As the Urban Land Institute reported last year, golf course closures have outpaced openings for nearly a decade. In 2013, there were 158 closures and only 14 openings. Millennials, in particular, do not seem to be taking up the game. This has caused a dramatic shift in the economics and demography of golf and - especially - golf course communities. Community developers are now rethinking designs, but legacy golf communities with struggling or failed golf courses do not have the same luxury.
As a result, across Florida, many developers and golf-course owners and operators are proposing redevelopment. The proposals vary greatly. Some developers are seeking to acquire and redevelop failed courses into residential uses. Some owners are trying to re-work existing eighteen-hole courses into increasingly popular, more economically feasible, par 3, six-hole (yes, six-hole) executive courses that can be played in an hour. Owners may then reinvest in the course, using revenue generated from redeveloping the real estate not used to build the executive course. Such proposals often benefit their communities by offering well-planned infill growth with its attendant increase in property values and tax receipts in place of shuttered or struggling golf courses with depressed property values.
No matter the proposal, golf course redevelopment efforts typically face significant opposition. In many cases, the opposition comes from residents and homeowners' associations who do not understand the changing market dynamics or mistakenly believe that they have a perpetual right to play on the course as it exists, or support open spaces over economic development.
In other cases, local governments themselves may be obstacles. For instance, in response to a rezoning application in connection with a planned golf-course redevelopment, the Collier County Board of County Commissioners approved a moratorium, through October 12, 2016, on golf-course conversions. During the moratorium, County staff will study the issues that the Board should consider when reviewing golf course conversion applications, including private property rights and environmental, open space, compatibility, and stormwater management concerns. A preliminary staff report found that 11% of golf-course acreage in the County is facing significant conversion pressures. The final study could recommend policies that may adversely affect redevelopment opportunities. Collier County's approach may be driven by the large concentration of golf courses there, but inevitably, other local governments that are evaluating options will closely watch, and may emulate, what happens in Collier County.
Stearns Weaver Miller has formed a statewide golf course team to monitor and address these trends, challenges, and opportunities. Recognizing that golf-course conversion and redevelopment requires collaboration across practice groups, our team draws on our Land Development, Zoning & Environmental, Real Estate, and Litigation practices to support client needs.
We have real-world experience in golf course redevelopment and conversion projects throughout Florida. We can assist clients with site acquisition and due diligence; zoning, comprehensive planning, and land use and environmental permitting, including the very common golf-course issues of ground and water contamination assessment, cleanup, and remediation; third-party challenges to redevelopment projects including assessment of private rights of residents based on plats, restrictive documents or "general scheme" theories; and protection of private property rights, including constitutional and Bert Harris Act claims that the government has refused to offer a reasonable economic use of a property.