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Florida Golf Club Needing TLC Heads to Auction With Sport's Popularity on Upswing

Pandemic Helped Draw Players, But It Still Needed a Government Loan To Survive

The Country Club at Lake City is up for auction as interest in golf has boomed in the pandemic.

Golf is seeing a big upswing in the pandemic as amateurs hit the links for fresh air and a socially distanced activity, with rounds played last year almost reaching the record set 24 years ago when Tiger Woods won his first Masters.

The renewed enthusiasm helped The Country Club at Lake City in north Florida survive the coronavirus, with the assistance of a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program that's part of last year's $2.2 trillion aid bill.

Now the ownership group has put the 50-year-old club with an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts and a swimming pool up for auction with Ten-X, an online site owned by CoStar Group. Beginning on Monday, bidding starts at $300,000 for a property that, according to the broker marketing it, is long past its heyday and needs some tender loving care.

The remaining owners in the group haven’t been involved much since the primary owner, Claude Ste-Marie, died in 2016 at age 76, and they want to sell, said Greg Christovich, a Melbourne, Florida-based broker who specializes in golf properties and represents the sellers.

Ste-Marie led a group that bought the club in 2009, doing so by assuming the $1.9 million loan, according to property records.

During its first two decades, The Country Club at Lake City was popular, Christovich said, with a waiting list for the club in the 1980s. Its banquet room hosted weddings, parties and other major events.

“That country club has been a big part of the community for years” and one of the top courses in north Florida, said Stephen Witt, a local attorney and Lake City’s mayor.

Bobby Bowden, who coached Florida State University’s football team for more than three decades, would host booster dinners at the club. Witt said the University of Florida would hold events there as well.

Lake City attracted those events and others in part because of its location near the split where Interstate 75 and Interstate 10 intersect. The city sits about halfway between Jacksonville and the state capital in Tallahassee on I-10, with Gainesville south down I-75.

Over the years, though, the business model shifted to becoming semiprivate. While the golf course is in good shape, the non-golf amenities have seen better days, according to Christovich. The club and course were designed by the late William Byrd, a noted architect in the Southeast. The American Society of Golf Course Architects described Byrd’s design style as “solid and basic golf courses that were playable, fair and easy to maintain.”

Christovich said buyers considering the property probably would need to spend $300,000 to $400,000 to improve the curb appeal.

Like a lot of businesses around the country, the club closed temporarily when cities and states sought to slow the coronavirus spread.

The owners secured a $78,380 PPP loan in April that helped keep 18 employees during the shutdown. Christovich said business was up last year about 5% compared to 2019.

Across the country, the number of rounds played was up 13.9%, according to a National Golf Foundation report. When Woods won his first Masters in 1997, popularity in golf grew dramatically because of the appeal of the young golfer who was bursting onto the professional circuit. Rounds played that year increased 14.6%.

New courses, however, contributed to an oversupply, which continues to this day. Until last year, golf was losing participants as courses closed, with the “two curves chasing each other down the hill,” Christovich said.

In a number of cases, closed courses were converted to sites for residential construction. The city council in Glendale, Arizona, for example, approved rezoning for residential use a city-owned course last October that had been closed nearly three years. That’s nine holes while hundreds of others around the country have met a similar fate.

Whether the resurgence in golf holds once the pandemic passes presents a challenge for The Country Club at Lake City.

“If somebody had a vision, they could go in and put it all back together” to return the property to its former glory as a private club because one doesn’t exist in the area, Christovich said. “There are plenty of people around to join the club.”

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