Saturday, April 21, 2018

Quail Hollow takes advantage of second chance

WESLEY CHAPEL — In a state teeming with golf courses — the Tampa Bay area alone is home to more than 100 — it's not exactly the norm to see a course rise from the dead and thrive.

But that's just what Quail Hollow has managed to do in the past few years.

Originally opened in 1965, the course fell on hard times in 2008 and closed. Greens and fairways became indistinguishable on the neglected 18-hole course, and bunkers fell apart.

John Taberski, a resident of the Fairways of Quail Hollow subdivision, watched for three years as Quail Hollow sat unattended and grew into an unmanageable jungle.

"It was like a field of weeds," the former neighborhood association president said. "It was embarrassing to invite people over to your area."

Homeowners could do nothing as their back yard turned from a manicured golf course into a wild swamp.

"It definitely lowered the market value of the houses," Taberski said.

Even when Quail Hollow was finally purchased, the layout was still in danger.

"It was going to be developed into big a housing project, but they ended up not going through with everything," said Keith Kulzer, the course's director of golf.

A new ownership group led by Andre Carollo stepped in to try and bring the course back to its former glory. The process to make it presentable, however, was no easy feat.

"They started just bush-hogging everything and cutting the weeds down just to see where the golf course was," Kulzer said. "After about two months, they got it down."

After that project was done, the team tackled the putting greens and worked back from there.

"We had to reshape all of the greens," Kulzer said. "We dug them up first just to see what was there and brought in dirt to make them what they used to be."

Construction moved toward the tee boxes on every hole. Bunkers were re-formed and filled with sand, trees planted and 10-foot dog fennels cut down.

In addition to putting the course back together, the team had restore and restyle other amenities, like the restaurant and pool.

Quail Hollow reopened in October 2011 as a public club. Carollo and Kulzer tried to appeal to the average player by making the course a touch easier.

"What we liked about it was, being a public facility, you weren't going to spend five and a half hours on the golf course because it was so difficult," Kulzer said. "We want people to have a good experience from the time they walk in, to the time they play golf and all the way around."

But ease of play and reduced fees alone were no guarantee of success for a course that had been off the local radar for years.

Kulzer thinks the course's history prevents a relapse to 2008 and helps it stand out in an area with an overabundance of golf courses.

"We're fortunate that Quail Hollow was built in 1965, so it preceded itself," Kulzer said. "It was the original course out here and when we opened it back up, everyone couldn't wait to come back to Quail Hollow. …

"The big thing is that we get to see more people. Because it's open to the public, you get fresher ideas, fresher attitudes."

And for proof of the course's current health, just check the greens.

Before it closed six years ago, it wasn't uncommon to see a meager seven to 10 golfers a day. But now, even during the summer "offseason," Quail Hollow averages more than 100 golfers daily.

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