SPRING HILL — Paul D'Anna likes a challenge.
"This is going to be one of them," said the new owner of Seven Hills Golfers Club, rubbing his hands in anticipation. "Something I like to do is turn courses around."
The native Michigander, and a golf course owner there, is joined in his enthusiasm by residents of some 2,000 homes in the Seven Hills and Wellington communities and by golfers who deserted the 18-hole Denis Griffiths-designed course over the last decade.
Those who left and those who steadfastly played through complained of poor maintenance, unfriendly service and an inadequate pro shop, when it was open at all.
Within two weeks of D'Anna's mid-August takeover, greens had been double verticut for smoother, quicker play. Green sizes were being expanded to their original design, and weeds had been targeted with herbicide to yield plusher fairways.
Nathan King, previously the golf instructor and golf shop supervisor at Tarpon Springs Golf Course, is the new general manager and already has reopened the pro shop. Now stocked by Steve's World of Golf, it offers gear and garb, from clubs to tees, hats to shoes.
Among a Wellington foursome coming off the 18th green on a recent morning, Rich Beyer said, "The tees, the greens are extraordinary" compared to their previous condition. He noted that the former owner had shrunk the greens to small circles and had allowed tee boxes to skew off level.
"(Management) had a couple of meetings with us," Beyer said, "and asked us what we wanted." With raised eyebrows, Beyer indicated the asking was a gratifying surprise.
Added fellow player Elvin Kelson, also a cart barn employee: "People have come back. The management, can't beat it. A-1."
"All our homeowners should be very excited," said Joseph Pratl, president of the Seven Hills Homeowners Association. "Not just the improvements (to the course), but it's important to have a successful golf course. It improves our property values.
"It's a whole new attitude," Pratl continued. "Really good things are happening. If there's something we can do that mutually benefits us, (D'Anna) needs to let us know. We want to be good neighbors."
A community resident of some 20 years asked D'Anna if she could plant flowers around the clubhouse. An accommodating D'Anna said the clubhouse and its environs are among his updating plans: interior remodeling and refurbished landscaping for more curb appeal.
Food and beverage licenses should be in hand by September's end, a chef then hired and dining room service restored. The owner is considering an outside company to provide full banquet management.
But, with two more months of growing season outdoors, D'Anna, 46, is focused on the course for now. "It needs a lot of TLC," he said.
First off, he subcontracted course maintenance to a division of Davey Tree Expert Co., which also "expertly" maintains D'Anna's course in St. Clair County, Mich. Teams of up to eight workers daily have attacked weeds and ants, along with mowing the expanded greens.
"Seeing people out there working" has elicited compliments, said manager King, 27. A tree removal team is on schedule to take down numerous dead trees for less encumbered play and to improve aesthetics for the 200 homes with golf course views.
Reversing the front and back nines of the golf course is "very near," King said. That will put hole No. 1 just outside the clubhouse window, and King and the course starter will be better able to manage play.
Before the next growing season, D'Anna added, the overall course, opened in 1989, will be rid of weeds and the entirety reseeded.
"That will take time with Mother Nature," conceded King, who also is pursuing United States Golf Association rerating of the course. It hasn't been done in 10 years, he noted.
With a good handle on the course now, King said, "This course is one of the best laid out in the area, with rolling hills, 65 sand traps, no water hazards, lots of trees, challenging but forgiving. We just want to get it in the great condition it used to be and can be again."
Current rates to play are $20 before noon, $15 after noon, including cart. Memberships are available for six months and yearly, with discounts for Spring Hill residents. They start at $140 a month for a single and $210 a month per couple.
Contact Beth Gray at [email protected]