Boca’s new golf course could lose money, but city officials say it’s worth it

The Boca Raton Country Club hasn’t been making money, and now its owners are handing it over to the city.

Will it become a municipal money pit? No one knows.

Optimistic city officials say they might break even or perhaps lose a bit of money, but it’s a gamble they’re willing to take.

“It’s a matter of preserving green space,” said Boca City Councilman Andy Thomson. “The city of Boca Raton takes an enormous amount of pride in its beaches, parks — none of those things generate money. It’s an amenity, and that’s how we view it.”

The owners of the exclusive club announced the unusual donation this week, and the city plans to open the 130-acre property to the public in about a year.

The club, at 17751 Boca Club Blvd., features an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, a clubhouse and pool. The course and clubhouse are surrounded by 12 subdivisions in a giant gated community featuring townhomes, single-family homes and condos.

The country club’s owners, MSD Partners and Northview Hotel Group, acquired the property in June 2019 when they also bought the Boca Raton Resort and Club, a luxurious destination situated off Camino Real that is frequented by the wealthy, famous and business leaders.

The owners said they were giving up the country club to focus on the Boca Raton Resort and Club. They would not reveal the country’s club’s finances on Friday.

The city’s cost to operate the Boca County Club course will be built into next year’s budget, but a city spokeswoman said no records are available to show what the cost will be or how much the city expects to lose, if anything. Those projections are still being studied, said spokeswoman Chrissy Gibson.

Thomson said he was told the course could cost “something like $1 million” to maintain and operate, and Mayor Scott Singer anticipates the course could “break even or something close to it.”

The city already has two other courses. The 18-hole municipal course, on Glades Road, is being sold to a developer to build houses and generally breaks even, according to a spokeswoman.

The other course is the nine-hole Red Reef course on State Route A1A, which Thomson said is “a little bit short of breaking even. It’s maybe a little bit of a loser. Not that bad.”

City officials said the course at Red Reef had $554,115 in expenses in 2018 and $590,015 in revenue, including $231,530 in subsidies from the park district. Similar information about the course on Glades Road was not available.

“We know how to run a golf course, the fee structure it takes, at least to a point where it breaks even,” Thomson said. The idea is to keep the space “open and green.” The city isn’t burdened by the private sector’s need to make money on everything, he said.

Mayor Singer said he expects greens fees and user fees to cover the cost of running the course. Under private ownership, the course hasn’t attracted enough rounds of golf to make money, he said. Surrounding homeowners are not required to belong to the club.

Singer said the city could offer “more rounds at lower cost per round, [making] it sustainable.”

“We greatly value green space,” Singer said. “We have to work out all of the details. We anticipate [a] break even or something close to it.”

Like Boca, other cities have acted to preserve golf in spite of the cost.

Tamarac bought the Colony West golf course to keep development at bay and make sure the city still had a course. It turned a profit for the first time this year as other nearby courses have closed for development, including Woodlands.

“COVID has been good for golf,” because it provides an outdoor outlet where social distancing is possible, said City Manager Michael Cernech.

The Greater Boca Raton Beach & Parks District also has been developing plans to rebuild the former Ocean Breeze golf course in the Boca Teeca neighborhood, not far from the Boca Raton Country Club. The parks district wanted the city to invest millions of dollars for its overhaul, but those talks are probably over, Thomson said.

“There really doesn’t need to be two municipal golf courses within a mile,” he said. “It won’t stay a golf course.”

Other options for public use: ballfields, a park and walking trails. A consultant’s report with suggestions for the property is expected within the next few months, he said.


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