Belleair approves sale of town-owned golf course

New owners promise to maintain green space; golfers worry it won't be public.
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BELLEAIR — The town is selling its public golf course to a local family who officials say will continue to uphold its efforts to maintain the acres of land as a green space.

On Tuesday, town commissioners approved the sale of the town-owned Belleview Biltmore Golf Club, 1501 Indian Rocks Road, to Pelican Golf Club, owned by the father and son duo Dan Doyle Sr. and Dan Doyle Jr., longtime residents of Belleair. The course's clubhouse, which is set to be demolished as part of the approved plan, could close as early as May 31.

The commission unanimously approved the sale, which went uncontested by the public during public debate, Town Manager JP Murphy said.

Part of the approved renovations include demolishing the pitched roof clubhouse that mimicked the design of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel and replacing it with a two-story one that will include a grill room, restaurant and a golf shop. The new clubhouse will take up the grassy lot next to it, which the town often uses for overflow parking for events, Murphy said. It will also have an underground golf cart storage area.

Across the course, designed in 1925 by famed golf course designer Donald Ross, 863 trees will be removed, including invasive species, as a way to redevelop Ross' design. According to the plans submitted, the company requested a variance to plant 400 trees, including red maple and live oak trees, as well as 10,500 shrubs, to mitigate the trees removed.

Murphy said the Doyle family approached the commission last year and offered to buy it for $3.8 million, $300,000 more than the town originally bought it for in 2013. But it wasn't because the current management company was losing money.

Green Golf Partners began managing the golf course when the town purchased it, and began a 10-year leasing contract the year after. The course had been operating at a loss of about $200,000 a year before the town bought it, Murphy said. Last year, the company was able to turn a profit, paying the town about $192,000, which included rent of $40,000 per quarter and a percentage of its profits.

"We weren't in the market to sell it, quite frankly," he said.

But the price was right, and the Doyle family has been generous to the town, Mayor Gary Katica said. Dan Doyle Jr. has dressed up as Santa Claus during Christmas time and delivered presents to families; he's donated vehicles to the town, Katica says, and he donated a tarp to cover a playground area. The Dimmitt Community Center's basketball gym, the Doyle Family Gymnasium, is named after him.

Pelican Golf Club will also cover the buyout fee for ending Green Golf Partner's 10-year contract early, which has a price tag of about $600,000, although it hasn't been finalized. Murphy said the $3.8 million the town gets from the sale could be used toward large maintenance projects like improving the town's drainage system.

A conservation easement, as part of the sale, will limit development on the land, and a green space easement established by a town ordinance has a 20-year restriction on any structures being built.

"The town has always been anti large development," Murphy said.

But it's not the land that concerns Belleair resident Marvin Bailey; it's the question of whether the course, after renovations are done, will keep its doors open to those without memberships. It's unclear whether the Doyles, who could not be reached for comment, intend to take the club private.

Bailey worries about losing the community, and he said others feel the same way. Although he's been a member since 2001, he has friends who aren't, but still like to play when they get the chance.

He said he believes from a business standpoint that the Doyles are doing what they think is good for them. But he said the current members and the public without memberships could suffer.

"It is like a family," said Bailey, adding that he was sad at the possibility of having his friends migrating to different courses.

If that happens, instead of crossing the street to get to the Belleview golf course, Bailey said he'll drive half an hour away to another one.

"Most of us probably feel that, because of our friends that aren't members who aren't going to be here, what's the point of us staying?" he said.

He believes the result will be "a play land for the wealthy," which he says is unnecessary because Belleair already has another membership-only golf course, Belleair Country Club.

"We just want a golf course," he said.

Katica has faith that the Doyle family will follow through with taking care of the course.

"I'm very happy with the whole thing," he said. He approved of the plan, he added, because of the town's intentions to maintain the golf course. The last thing the town wants, he said, is for the land to one day be developed.

The course is a water recharge area, so any structures could negatively impact the wells nearby. But Katica, who said he has known the Doyle family for years, believes they will continue to do good things for the town.

"The Doyle family is a terrific family in Belleair," he said. "I would not have approved my part if they were speculators."

Melissa Gomes can be reached at [email protected]

         
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