PALM HARBOR — Greg McClimans knew it was a crazy idea. With area courses trying to hang on during a down economy, he was going to throw $500,000 at renovating his course, Brooker Creek Golf Club. And in the dead of summer, no less, when there are fewer golfers.
"No idiot was doing this except me,'' McClimans said. "I got close to a 40 percent savings because none of the contractors had any jobs in this economy.''
But McClimans believes his course is worth saving, economy be damned. He tore up all 18 tee boxes and replaced every bunker. The project began June 15, and after some weather delays, the course reopened at full length Oct. 9.
The course was open with temporary tees while construction was going on, but only a few hardcore golfers played during the summer.
"We weren't completely shut down, but we might as well have been,'' McClimans said.
New name, newer look
If Brooker Creek Golf Club doesn't sound familiar, it's because when it opened in 1973, it was Tarpon Woods Country Club. Then Innisbrook took it over and named it Lost Oaks. McClimans became co-owner in 2003 and it reverted to Tarpon Woods Golf and Country Club.
Signs off McMullen-Booth Road still read Tarpon Woods, but they soon will be changed. Even the markers on some of the holes still read Lost Oaks, but they will be changed by November, when northerners come down to play.
Brooker Creek isn't the only course to undergo changes over the summer. TPC Tampa Bay in Lutz shut down for a few months to replace the greens. Zephyrhills City Golf Course did the same and reopened Oct. 1. The Walden Lake Hills Course in Plant City is undergoing renovations but is scheduled to reopen in November.
Reviving a course such as Brooker Creek, which has lost some of its luster, sounds like a big job. But McClimans has been around the bay area golf scene for more than 30 years, and he thinks he can pull it off.
Careful what you wish for
McClimans took over as head professional at Clearwater Country Club in 1976. He left in 1996 to run a driving range he owned on U.S. 19. He also partnered with PGA professional John Huston and co-owned Clearwater Executive Golf Course.
In 2003, Huston and McClimans were presented with an offer they couldn't refuse. Golf Trust of America, which owned Tarpon Woods (Lost Oaks then), was selling off its courses and going out of business. The course the company bought for $5.7 million in October 1997 was sold to McClimans and Huston for $2.3 million, or about 40 cents on the dollar of Golf Trust's original investment.
Shortly afterward, Huston took full ownership of Clearwater Executive while McClimans and his wife, Rebecca, took over ownership of Tarpon Woods. Owning a course was a lifelong dream, but McClimans admits it's much more responsibility than being a head professional.
"The golf pro has the nice, shiny shoes and doesn't have to worry about much,'' he said. "But as the owner you have to worry about the toilets being backed up or the food and beverage."
His first order of business was to revamp the clubhouse. He leased the food and beverage space to Beef O'Brady's. The clubhouse was gutted and transformed, and the restaurant held its grand opening a few days ago.
The pro shop and offices received a facelift as well. Now the focus is on the course. McClimans brought in Rick Wahl to be course superintendant. Wahl spent 20 years in the same capacity at Belleair Country Club.
"This is part of a 10-year project,'' McClimans said. "When it's done, we hope to make it one of the best courses in the area."
Work in progress
The paspalum grass used on the tee boxes has not fully grown in. And the areas around most bunkers are brown and patchy.
McClimans' goal was to have the course in playable shape by Nov. 1, but that has been pushed back a couple of weeks. And once those areas are grown in, he will shift his attention to the greens, which are starting to show their age.
"That takes a lot of money,'' he said. "We're kind of holding off on that right now, but it's in our future plans.''
Rodney Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or (727) 893-8810