Step onto the "golf course'' at Timber Oaks and the brown grass crackles beneath your feet. Weeds grow where putts once rolled true on manicured greens.
Ever visit a ghost town? The feeling is similar, even without tumbleweeds.
Thirty years ago, U.S. Home took full advantage of the Florida Dream in marketing its sprawling west Pasco retirement subdivision: vibrant seniors playing games at the community center, couples laughing it up on the emerald fairways. It was safe here, and cheap. Tampa and St. Pete were just down the road if you needed a city fix.
For the most part, that hasn't changed. The clubhouse remains popular, neighbors still look after each other, deed restrictions protect property values. But the golf course, once the symbol of an active senior lifestyle, is now an eyesore.
In a state where unsuspecting investors once poured their money into swamps that couldn't be developed, the Timber Oaks golf course covers more than 60 acres, much of which goes underwater during major rainstorms. Developers intended it to be the community's drainage answer, and state regulators approved their plans. But several times over the years the ponds proved insufficient. Golf holes went underwater and only aggressive pumping spared the more vulnerable homes.
All this seems hard to believe these days when rainfall is scarce and cypress trees fall over in the dust. It's kind of like freezing folks in Chicago this week dismissing global warming theories. But the same kind of floods that hit in 1988 and 2004 will return. Timber Oaks, as residents learned many years after the developer was done with the 1,999 homes and gone with the wind, is situated in what is called a "closed basin.'' Water has nowhere to go.
Suzanne Pace bought the course in 1998 after years as a club professional in Bradenton. She did her best to generate interest and make a profit, but there were many obstacles and competition. After the flood, she almost had the course sold to developers who wanted to build condos, but homeowners objected and the county's experts said the project would exacerbate flooding in the area. Last week she declined an invitation to discuss the situation, saying only, "We've got a plan for the property.''
People who paid a premium for golf course views would love to see something positive, but others around the community also have a stake in its future.
One possible solution has been tossed around at the county government complex. Residents would agree to an assessment, much like a road paving project, and the county would use the money to buy the property and create a lake that could handle runoff when the heavy rains return.
A lakeside recreation area would be an improvement and benefit homeowners who live throughout the community, not just on the former fairways.
Meanwhile, the Timber Oaks golf course serves as a stark and ironic example: The very thing that made it attractive to so many home buyers is now its greatest liability.
So much for the Florida Dream.