WEEKI WACHEE — When Ed Balulis visited the shuttered Dunes Golf Club at Seville a few weeks ago, he could hardly believe that an active golf course existed there just a few months before.
The summer heat and rain had brought on an explosion of tall weeds and dog fennel, obscuring what once was lush, manicured turf.
But a drive around the 18-hole course revealed to Balulis what area golfers had known for years: The Dunes was no ordinary golf course. With its scenic elevation changes, expansive fairways and dozens of sand-filled bunkers, it had a character all its own.
The trouble was, the Dunes was unable to draw enough paying customers to turn a profit, so course owner Nachum Kalka decided in April to close the course indefinitely.
Balulis believes he is the man who could bring it back to its former glory.
"I'm committed to making it work," said Balulis, who took over operation of the facility in August. "To me, there's a lot more right with this golf course than what's wrong with it."
Of course, it helps that Balulis is a lifelong golf enthusiast who at age 8 began working at Marquette Trails Golf Club in Baldwin, Mich., a course designed, built and owned by his father. Through the years, he worked in just about every aspect of the golf business, from PGA instructor to owner of a turf equipment business in Homosassa.
For the past few weeks, Balulis and his staff have been working toward getting the Dunes course back into playing condition. The long to-do list is mostly due to neglect by the course's previous management, he said.
"I think they were cash-strapped and just skipped a lot of the regular maintenance that was needed," said Balulis. "In the long run, that hurt the play experience. In my opinion, anyone who is willing to pay the money to play golf should expect a well-maintained place to play."
Balulis estimates that the fertilizing and aerating of the greens, tees and fairways, plus the application of pesticides and herbicides, will cost about $100,000.
Balulis also trucked in lime rock and sand that will be used to shore up and repair areas washed out last year by Tropical Storm Debby. The course improvements, coupled with other amenities, such as a fleet of new golf carts, an expanded clubhouse and pro shop services, promises to once again make the Dunes a golfer's delight, he said.
Considered one of the state's highest-rated golf courses by the Florida State Golf Association shortly after it opened in 1986 as the Seville Golf Club, the Arthur Hill-designed course has had an up-and-down existence. Much of that has been tied to the struggles of different developers who found it difficult to entice prospective home buyers to the Seville community, and that is why most of the surrounding 3,200 acres of sand hills, pine trees and oaks on U.S. 19 near the Citrus/Hernando county border remain undeveloped.
Balulis said he believes that the Dunes ultimately became a victim of the economic climate in Hernando County, which has had a negative impact on nearly every golf course — most notably a lack of regular players needed to adequately support them. He hopes to avoid the same troubles that caused the Dunes' previous operators to give up.
"There's no reason this golf course shouldn't be turning a profit," Balulis said. "The golfers are out there. You have to give them their money's worth and make the course attractive and fun to play on, but do so in a way that doesn't break the bank."
Balulis said he is encouraged by inquiries from golfers wanting to know when the course will reopen. And while the official grand reopening won't be until Oct. 1, he hopes to have the course ready for a "soft opening" this coming weekend.
"I think it will be very playable by then, and I'd like to get some feedback," he said. "It's only going to get better from here."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.