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In Dunedin's golf saga, city finally at 19th hole

DUNEDIN — Today's City Commission meeting could mark the last step of leasing negotiations with the Dunedin Country Club — and some couldn't be happier.

Commissioners and residents say they're ready to move on from an "embarrassing" two years of arguments and an undercurrent of bad blood.

The questions are simple, they say: Who should manage the country club, and what should the country club owe? The history, however, has been anything but.

Here's an overview:

The club: The Dunedin Isles Country Club opened in 1927 with a par-72 golf course designed by famed architect Donald Ross. The Professional Golfers Association headquartered there in the 1940s and '50s, hosting more than a decade of national championships.

The city owns the course; a private nonprofit organization run by a board of directors owns the clubhouse land and leases the course from the city. Fewer than 200 residents are members of the semi-private club, paying thousands a year in dues. Non-members can play for a fee, though some have complained of member snootiness.

The problem: A sudden drop in membership in 2006 motivated the club to ask for concessions on its lease, which demanded 5 percent of yearly revenue. The city began to look for management alternatives as the club's rent payments fell behind.

A National Golf Foundation consultant, hired to give the city a guide, recommended the club hire a professional manager but continue as a nonprofit. The city, he said, should "not expect significant revenues."

A group of residents and former club members said easing the club's financial obligation would be unfair to other city facilities and Dunedin taxpayers.

The solutions: The city staff asked golf businesses to submit proposals on how they would run the club. Billy Casper Golf, a nationwide golf management firm, responded with a deal to contribute nearly $800,000 in rent and capital improvements within three years.

The club responded as well, paying the city nearly $200,000 in due rent.

With the requirements met, the city said the club could manage the course for the 13-year duration of its lease.

But the city and club negotiated a revised agreement that would change financial and management details of the current lease.

The agreement: The proposed new agreement states the club could manage for 20 more years, discussing the lease with the city every five years.

Five percent of golf revenue would be split toward property improvements and the salary of a manager, who would oversee day-to-day operations.

A fifth of annual golf revenue over $1.8 million, and a tenth of non-golf revenue over $900,000, would be paid to the city.

The agreement also stipulates more marketing and friendliness toward non-members, the addition of a city employee onto its board and a name change to the Dunedin Golf Club.

Commissioners indicated they would approve the new agreement.

Also on the agenda: About 3 acres of club-owned land may be sold to the city for about $250,000, below market value, for stormwater construction in the oft-flooded Dunedin Isles subdivision.

The future: The city, working with the club and Billy Casper Golf, hopes to organize a self-sustaining "golf campus" that would consolidate the club and the public St. Andrews Links next door.

Course boundaries could be redrawn.

Billy Casper Golf has maintained interest in operating the less-profitable Links; the city may propose a deal with the firm next year.

Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

Fast facts

What's next

The Dunedin City Commission will meet to consider a new lease agreement with Dunedin Country Club.

When: 6:30 p.m. today.

Where: City Hall chambers, 542 Main St., Dunedin.

In Dunedin's golf saga, city finally at 19th hole 11/18/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 18, 2009 9:46pm]

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