TARPON SPRINGS — Canvas banners greet motorists as they drive past the brick entrance of Crescent Oaks Country Club on East Lake Road: Crescent Oaks Now Open To The Public.
For the past 11 months, Crescent Oaks Country Club wasn't open to anybody. On Nov. 1, 2010, the golf course and country club went into foreclosure when owner Crescent Oaks LLC could no longer pay its bills. The greens died, the fairways grew and some homeowners had a rundown golf course in their back yards.
In May, Bill Place paid just less than $900,000 to take over ownership of the golf course and country club. The roof was leaking, wires were hanging from the ceiling and appliances were missing from the kitchen. There was no maintenance equipment for the course, there were no carts. The three main irrigation pumps on the course were fried.
"It was a little ominous,'' Place said. "This was clearly going to be a major project. This was not going to be a summer where (the family) does anything. We've been working 60 hours a week. Now we can finally breathe.''
After five months of work, Crescent Oaks reopened on Oct. 1. The club, private since 1991, is now semiprivate and open for public play.
"It's taken too long,'' Crescent Oaks Home Owners Association president John Miolla said. "We worked very hard this summer to get this place reopened.''
By the beginning of 2010, Crescent Oaks was slipping. The previous ownership group "took more out of the club than they ever put in,'' Miolla said.
Members started drifting to other courses nearby, such as Cypress Run and Wentworth. Crescent Oaks went from a high of 386 members in 1999 to about 80 by last October.
Since there was a stipulation in the bylaws that the course remain private, there was no way to produce outside golf revenue. Crescent Oaks LLC foreclosed and Wells Fargo Bank took over ownership and began to search for a buyer.
The course sat idle, although there was minimal upkeep. The greens were lost. The clubhouse had several leaks in the roof. Finding a buyer was the top priority for Miolla. Once Place was approved from about 12 applicants in May, Miolla felt relief.
"I have my life back again,'' he said. "I've been spending most of my time with lawyers and perspective buyers over the last 10 months.''
Time to get to work
Place, 51, started in the golf business as a driving range owner. He has two in the Tampa Bay area. Five years ago he took over Pebble Creek Golf Course in Tampa. In January he took over Wentworth Golf Club in Tarpon Springs and made it semiprivate.
When Crescent Oaks, which is 3 miles north of Wentworth, went into foreclosure, Place put in a bid. He and his wife, Su Lee, already had their plates full.
"You start questioning yourself,'' Place said. " 'Do I need to do another one? Am I out of my mind?' We're doing fine. We have our driving ranges. Pebble Creek is doing well. Wentworth is going to finish in the black. So this was pretty daunting. Our kids are 15 and 16, and we want to spend some time with them. But my wife and I can't stop.''
The clubhouse had to be gutted. All 18 greens had to be redone. Fairways and rough needed mowing. Place said he intends to use all of a $1 million line of credit for repairs.
The new greens took root this summer. The fairways are mostly green. It is slowly getting back into shape.
Place said bridges still need some repairs and all the bunkers will be redone. "Any golfers will say that the course is in good shape right now," he said. "What I really want is for them to come back a year from now and to say it's in really good shape.''
Place said membership is at about 80. He hopes to have that up to 150-200 by the end of the year. He got the Homeowners Association to agree to allow public play. The vote was 370-6.
Tennis is part of every golf membership, with 5 percent going to the tennis facility. Single memberships range from $99 monthly for juniors to $179 for those 66 and over. There is also a $200 initiation fee. The memberships are also good at Wentworth and Pebble Creek.
"I think there are a lot of fence-sitters,'' Place said. "It's kind of like a kicked puppy. Even though people know we have an 18-year track record, they want to see it. I can't blame them.''
Miolla said having a functioning golf course in a golf course community has calmed nerves.
"There were 34 homes for sale here in June,'' Miolla said. "Once they announced they had a buyer, it went down to 14. That tells you what a golf course community like this can do when it has an operating golf course. … They've done everything they said they were going to do and then some.
"We hope it's the Crescent Oaks of old.''
hot dog thrower talks: Brandon Kelly, a 31-year-old California man arrested for throwing a hot dog at Tiger Woods during a tournament Sunday, said he got the idea after watching the movie Drive, about a stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver: "As soon as the movie ended, I thought to myself, 'I have to do something courageous and epic. I have to throw a hot dog on the green in front of Tiger.' " The self-described Woods fan did not elaborate.
Information from Times wires was used in this report.