A pair of Florida golf courses could be restored, but residents say they’re financing the whole deal

·12 min read

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Over the past few years, the once lush emerald fairways on the two golf courses winding through the Pelican Bay neighborhood have been sprouting weeds, anthills and parched brown patches of grass.

The south course has been completely idled for more than three years, and while the north course still has golfers swinging clubs on it every day, it has slid into second-rate condition. Both courses are saddled with liens.

A Tennessee-based company called Golf Course Solutions is under contract to buy the two 18-hole courses, and the company’s leaders say they want to restore the top-tier quality of the Pelican Bay links and make them their flagship courses.

But Golf Course Solutions’ purchase and renovation plan rely on Pelican Bay residents to provide millions to make the deal possible.

If they don’t, the July 29 closing date will become the day the deal dies.

“Our success will be dictated by your participation,” Ed Nieves, who will be the operations manager of the Pelican Bay courses if his company buys them, told residents at a neighborhood meeting last week. “Our goal is to get everyone involved.”

The company wants 200 Pelican Bay households to each buy a $35,000 charter membership before the end of July. That would raise $7 million, enough to cover the $5.5 million asking price for the two golf courses and leave $1.5 million for property improvements and other expenses such as property taxes.

Golf Course Solutions also wants more homeowners in the 1,800-home community just south of Beville Road to buy less expensive memberships ranging from about $5,000 to $35,000. Residents who don’t golf have the option of buying a social membership to use the community pool and clubhouses.

The company even has a partnership set up with Truist Financial, ready and waiting for people who want to take out a loan to buy a membership in the next few weeks.

The other vital piece of their plan, company officials say, is that at least 97 percent of Pelican Bay households will need to let Golf Course Solutions take over their yard maintenance, and ideally their exterior home maintenance as well. The company also wants to take over maintenance of common areas of the 900-acre neighborhood, and get paid for all of the upkeep.

Golf Course Solutions wants to collect everyone’s lawn and tree maintenance fees so the money can be used to run the golf courses. Rocky Morgan, the company’s managing director, said he would match whatever individual homeowners or homeowner associations within Pelican Bay are paying now for lawn service and would not, at least initially, impose a price hike.

“We have a unique business plan no one else on the planet is doing,” Morgan said at the community meeting.

‘This proposal came out of the blue’

The plan turned off some neighborhood residents as soon as they heard it. Some homeowners say they feel like they’re basically being asked to buy their golf courses, and for an inflated price. They point out that the LPGA course in Daytona Beach, which was in prime condition, sold for $3.5 million.

They also feel pressured to make a quick decision.

“This proposal came out of the blue a week ago, and suddenly the closing date is July 29,” said Dan Skidds, who has lived in Pelican Bay since the fall of 2020.

Overgrown bunker on the number 14 green at Pelican Bay South course in Pelican Bay in Daytona Beach, Thursday, June 23, 2022

Morgan said he would need at least $1.2 million per year in Pelican Bay yard maintenance fees to cover part of the $2.5 million annual cost to operate the two golf courses. If homeowners will allow his company to also fix their roofs, plant flowers, maintain their private sprinkler systems and trim their trees he could collect another $800,000 or so.

Morgan would also like to collect an additional $8 million or $9 million every year from other local neighborhoods for their lawn maintenance.

He said all of that yard and home maintenance revenue is carried outside of the Pelican Bay neighborhood now, and he’d like to invest it in the golf courses, pool and clubhouses.

“We’ll do everything we can to make it as beautiful as possible,” said Nieves, who noted he plans to have a second home in Pelican Bay and he wants to buy a home in the neighborhood for his mother.

Morgan said he’ll allow people who live outside of Pelican Bay and companies that want to give perks to their management-level employees to buy the $35,000 charter memberships. But if he doesn’t line up enough memberships and yard maintenance agreements by late July, Morgan said he and his partners will walk away from their offer to buy the pair of golf courses.

‘They’re asking residents to finance their purchase’

Some neighborhood residents say it’s the only offer Pelican Bay has to buy the golf courses and refurbish them, so it needs to be seriously considered. And they point out that a developer had been moving toward trying to build new housing on the south golf course before that effort was put on hold a few weeks ago to court the Golf Course Solutions proposal.

Re-opening the south golf course and community pool, which has been closed for two years, and improving the north course and clubhouses will boost the value of houses in Pelican Bay, supporters of the proposal also argue.

“We have a choice in front of us,” said Tom Mehegan, president of Pelican Bay’s master homeowners association. “No one or nothing else is in the works for us.”

Overgrown Pelican Bay South cart barn in Pelican Bay in Daytona Beach, Thursday, June 23, 2022

Other Pelican Bay residents are turned off by the company’s reliance on homeowners’ money. Several people walked out of the neighborhood meeting last week after Golf Course Solutions said it wanted $35,000 for charter memberships.

One person watching the meeting on Zoom wrote in the chat that “this is like listening to a ridiculous timeshare schtick without the free room and breakfast.”

“Timeshare salesmen are smoother,” another person watching the meeting online replied in the chat.

Several questions residents asked during the meeting went unanswered or took repeated attempts to get answered. One resident got a reply but not really an answer to a question about the timeline for renovations and reopening facilities if Golf Course Solutions buys the courses.

“We’re not sure because it depends on y’all,” Nieves said. “We’ll move as efficiently as possible. We want to move quickly.”

While some questions yielded only general answers, residents did hear personal tidbits, such as Morgan talking about his dog and the company’s attorney saying he owns a kangaroo that he takes to his office every day.

$11.5 million capital investment pledged

“These guys are something else, but they aren’t as smooth-talking as they think they are,” a resident wrote in the chat.

