ALACHUA ‒ In 1978 it was just a dream. But then Norwood Hope, a Gainesville city council member, hired architect Ward Northrup to design a championship-caliber golf course in the center of the new subdivision at Turkey Creek in Alachua. Hope envisioned a course that was communally inviting, with water on six holes and bunkers hugging a good number of greens. The first-rate course became reality and also a favorite for golfers, locals and visitors alike.
Although located within the Turkey Creek neighborhood, the course was opened as a private company, so residents had to pay a separate membership fee to the club to play. For years the golf course flourished, but by 2010, club officials said less than 10 percent of Turkey Creek residents played at the course, which prompted greens fees to be slashed. The club briefly changed names to “Plantation Oaks” to try reverse its fate.
But a $300,000 shortfall in its 2010 season sealed its destiny. The course closed in April 2011 and many feared it would never be revived. The course had been losing money for several years and the greens weren’t being properly maintained. The course and clubhouse sat abandoned. The clubhouse was not up to code and needed repair and the irrigation along the golf course was shot. With no maintenance, the grass on the course died and the weeds grew tall.
But against all odds, on Jan. 23, 2021 the golf course came roaring back to life with a long-awaited ribbon cutting ceremony on the first tee and a four-person, 22-team scramble. It has been a long struggle by members of the Turkey Creek Master Owners Association Board (MOA) to revitalize the course and reopen it as a public golf course.
According to Loretta Shane, a member of the Turkey Creek Board of Directors, it was the work of the whole community, the MOA members and other volunteers that made it happen. Over the years that it lay abandoned, Alachua City Hall received multiple complaints about wild hogs, the smell of deserted restrooms and the general state of ruin the course had become.
This also created a downturn in housing sales in the community. The MOA had enough. In 2015, they applied for a loan and purchased the property and its clubhouse for $1.35 million. The MOA originally had no intention of going into the golf business, however; this was strictly to turn the clubhouse into a community center, leasing it out for a restaurant and event and recreation center which also included a pool and tennis courts.
But the loan was for purchase of the land and building, all of which needed repair, so there was no money left over to redo the course. They initially tried to get a leasing company to redo the course and maintain it, but found that too expensive. The one company they did hire to redo the course imploded after three months, with few repairs actually done.
“We needed to find funds to finish the job, so we formed an LLC and sold shares at $5,000 a share which netted us $355,000,” said Shane. “That helped on getting the supplies we needed and getting the grass replanted. But we still had no equipment to maintain the course and the entire sprinkler system had to be replaced as well.
“We had to beg, borrow or barter for equipment and use volunteers from the community to do the actual work,” Shane said. “It was all community involvement. We didn't even have a shovel to dig the trenches for replacing over 360 sprinkler heads.” Shane said they borrowed a fairway mower and other equipment from Santa Fe High School in exchange for letting the school’s golf team play for free. “We also bought used equipment from two golf courses that were shutting down,” Shane said.
They opened up the practice field and a three-hole course, charging $15 to play it. To buy supplies for the sprinkler system they offered names on a commemorative plaque in the pro shop where residents could make a donation of $300 toward the new sprinkler system. They also leased the building for the event center and a restaurant to add more funds to continue rebuilding the course.
Piece by piece they put the course back together, and in August 2020 the MOA made the decision to open the entire course, but new reseeding the grass on several holes delayed the opening until this past Saturday.
Under an overcast sky with light rain, a long line of golf carts waited to be the first to play the field after the ribbon cutting. All slots for the four-person, 22-team scramble that followed ceremonial tee shots were filled within 48 hours of announcement of the course reopening.
The MOA will run the pro shop and has hired a management company to maintain the course. “By doing the work ourselves and keeping equipment purchases down we were able to open the course at about one-third of what it would have cost us to hire companies to do it,” said Shane. “This gave us the funding to be able to hire a professional golf management company, Davey Tree-Golf Division to oversee the daily operation.
“They have also hired a number of our volunteers as staff, so after all their volunteer work, they can now get paid to do it,” Shane said.”
Throughout the restoration process, a number of residents became involved in a variety of ways, pulling shrubs and weeds, giving money to the cause or merely supplying those on the course with cold drinks in the Florida humidity.
“People would pitch in during the evenings and spend their weekends getting the course in shape. There were a couple of retirees, but much of the community did this while also keeping day jobs,” said Sane. “It was the community itself that made this dream happen.”
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