The club on Florida’s panhandle was closed for four years before it was purchased by developer Brian DeMaria for $1.5 million. He now plans “a destination retail and entertainment resort” that may or may not include golf.
Four years after the financially troubled The Moors Golf Club in Santa Rosa County, Fla. closed, Brian DeMaria, a Pensacola, Fla. developer, purchased it for $1.5 million with a vision to create a mixed-use destination retail resort that may or may not include golf, reported the Pensacola News Journal.
With more than $140 million in real estate transactions under his belt, DeMaria told the News Journal that he believes he’s well-positioned and that the property is strategically located and the timing is right to be on the forefront of an anticipated development boom with the completion at the end of the year of the widening of a major boulevard that serves the resort towns and tourist trade along Florida’s Panhandle.
When he scans the 364 acres of the 18-hole, Scottish-style golf course that he bought, DeMaria said he envisions great potential on the fairways where PGA legends once played, the News Journal reported. At the same time, he added, he wants to provide much-needed services, shopping and amenities for parts of the region that he feels are underserved.
DeMaria told the News Journal that he has consulted with golf industry experts, including Jerry Pate, winner of the 1976 U.S. Open and owner of a golf course management, design and equipment company, about the viability of keeping nine holes of the 18-hole golf course in play.
“We’ve gone through a lot of scenarios of looking how to develop it,” he said. “Golf is still on the table, but there are certainly other things that can be done out here and not affect the environment.”
A number of golf courses in the region have recently been sold, the News Journal noted, including Scenic Hills Country Club in Pensacola, Tiger Point Golf Club in Gulf Breeze, Fla. and The Club at Hidden Creek in the Holley-Navarre area. The latter two were purchased by wastewater utility companies that had vested interests in keeping golf courses up and running, so they could continue using the fairways as spray fields.
“It’s a tough business … and the sport is changing, and it’s trying to reinvent itself,” DeMaria said. “I believe the nine holes concept will have some interest more so than the 18 holes, and there’s a push for shorter par-3 courses.”
There’s also growing interest in Frisbee and pie-tin disc golf, which could be introduced at The Moors, he said.
“You’re going to see a combination of uses here,” he told the News Journal. “Some entertainment areas that may include a driving range and some type of off-golf product use. You see some lakes used for fishing. And we have some nature walk trails and an assisted living center and nice banquet facility and market to serve the local residents and travelers on Interstate 10.”
DeMaria is already is in talks with a specialty grocer to lease the club’s former 7,000-sq.-ft. golf cart barn to service 300 residents in a one-mile radius and 11,000 more homes in a five-mile radius, the News Journal. That area currently has no grocery within its boundaries, it was noted.
He’s also scouting for an upscale restaurateur to operate the club’s 10,000-sq.-ft. dining area as a bistro and to provide special-occasion banquet services, along with managing the property’s eight-suite lodge—all of which have been well-maintained by former owner Jimmy Lee, the News Journal noted.
“It would be a natural fit,” DeMaria said while leading a tour of the buildings and grounds. “Each floor has a big common area for group events and four suites on each corner, with two queen beds and private bath. It’s ready to be occupied. And believe it or not, I get calls on it every week.”
The golf course’s eighth hole, north of the clubhouse, would be perfectly suited for an assisted living center—DeMaria told the News Journal. Research has indicated a need for such a facility, he noted, with many of Pensacola’s facilities at near occupancy.
The driving range facility could be expanded to include a zip line and other entertainment, he noted.
DeMaria is marketing a portion of the site for a corporate headquarters for a company wishing to relocate to Northwest Florida, the News Journal reported.
His goal is to have tenants for the grocery store and clubhouse secured and his plans beginning to materialize by the end of the year. Ideally, he’s projecting that the assisted living center would come online in the 2016-17 time frame.
“The destination retail and corporate facility is going to take a couple of years to find the highest and best use for it,” he told the News Journal. “I’ve done several projects that are similar to this, but this is the most exciting because it offers so much potential.”
(For a video of a tour of The Moors property being led by DeMaria, go to http://www.pnj.com/story/news/2014/06/28/grand-vision-moors-golf-course/11675349/)
The Moors’ founder, Jimmy Lee, told the News Journal that he likes DeMaria’s plans for the course he built in 1993, but believes DeMaria needs to ditch plans for continuing the golf course.
