BOCA RATON, Fla. – As one municipal golf course in Boca Raton closes, another one makes its debut within a month, but the transition isn’t necessarily going as well as a relaxing round on the links.
Using proceeds from its $65.7 million sale of the Boca Raton Municipal Golf Course to GL Homes, the city plans to spend $7.8 million to upgrade the golf course at the Boca Country Club, which will be renamed the Boca Raton Golf and Racquet Club. The site, which was donated to the city by the Boca Raton Resort and Club, is set to open Nov. 1.
The club, located on Congress Avenue north of Clint Moore Road in the northwestern part of Boca Raton, will feature an 18-hole public golf course, a restaurant, and a racquet center with tennis and pickleball courts. Both Boca Raton residents and country club members will have access to the club.
But that, country club members contend, isn’t what they signed up for.
Before the club was closed for renovations on Oct. 1, whispers spread that the city might fill in the pool, angering country club members who asked whether they could pay to keep it open.
“The pool does present a small challenge,” Mayor Scott Singer said. “It would be very expensive to the tune of $300,000 a year to operate that pool. I don’t think 100 residents each want to spend about $3,000 a year to get a pool that would still be open to the public. We’ve encouraged them to reach out to the other communities within the Boca Golf and Tennis Country Club. There are other communities there that have their own pool. That’s probably a better solution.”
For Alan Medvin, who had signature membership at the country club, the idea of getting rid of the pool was outrageous.
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“There’s not a chance in the world that we would have bought a house in a community in South Florida without access to a pool,” Medvin said. “We were told that this access would continue as long as we continue to be club members. The rug was pulled out from under us when the city received the donation and eliminated the signature club membership.
“At this point, we have no access to anything that a city resident doesn’t have access to. I’m not against public access. What I’m against is the city deciding, ‘We’re not going to maintain a swimming pool. We’re going to fill it in.’ Basically, destroying a lifestyle that we’ve enjoyed for close to 30 years.”
Boca Raton City Manager Leif Ahnell argued that the city never promised to keep the pool open.
“I have no knowledge of the city ever guaranteeing that that would happen,” City Manager Leif Ahnell said. “As we’ve discussed previously, we have several pools in the city that are public pools and we are not in need of pool facilities. This one is a smaller pool, so it could not even be used for what our larger pools are used for. It’s simply not financially feasible.
“People have been saying, ‘We’re happy to pay for it.’ If that’s an option that the community wanted to explore, then there would have to be a commitment through the master association to collect that money to pay us to keep it open because we don’t need that facility.”
Many Boca Raton Country Club residents say deal was one-sided
Anita Pellegrino, who had a signature membership at the country club, said it was unfair to ask members to come up with all the money.
“It was a very one-sided deal,” Pellegrino said. “The city said, ‘Pay the $300,000. We’re going to make it a public pool.’ The problem with that is we would be taking the big onus and getting nothing in return.
“Our solution is to open up 500 memberships to the pool. Save 150 or 200 for Boca Golf and Tennis. Open it to the rest of Boca Raton for a reasonable amount. For a year, make it $1,000 or $1,500. For six months, make it $750 or $800. Set up monthly memberships or daily fees to use the pool. There are a lot of creative ways to do this, but they don’t want to hear it. The city said, ‘It’s too much trouble.’ We think it’s doable.”
Another hot issue for country club members is traffic. The main entrance leads to backups in the mornings that extend to Congress Avenue, which country club members argued would become worse with additional traffic. The city responded that it will consider constructing a new entrance south of the existing one that would ease traffic.
To Sharon Rubinstein, who had premium membership that allowed her to access the facilities at the country club, as well as those at the resort, the city appeared to overlook the effect the golf course deal had on country club residents.
“I have real concerns about the way the city of Boca Raton has been handling this huge gift to them,” Rubinstein said. “I certainly understand why that would be an attractive offer and why they would want to take it. I certainly understand the tax benefits to the hotel for that donation. I just don’t want the people in our community to end up with the short end of the stick.”
How did the city of Boca Raton acquire the private golf course?
The neighborhood consists of single-family homes, two-story homes, townhomes, garden villas, and luxury condominiums. The country club’s owners, MSD Partners, and Northview Hotel Group, bought the Boca Raton Resort and Club in June 2019 and with it the Boca Raton Country Club.
The owners learned of the city’s interest in a new municipal course and decided to donate the underutilized facility.
“It’s a beautiful facility in which we’re going to invest millions of dollars to make it a top-notch course that’s playable for residents,” Mayor Scott Singer said. “It’s closer in geographic location than the old course, and it was a gift in more senses than one from the owners of the Boca Raton Resort.”
The city will make the improvements as many golf courses shutter across the nation. It is projected to cost the city $370,000 a year to operate the golf course, which will offer perks like preferential tee times to some country club members.
“They are getting an enormous benefit here by having this facility stay a golf course rather than being developed by somebody,” Councilman Andy Thomson said. “They’re also getting increased access to better facilities because we’re going to be spending between $7 and $8 million improving the place.
“The city residents win because they get access to a championship level golf course for free, meaning we didn’t have to buy the land or buy the course. And these nonresidents get the benefit of having substantially increased access to what will become a better facility. I think that’s a big win for everybody.”
The city anticipates that the new golf course will get more use when it reopens.
“They essentially had a private golf course in their backyard that nobody was using,” Thomson said. “That’s not a sustainable model. If you want to keep this a golf course, which I imagine they do, you must have a situation where you have people playing on it that generates income sufficient to pay for its maintenance. That’s what we’re going to be doing.”