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New facility offers a range with a hood

Tampa entrepreneur Bill Place uses moveable canopies to shade a driving range he built on top of a closed dump.

It's a little surreal, hitting 3-woods out over a city landfill.

But it's a vision that has driven Tampa entrepreneur Bill Place for the past six years as he pursued his dream of building a top-flight driving range on a closed dump.

In 1993, Place was an unemployed former GTE worker looking for a suitable location for a driving range.

"I looked at just about every piece of property in the county," Place said.

But in Hillsborough, like most major metropolitan areas in the country, the high cost of land makes it unlikely that a driving range owner can make much of a profit on $5 buckets of golf balls.

So Place approached the county's solid waste management director about leasing part of the Northwest Landfill. Place and the county reached an agreement, but he put the range on hold until this year as the area's road system matured.

In the meantime, he opened another driving range in Brandon.

Thursday, Place finally opened Ace Golf on Linebaugh Avenue. And only hours after unlocking the front gates, golfers were lining up on the freshly sodded tees and bashing brand new range balls into the muggy morning air.

There are other practice ranges in the north Tampa area, so Place looked for ways to make Ace Golf stand out.

Like Different Strokes in Northdale, Golf Grove on Bearss Avenue, and H & H Driving Range on Hillsborough, Ace Golf has the standard features golfers have come to expect from their practice facilities. Those features include a practice putting green and a chipping area to work on the short game, grass and synthetic tees, lights for night practice and professional instruction.

But Ace Golf has something the others don't. Namely, shade.

Place bought two large, moveable canopies made by CoverShots, a South Carolina company that has created the coolest golf accessory since the invention of the tree.

"When the heat index is 110 degrees, they make all the difference," said Place, who owns the first CoverShots in the area.

Just as innovative was Place's decision to utilize the landfill location.

"As land becomes more scarce in metropolitan areas, it just makes sense," Place said. "And, fortunately, it's being done all over the country. You can't dig into a closed landfill or put large buildings on them, so a golf range is an excellent use."

The Northwest Landfill, which still operates as a transfer station, accepted mostly yard waste and construction debris until the late 1970s. It was capped and sealed with 2 feet of fill dirt in 1984.

Place, who leases the 15-acre property from the county for about $20,000 a year, said the biggest obstacles were regulatory.

"For example, we had to bring in about $50,000 worth of fill dirt to raise the area," Place said. Only then could an irrigation system be installed so as not to puncture the landfill cap.

"There were just a lot of hurdles we had to get past," Place said. "But we've really transformed it. It went from looking like just a field to looking like a driving range."

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