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Country club is on the mend

Golfers at the Country Club of Carrollwood, the dwindling pool of them, are finally seeing signs of improvement these days on the 27-hole course that's the centerpiece of Carrollwood Village.

Workers have been ambitiously resodding to transform the course's dead brown grass into a sprawling new rug of lush fairways and putting greens.

"Right now, our greens are in pretty bad shape," club manager Brad Bess said. "Any bit of progress our members see, they are very excited about it because they haven't seen any type of improvements for two to three years."

Even bigger changes could be in store, including new townhomes and a hotel, if the surrounding community supports them.

But for now, the focus is on the golf course, where the long-overdue improvements have been triggered by a recent change in the club's ownership. An investment group called Emerald Greens LLC bought the Country Club of Carrollwood on Sept. 30 from its longtime owner, Plymouth Builders.

The group paid $3.75-million for the club it plans to rename Emerald Greens Golf and Country Club at Carrollwood, records show.

What remains unclear is who the members of the investment group are. The corporation's registered agent is St. Petersburg lawyer Rich Sadorf, who didn't return telephone messages left Friday at his office. Bess isn't talking either.

"The owner wants to be secret," Bess said. "He doesn't want to put his name out there yet until they cross the t's and dot the i's and do all that stuff."

The St. Petersburg Times reported on Oct. 24 that the new owner is Tampa developer Frank Hayden. Hayden has not returned phone calls, but the club's golf pro and a woman at the club who said she was Hayden's secretary confirmed that he is the new owner.

Col. Frank Phelan, a member of the Carrollwood Village Phase I board of directors, said that many of the questions Carrollwood Village residents have about the sale and ownership of the country club will be answered this month.

The new owners will meet with the community Nov. 20 at St. Mark's Episcopal Church to make a presentation and answer questions, Phelan said. They'll be there along with Tom Dempsey, owner of Dempsey Resort Management Inc. DRMI will take over management of the Carrollwood club in January, Phelan said.

"We consider the sale of this club to be a very positive move for Carrollwood Village," said Phelan, a club member since 1978. "However, since we don't know how all the residents feel about this or know about it, the buyers will have a community meeting."

The new owners hope to reverse declining membership at the club.

"We were sitting around 350 golf members about a year ago," said Bess, the club manager. "Now we are down to about 130."

During the club's heyday in the 1970s, it charged $3,500 in initiation fees. This past summer, it was charging a $100 initiation fee. Between now and the end of this year, it's waiving the fee entirely.

The resodding project is only the beginning of the grand plans the new owners have for the club.

Bess said homeowners can expect to hear some details about possible development the buyers want to do on the golf course, which meanders through much of the Carrollwood Village community from the Piccadilly Cafeteria on Dale Mabry Highway to Ehrlich Road.

He said the community will be asked to support a rezoning that could pave the way for new townhomes and a hotel for guests of club members. A new clubhouse, a sauna and a facelift of the tennis courts and swimming pool also are in the works, Bess said, adding that the buyers plan to spend about $5-million on renovations.

"This will be Carrollwood Village's country club," he said, "something they can be proud of."

If that's what the Nov. 20 meeting is all about, it won't be the first time that homeowners have been asked to support a rezoning at the country club for a similar type of development.

The club's previous owner, John Blaeser, whose family owns Plymouth Builders, tried in 1996 to get the Carrollwood Village community behind his idea of turning the country club into a vacation resort.

He proposed a $20-million project, highlighted by a 190- to 300-room luxury hotel.

The community didn't support Blaeser's idea, which ultimately died after several years of failed rezoning petitions. People feared it would radically change the character of their neighborhood and have enormous impact on nearby home values.

_ Tim Grant can be reached at 269-5311 or at