“As a resident of Pelican Bay for 24 years, the presentation that was delivered had a lot of loose ends and no facts were given to the community, except that they want $35,000 from 200 residents,” City Commissioner Stacy Cantu said after the meeting. “They are asking Pelican Bay residents to finance their purchase of the golf courses, (with) what appears to be no investment on their part.”

In an interview the day after the neighborhood meeting, Morgan said Golf Course Solutions will be putting some of its money into the courses if the sale is completed.

“The capital investment will be $11.5 million,” Morgan said. “We’ll put our own money into this program.”

The $5.5 million sale price is included in the $11.5 million capital projection, said Knoxville-based attorney Dale Montpelier, who’s helping with legal aspects of the golf course acquisition. But millions more would go into golf course rehabilitation, Montpelier said.

“Our current estimate is that $1.5 million is required for each course grounds repair, for a total of $3 million including concrete cart paths,” he said. “An additional $3 million is estimated for the pool, both clubhouses being remodeled, cart and equipment leases, and employee salaries.”

Montpelier said it’s expected that the full $11.5 million would come from memberships, including those from people who don’t live in Pelican Bay. The plan does not include using fees from property maintenance for capital improvements, he said.

The more the company is able to collect in membership payments, “the faster the work will get done,” he said. He said the goal is to ensure that the properties are owned debt-free and “in immaculate condition before there is reliance on the yard maintenance fees. Those maintenance fees are designed to offset the preventative maintenance of the courses.”

During the neighborhood meeting, Morgan said he’s become cautious with his investments.

“I’ve invested money and been left hanging, so I’m a little more careful now how I spend my money,” he said.

Nieves said the company has other investors, but they don’t want to use them because they want their business to remain debt-free. They also don’t want to reconfigure the plan to lock in 200 investors giving $35,000 because “those always seem to be the best numbers,” Nieves said.

Dilapidated bridge on hole number 15 at Pelican Bay South course in Pelican Bay in Daytona Beach, Thursday, June 23, 2022

Morgan said he’s willing to be flexible in other ways, and he’ll drop rates for elderly residents and those on a fixed income.

“We’ll come back one more time with a new proposal,” Morgan said. “We don’t want an adversarial relationship.”

But the minimum 200 charter members buying in at $35,000 each won’t change, he said.

“Golf is a very capital-intensive operation,” he said.

The bigger picture

Golf Course Solutions doesn’t just want to buy and overhaul the two Pelican Bay golf courses. The company, which has never owned a golf course, wants to set up a network of 300 golf courses in Florida that its charter members could play on for free.

They want to establish what they call a golf course trail, where $35,000 charter members would have free access to all courses on the trail that would stretch around Daytona Beach and throughout Florida. The charter members would get 1,400 free rounds of golf at the various courses.

After they use all 1,400 no-additional-charge rounds of golf, charter members would pay a $25 cart rental fee.

The lifetime membership would cover two adults in the same household and their children until they turn 18. They would also receive 12 free guest passes per year, and one complimentary 30-minute golf lesson per year.

Par 3 hole number 5 at Pelican Bay North course in Pelican Bay in Daytona Beach, Thursday, June 23, 2022

But some Pelican Bay residents can’t get past the $35,000 figure, and the load the Golf Course Solutions plan puts on the shoulders of homeowners.

Skidds feels residents should get more power and dividends for their money. The $35,000 charter members would have no share of ownership, and only one or two homeowners association representatives would sit on the company’s board of directors.

“We give him (Morgan) the money, and we have no profit sharing, no vote on the board, no recourse. And we pay for operations,” Skidds said. “I’m not going to invest money and not get a dividend.”

“What if people give their money and this doesn’t work?” asked Skidds’ wife, Julie. “Will they get their money back? I’m just afraid people will get too excited, give money and never see it again.”

Morgan said he and his partners will not be running off with anyone’s money if the sale falls through.

“If this deal does not close, the people will get their money back,” he said. “The money will be held in an escrow company, not us. If the deal falls through the people will get their money back minus the escrow company’s charge for holding it.”

He said the escrow charge will be around $350.

‘Our mission is to protect the golf courses’

Morgan said Pelican Bay “is very important to us,” and he’s had his eye on the neighborhood and its golf courses for a few years. He said the courses have “the bones and skeleton to come back up to our standards.”

If his company takes over, he said he’ll put in a new irrigation system, rebuild the 18 greens on the south course, renovate the main clubhouse and replace the bridges that run over canals.

He said his company has rehabilitated 10 golf courses in the past and then resold them. This time, Golf Course Solutions wants to remain the owner, he said.

Morgan said he even wants to own and live in a home in Pelican Bay. He said he has no intentions of using the golf course land for new houses and businesses.

“We’re not developers,” he said. “Our mission is to protect the golf courses.”

While the more than 3,000 people who call Pelican Bay home don’t all agree on what the best path forward will be, they all want the neighborhood and its golf courses to again look like they had for decades.

The Skidds bought their home on the edge of a golf course for the beautiful view, but they said the south golf course is only mowed and sprayed with weed killer once every three months.

“It’s really weedy and not playable,” Dan Skidds said. “There’s armadillos, fire ants and snakes on it. If you walk on it, it’s all dug up from wildlife.”

The Skidds won’t be buying a $35,000 membership, and they don’t want anyone other than the person they currently use cutting their lawn in The Estates section of Pelican Bay. But they do hope the right solution can be found for the neighborhood.

“I think we all want the same thing: We want something good to happen with the golf courses,” Skidd said. “It’s got to be done responsibly. It’s got to be done right.”

You can reach Eileen at Eileen.Zaffiro@news-jrnl.com