Fore! Big changes coming for public golf courses in Boca Raton and Delray Beach

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Bucking the national trend of golf courses shutting down, Boca Raton is set to debut its new public course on Nov. 1, while Delray Beach is considering $10 million to $15 million in renovations for its nearly 100-year-old course.

In addition to the major upheaval at two of Palm Beach County’s most prominent public courses, some of the land could be used to build more homes in a depleted housing market.

While Boca Raton is finalizing a deal to sell its current course by Glades Road and the Florida Turnpike to GL Homes for $65 million, it’s set to replace it with a 130-acre course at Boca Country Club.

After agreeing to sell Boca Raton Municipal in 2017, the idea was for The Greater Boca Raton Beach & Parks District to rebuild the former Ocean Breeze golf course in the Boca Teeca neighborhood. Those plans eventually stalled.

Needing a golf course, the city found itself in “the right place at the right time,” City Councilman Andy Thomson said, as Boca Raton Resort & Club decided to donate one of its courses at Boca Country Club to the city last year.

The club, at 17751 Boca Club Blvd., features an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, a clubhouse and pool. The facility will be renamed Boca Raton Golf & Racquet Club and is expected to open to the public on Nov. 1.

According to a study commissioned by the city this year, having a golf course was considered a high priority for residents.

The clubhouse and 18th green of the golf course at the Boca Raton Golf & Racquet Club is shown on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. The course will be operated by the city of Boca Raton as of Nov. 1, 2021.

The clubhouse and 18th green of the golf course at the Boca Raton Golf & Racquet Club is shown on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. The course will be operated by the city of Boca Raton as of Nov. 1, 2021. (Amy Beth Bennett / South Florida Sun Sentinel)

“The absence of a full size championship-level course would have been an issue,” said Thomson, who noted that the city also has a nine-hole course at Red Reef Park.

Boca Raton Golf & Racquet Club will initially open the golf course, practice facilities, clubhouse and locker rooms before adding other amenities, club manager Jason Hayes said during a city meeting. Hayes added that the clubhouse’s expansive upper level could also be used for catering events, weddings and bar mitzvahs in the future.

More courses than Starbucks

Across the United States, many courses have shuttered over the years, often with developers turning those massive parcels into homes. In the past 15 years, more than 1,600 18-hole courses have closed, according to the National Golf Foundation in Jupiter. Erik Matuszewski, editorial director for the foundation, said the decline was always inevitable.

“We are in this correction in the industry,” Matuszewski said. “There’s more closures typically in a given year than openings, but that’s because the industry very much overbuilt.

“When you think about golf in the U.S., we have over 16,000 golf courses. For context, that’s more than Starbucks stores. That’s more than McDonalds stores in the U.S. There’s no shortage of golf. There’s huge demand, but there’s also huge supply.”

As a result, Matuszewski said it’s more likely for courses to pump money into renovations because building a new course is too costly.

Built in 1926, Delray Beach Golf Club has provided public access to the links for nearly a century at its course at 2200 Highland Ave., just west of Interstate 95 and Atlantic Avenue. But the course has experienced plenty of wear and tear over the years. Sharon Painter, who oversees the club, told Delray Beach City Commissioners in August that the course is well past its useful life and needs a face-lift.

Among the issues needed to be addressed are replacing the drain pipes that run underneath the course. That would mean tearing up parts of the course in order to make the repairs. City officials say other golf course repairs and upgrades to the restrooms, maintenance facility and parking lots are also necessary.

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Commissioners agreed they want to fix the course. Finding the money for the project is another issue.

A golfer hits a drive on the 14th hole at Delray Beach Golf Club.

A golfer hits a drive on the 14th hole at Delray Beach Golf Club. (Gary Curreri/Correspondent)

“There’s expectations — and I think there’s opportunities — with all the courses closing for us to have a really elevated golfing experience there,” Delray Beach City Commissioner Ryan Bolyston said.

“That would take that $10 million to $15 million investment. We don’t have those funds. And if we [did], I assure you we have many other needs.”

As a result, the city hopes to find a public/private partnership for the course. In that scenario, a developer would take on the financial and operational costs for the course and in exchange would have the right to develop a small parcel of the land.

That portion could be used for stores or office space, but given the dearth of available housing in Delray Beach — and the course’s prime location on Atlantic Avenue — it most likely would be used for new apartments.

Boylston said the city will likely opening up bidding sometime this year.

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