TAMPA — The rumors started flying weeks ago. Babe Zaharias Golf Course was going to be sold off to developers.
One of the city’s three publicly owned golf courses, Babe Zaharias is prized by residents in the Forest Hills neighborhood of northwest Tampa. There was a frenzy of communication as they sought answers.
So City Council member Luis Viera and officials with the golf course operator, the Tampa Sports Authority, will attend an association meeting 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Babe Zaharias Clubhouse, 11412 Forest Hills Dr.
They’ll address how this all got started.
In December, the finance committee of the TSA discussed the future of the course after it lost $395,596 last year, said Bobby Silvest, the authority’s spokesman.
The discussion took place four days after the Tampa Bay Times reported the number of rounds played on the three courses dropped by nearly a quarter since 2012. In all, the courses lost $1.2 million in 2017. As golf’s popularity has waned in recent years, revenue at the city’s golf courses, including Rocky Point and Rogers Park, has suffered.
But fewer dollars being collected didn’t faze Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s administration.
"They were looking at the long-term strategy for the golf courses and took it to the city to see if it was still in the city’s long-term strategy," Silvest said. "The city administration made it very clear to us. The city has no interest in selling or developing any of its three golf courses. They are a public asset."
When City Council member Luis Viera heard about TSA’s discussions with city officials, he alerted the Forest Hills Neighborhood Association, which met with TSA board members. That meeting helped dispel rumors that the golf course, used by many residents as a place to walk and its clubhouse as a meeting place, was on the block.
"The way that I see it is Babe Zaharias is a city amenity. It’s not supposed to make a profit necessarily. But you have to keep any losses to a minimum," said Viera, whose district includes the neighborhood. "It’s a good discussion for Forest Hills to have: how to increase revenues from Babe Zaharias."
The golf course has a storied history. Built in 1926, it was purchased in 1949 by Zaharias, an Olympic gold medalist, a pioneer in women’s professional golf. After Zaharias died in 1956, the golf course fell into disuse, becoming a haven for motorcyclists until the city reopened it in 1974.
Phil Roder, president of the Forest Hills Neighborhood Association, issued a statement opposing any future development to the park.
"The Forest Hills Neighborhood Association staunchly opposes the development of the historic Babe Zaharias golf course, which honors the legacy of one of the greatest female athletes of all time and defines our beloved community," Roder said.
For now, Viera says, residents don’t have anything to worry about. Buckhorn opposes any redevelopment, he said.
"At least until April 2019, this is a non-issue," Viera said, referring to the end of the term-limited Buckhorn’s tenure.