SPRING HILL — It's been a long time since Richard Bowden played a round of golf on one of his favorite Spring Hill courses — more than two years.
That was just before the Spring Hill Golf and Country Club went dormant. Since then, Bowden and other golfers who enjoy playing the course have been hoping for the day when they could once again drive a ball down the long, lush fairways or putt on what many once considered some of the best greens in Hernando County.
"It's a shame because it's a great golf course and very convenient to me," said Bowden, whose home on Stoneville Court is across the street from the 17th hole. "It's been like a ghost town here for a while now. And I'm anxious to see that change."
The return of play on one of Hernando County's oldest golf courses is on its way, says Roger Thompson, who took over the facility in January 2010 and closed it a year and a half later because of what he called a contract dispute with facility's owners. Thanks to a new agreement that gives him the option to purchase the dormant 18-hole course, he plans to reopen it by the end of December.
"It's taken a long time, but we're happy to be bring it back," he said last week. "People who played it before are going to notice a huge difference, and it will be better than it's ever been."
Thompson said his work crews have spent the past two months reseeding tees, rebuilding bunkers, and trimming trees and shrubs. This week, he says, work will begin on restoring the course's 18 greens. And most of his 30 former employees have told him they would return once the facility is up and running.
The turnaround did not occur overnight. Since closing the facility in August 2011, Thompson said, he has had to overcome several obstacles to implementing a long-term business plan that would make the golf course a moneymaker.
"We couldn't do the things before that we needed to do to offer a quality golf experience to customers," he said. "It was frustrating to sit back and watch (the course) deteriorate and not be able to do something about it. My hands were tied."
Thompson said he remained hopeful that things would eventually work out. He stayed in touch with the club's nearly 140 members and, without a professional-grade mower, kept the weeds on the 211-acre course at bay using a 50-inch Craftsman lawn tractor.
"I didn't want people to think I had totally abandoned the place," he said. "I still had an active lease, and I felt I was responsible to the property owners around here to keep it looking decent."
Originally opened in 1969, back when Spring Hill was a fledgling retirement community, Spring Hill Golf and Country Club, north of Spring Hill Drive and east of Mariner Boulevard, quickly became one of the region's best-known championship-quality golf courses. Membership was strong, and the course hosted several golf tournaments every year.
Purchased in the early 1980s by the Canadian-based Lemkco Florida Inc., which also operates Seven Hills Golf Club, the facility continued to flourish until the economy began to flounder in recent years. In 2010, Lemkco owner Michael Kahanyshyn abruptly shuttered both facilities, citing financial reasons.
Thompson, an Ohio native and golf enthusiast who has lived in Florida since 2001, said he learned of the golf course's availability through a friend.
Although Lemkco was willing to give him a five-year lease, Thompson said his desire was to negotiate a purchase option so he could attract investors. He claims he has spent more than $250,000 to bring the golf course up to acceptable playing level.
Thompson said that once the purchase agreement was finalized with Lemkco, he was able to accept an investment offer from an out-of-state company to pay for the present improvements. The company, which he declined to name, has agreed to provide funding for equipment, golf carts and other amenities for the operation.
However, Thompson said that the unexpected death of his friend William "Lucky" Luchsinger, who was killed last month in a pedestrian accident in Spring Hill, has put a damper on the excitement surrounding the golf course's reopening. Luchsinger, who helped out around the facility, was going to serve as its general manager.
"It was a hard blow for us," Thompson said. "He was very knowledgeable about golf course operations."
He admits that while the county's still fragile economy may not be the ideal climate to launch a new golf operation, he believes Spring Hill Golf and Country Club's reputation is still strong enough to attract players.
"This is a golfing community with a lot of people who enjoy the game," he said. "But people want their money's worth when they pay for a round of golf. We want to give them that, and much more."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.