“It’s a good fit for that piece of property,” he said of the residential and commercial ventures that DeMaria has outlined. “I would think Brian’s first decision would be whether he wants to maintain nine holes of golf that would impact the whole project. As far as nine holes, it’s a rough golf market, and I don’t know how nine holes will make it. You still have the upkeep, and it’s an ongoing process.” Maintaining the course cost $1 million a year, Lee said.
And there are other issues to consider, he added. “The downfall of the golfing industry is it got overbuilt nationally, and then there are private golf courses all through the country that have struggled,” Lee said. “The number of rounds played per year is not growing.”
And privately owned golf courses have a tough time competing with military golf courses in the Pensacola area, he added. “Players get on [the military courses] for nothing, and you can’t hardly compete with that,” he said.
“We were open in 1993 and [for] 17 years, and I had a good ride and 11 champion tour events,” Lee noted. “Finally, the numbers hadn’t been working. It was good we shut down when we did. What business we did have would have been lost during the road construction.”
For 11 years, The Moors hosted a senior professional golf tournament, the Emerald Coast Classic, which was then part of the annual schedule of the Senior PGA Tour, which is now the Champions Tour. The event featured some of the greatest names in golf—Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Gary Player—during its stop in the Pensacola area, the News Journal reported.
Lee and Birmingham, Ala.-based Buffalo Rock, where Lee is CEO and board chairman, footed the bill with limited sponsorship in Pensacola, the News Journal noted. In 2006, the tournament moved to the Sandestin Resort in Destin, Fla., and became the Boeing Championship at Sandestin. After that, it was gone. But the tournament put Pensacola on the golfing map.
Lee, who also owns Bent Brook Golf Club in Birmingham, told the News Journal that “I thought The Moors layout was the best in town. It gave you a Scottish feel unlike anything else in the area. [But] looking back, I totally misjudged the marketplace.”
Lee purchased The Moors property for $900,000 in 1992. Under the current state of the golf industry, he said he believes $1.5 million is a good selling price for 364 acres of manicured land and well-maintained buildings.
“Tiger Point and Scenic Hills both sold last year for $2 million, but they were still in operation,” DeMaria pointed out. “So $1.5 million was a fair but good price for the property.”
Santa Rosa Commissioner Bob Cole, whose district includes The Moors, told the News Journal he believes DeMaria just may have the recipe for success.
“To his advantage, he’s made the investment and done his due diligence, and the road will be done in the next eight months, and the economy may continue to pick up, and it may be a perfect storm for him,” Cole said. “It could be a good roll of the dice for him.”
At the same time, Cole wants to make sure whatever DeMaria develops, he is mindful of the homeowners who built or bought into two subdivisions — The Moors and The Moors Golf & Racquet Club — surrounding the golf club.
“I do like to see any positive growth that’s good for our county,” Cole said. “There are homeowners who are going to be impacted. We’ve got to protect their rights, too. That’s why I hope everyone can work together.”
DeMaria told the News Journal that he is aware homeowners are worried about the future of the golf course, and he has already met with the homeowners associations and intends to keep them in the loop about his plans.
“Homeowners association documents I reviewed exclude the golf course, meaning you can’t count on it being here,” he said. “With that being said, any large project here will require rezoning and public input. And I don’t want to do anything residents are vehemently opposed to. There’s enough land here to create buffers and provide mitigation for other types of development.”
Warren Day, President of the 58-lot The Moors homeowners association, and Caren Arner, President of 273-lot The Moors Golf and Racquet Club, both told the News Journal that DeMaria has gone out of his way to communicate his plans to them, and they’re both happy he’s considering keeping at least nine holes of golf in those plans.
“I believe he has good intentions,” Warren said. “I’m pretty pleased we have someone living locally, and not from Dallas, Houston or Atlanta, who purchased the property. From that standpoint, I only feel he has the best interest of the community in mind.”
Arner said residents are relieved DeMaria does not have plans for a big-box store. “He did talk about a place to have wedding receptions and retirements and opening the lodge again, and we’re pretty pleased with that,” she said.
Warren is also excited about the prospects of having a specialty grocery store in his backyard. Currently, he said, he and his wife have to travel up to 22 miles roundtrip to grocery shop.
Moreover, as one of the folks who bought into the golf course lifestyle, he’s hoping DeMaria keeps golf in the equation.
“I’m not sure everyone would have bought here if not for the golf course,” he said, “especially when you lived through the days of Senior PGA. It was great out here. It was fun. But times have changed.”