By RODNEY PAGE
Times Staff Writer
LUTZ — The best part about being a golfer in Florida is that there is the potential to play every day, no matter the season. The worst part about maintaining a golf course in Florida is that it gets played every day, no matter the season.
So what happens when the greens need replacing? Most courses opt to use temporary greens while the big ones get replaced, like at St. Petersburg Country Club this summer. Other courses choose to replace nine holes at a time, leaving at least nine holes with regular greens.
But at TPC of Tampa Bay, the choice was to shut the course down completely. All 18 greens, as well as four other chipping and practice greens, are being replaced at once. The course, which hosts the Champions Tour's Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, closed on June 16 and will remain closed until Friday, August 14.
During the shut down, 45 employees were laid off. Only six managers and four maintenance workers remain on staff during the two-month dark period. The project will cost $200,000, and another estimated $200,000 in potential revenue during the two month period is lost.
"It's one of those things where you have to bite the bullet and invest in your future,'' TPC of Tampa Bay general manager Brady Boyd said.
A tough decision
Most golf course owners and general managers across the country, like most business people these days, are hanging on for dear life. The sour economy has meant fewer rounds of golf, which in some cases has resulted in closed courses.
Recently, Seven Hills Golf Club and Spring Hill Golf Club in Hernando County closed due to lack of play. Last year, Quail Hollow Golf Course in Pasco County shut down for the same reason. And courses in Sarasota and Venice have also recently suffered the same fate.
"Some courses are locking their doors for good,'' Boyd said. "We're fortunate that we can actually put money into the course right now.''
But closing down for two months has its costs. Boyd estimates there is an average of 100 rounds played per day at TPC of Tampa Bay during the summer. While the pro shop is open, it gets very little business with no golfers on the course. The lost revenue is "a couple hundred thousand,'' according to Boyd.
Boyd also had to consider the 200 members of the course. While the course is shut down, he arranged discounted rounds for members at five area courses, Fox Hollow, Cheval, Plantation Palms, Emerald Greens and Southern Hills. Also, the members will get two months added to the end of their contracts.
As for the laid off employees, Boyd said some will get their jobs back once the course starts interviewing again in August.
One thing Boyd didn't want to do was keep the course open when it wasn't playing at its best.
"With the TPC brand, we feel some people that play here expect that it may be the best round of golf they play all year,'' Boyd said. "You can't play many of the TPCs because they are private. We felt like we wouldn't be meeting anybody's expectations by going to temporary greens.''
Exceeding its life span
Boyd knew his course was long overdue for new greens. TPC of Tampa Bay opened in 1991 with Tifdwarf Bermuda grass, which generally has a 15 year life span.
In the past few years, different types of bermuda grass started to invade the greens. To the average golfer the change was unnoticeable. But to Boyd and his staff, it meant the greens would start to become inconsistent. That was unacceptable for a course that hosts a professional tournament as well as several other prominent amateur tournaments.
"The pros weren't complaining, but we could see where the different grasses were growing at a different rate,'' Boyd said. "(Golf balls) were holding in some places and not holding in others.''
The trouble was finding money in the budget. The PGA Tour owned the course and kept pushing the greens project back. That changed when Heritage Golf Group took ownership of the course last year for $5.5 million. The group, which owns courses around the country including Atlanta National Golf Club, planned to have the greens changed this summer.
"It started showing up on the radar screen in 2006,'' Boyd said. "That's when it was part of our five-year capital wish list. When Heritage Golf Group bought the course there were some (price) concessions made because they knew they were buying a golf course with 19-year-old greens. It's just like if you were selling a car to a friend and the clutch was about to go, you make concessions.''
The greens are being replaced with Champion Bermuda grass. The sprigs have been put down and are beginning to grow. In a month, they should be fully in place.
"Champion has a history going back to 1995,'' Boyd said. "Paspalum (grass) only has a five year history. We weren't willing to take that chance. We're looking at a 15 year life span out of this.''
Picking up where they left off
It is Boyd's hope to open in August with the same course they closed with in June. One of the few TPC courses that is daily fee, green fees range from $70-90 in the summer to a high of $175-225 in January and February.
With an improved course and a new staff, Boyd hopes the decision to close down this summer will be worth it.
"We were really, really good on the day we closed and when we open we're going to be even better,'' Boyd said.