City leaders held out hope that a for-profit golf club operator would help bail them out of mounting debts from the iconic Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club.
Eighteen months later, the operator, Integrity Golf Co. of Kissimmee, has walked away from Temple Terrace, saying it couldn't make money on the operation and leaving the future of the club in limbo.
"Integrity pulled out in the middle of the night on our golf course," said City Council member David Pogorilich.
The company has also abandoned three golf courses in Brevard County, leaders there learned last week, prompting discussion at a Brevard County Commission meeting about whether government needs to get out of a pursuit that's seeing declining participation nationwide.
Temple Terrace has heard similar suggestions. But this golf club means more than most to its host city.
Temple Terrace was created in the 1920s to lure northerners as a residential development around a golf course — one of the first in the nation — amid 5,000 acres of Temple orange groves. The course, created by celebrated links architect Tom Bendelow, is the only 18-hole golf course in Florida listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
And while the city owns the course, it's not a city operation. Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club is run by a private, non-profit, membership-supported organization of the same name.
That the club has fallen on hard financial times can be seen in the membership dues it includes in its annual reports to the Internal Revenue Service. The 2016 report, the most recent available, says the club collected dues of $877,024 — nearly half the total of $1.6 million it reported 10 years earlier.
The 2016 report to the IRS lists club assets of $2.9 million and liabilities of $3.3 million, for a negative balance of $415,000.
Now, the Temple Terrace club is in default on a quarterly loan payment of about $31,000 that it owes the city. Its officers are set to appear before the City Council on Aug. 15 with a plan to stay in business. The club continues to operate as normal, hiring the employees who worked there.
The Temple Terrace club is a private operation for members, but any resident of the city is entitled to play there once a month and a special "Member for a Day" deal is available to the public, limited to a generous eight days per year. The club also is advertising discounted membership fees, down from a full membership of $259 per month to $199 per month for a year.
Integrity took over at a time when the club didn't have the money to reimburse the city for payments it had been making on a $3 million loan taken out a decade ago for projects including improvements to the club house. The loan and interest payments cost the city about $260,000 per year. Integrity signed a contract to pay at least $125,000 per year to run the operation, offsetting the loss by about half.
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When Integrity took over in February 2016, Gene Garrote, chief executive officer, told the City Council that the company was gaining members at a time when other golf operations were struggling. Integrity reported 28 courses in Florida at that time and about a dozen courses in other states.
In addition to the Brevard courses, the company was managing five other publicly owned properties in Florida at the time. Three of them — Tiger Point Golf Club in Gulf Breeze, Mayfair Country Club in Sanford and Casselberry Golf Club — are no longer managed by Integrity, according to representatives of the clubs. Integrity still manages the Kissimmee Golf Club, a spokeswoman there said. Officials with the Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge in Orlando couldn't be reached for comment.
In a report to the council in December, Garrote said he was hearing a "positive buzz'' among staffers at the Temple Terrace club, with more banquets and other events in the clubhouse — even though golf membership had not grown.
But in a letter dated June 2, Integrity cited loss of revenue in informing the club that it was withdrawing from Temple Terrace. The company missed its quarterly payment in April, said Acting Mayor Robert Boss, who is a former president of the golf club.
In addition, Integrity left owing money to vendors, Boss said.
Calls to a number listed as the company's offices in Kissimmee went to voicemail. Its one-time website, integritygolfco.com, is for sale through godaddy.com.
In Brevard County, Integrity gave notice it would pull out of its contract to manage the three publicly owned courses as of July 30. The company's letter also said it couldn't make any money on the operations.
Commissioners there decided to have International Golf Maintenance temporarily take over management of the courses, the newspaper Florida Today reported.
Temple Terrace Council member Pogorilich told his colleagues that he was "cautiously optimistic'' the club will come up with a plan to keep operating.
"It may not be roses and unicorns for everybody but will work and allow the country club to operate to some degree the way they are now.''
Senior researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Philip Morgan at email@example.com or (813) 226-3435.
"Integrity pulled out in the middle of the night on our golf course."
David Pogorilich, Temple Terrace City Council member