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Goodbye, Florida Golf Courses. Hello, Development

Marriott's Villas at Doral has its own golf course.

Since at least 1886, when a Scottish immigrant constructed a greenway with two holes on his Sarasota homestead, private developers and municipal governments have built golf courses to lure homebuyers and tourists to communities in Florida.

The people came, all right — Florida's population has surpassed 21 million — but golf communities began to wane in the 1990s and the sport itself is now going out of style. With its decline coming just as cities and counties are becoming built out, it is clear: golf courses are the next frontier for development

Thirty million people in the United States played at least a round of golf in 2005, according to Golf Week. By 2016, that number had dropped to 23.8 million.

The state of Florida still boasts more than 1,000 golf courses and South Florida's three counties have 177 18-hole courses — but that is down from 189 in 2007, according to The Real Deal.

USA Today-Florida investigation found municipal courses throughout the state have lost nearly $100M combined over the past five years. Although most of the county- and city-owned courses had initially been set up to be self-sustaining, overall, they required $64.9M in subsidies to stay afloat.

The city course in Clewiston, for instance, operates at a loss of nearly $2M per year, according to USA Today. The Martin County Golf Course has lost nearly $6.6M since 2015. Fort Myers' courses have lost $960K over the past five years just on operations. 

A slate of projects underway in South Florida shows that if cities want to get rid of those courses, developers have an appetite for them: 

  • Miami-based 13th Floor Homes is acquiring the Carolina Club in Margate, with plans to transform its 140 acres into a 350-unit residential community. The company is also converting an 18-hole course in Delray Beach into Avalon Trails, a 521-unit senior community, and putting single-family homes on two 18-hole golf courses in Tamarac. 
  • In Hollywood, Atlanta-based Pulte Group is building 645 homes on 160 acres at the former Hillcrest Golf & Country Club, and 52 homes on nine of Woodmont Country Club’s 18 holes.
  • In 2016, Lennar Homes, along with Armando Codina and CC Homes, paid $96M for 130 acres of the White Course in Doral. They plan to build 2,000-plus residential units, plus retail, offices and a school. In March, Hoyer Homes bought the Crystal Lakes Golf Club in Deerfield for $9.8M and sold it to Lennar a day later for $12.8M. Lennar could build more than 400 homes there.
  • Lennar also had a contract to build homes on the 212-acre site of Ocean Breeze Golf Club in Boca Raton, but following a public outcry, the city bought the land for $24M and will renovate it, for an estimated $18M. 
  • An investment team led by soccer legend David Beckham is considering the Melreese Country Club in Miami as a possible site for its 25,000-seat Major League Soccer stadium.