe Abell, manager of the association, said he realized that golf is down everywhere because of the economy, but the closing of the course leaves the association with its hands tied.

There's nothing the organization can do, he said.

"We have no control over the course," Abell said. "I haven't gotten that many calls on it, but a few. I'm not really upset, but I'm not going to be happy about it because it will get overgrown.

"(The Kahanyshyns) have always been difficult to deal with, and my question is why did they close? It's not a valid answer that golf is down everywhere. There was no reason to close the course. Now, everyone is out, from golfers to the home­owners."

Mike Camunas can be reached at mcamunas@sptimes.com or (352) 544-1771.

Homeowners, ex-employees and golfers are left with questions for owners of Seven Hills Golfers Club and Spring Hill Golf and Country Club 06/29/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 30, 2009 2:01pm]

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