Gainesville golf choices scarce in summer


Published: Thursday, May 1, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 4:11 p.m.

There are moments that we remember as we navigate the twists and turns and roadblocks of a life. They are memories that you can see when you close your eyes. Some are vital — like the birth of your child or your wedding day — but some may seem trivial to anyone but you.

I had one of the moments several years ago in what I called “the Summer of Pat.” I had made the conscious decision that I was going to bear down on the golf course, work on my game and not let bogeys turn into doubles.

And it was a glorious summer with a long streak of rounds in the 70s. One day, I stood on the first tee at Turkey Creek to start a round, looked down the tree-lined fairway at the freshly-cut fairway and breathed in the warm air.

“Man, I love this game.”

That’s what I said and I said it loud enough for anyone playing with me to hear. It was a snapshot moment, captured not with an iPhone but with the blink of an eye.

On Wednesday, I went to Turkey Creek to relive that moment. The course has been closed for three years. The putting green where I wasted away many hours is baked dirt and dead grass. The tee where I stood for the snapshot moment is a weed party, the tee markers still there but grown over with indifference.

Turkey Creek was the place Charley Pell used to entertain the media, where I had several Bob Dooley Invitationals, where tournaments were played almost every weekend.

It is no longer an option for the people who do love golf in Gainesville. You know them, even if you find the game boring or frustrating or both. You know the guys or women who love the game even if it’s only for the $2 Nassau or post-round refreshments.

Those people lost Turkey Creek as an option in 2011. This summer, they’re losing two more options.

Both the Gainesville Country Club and the University of Florida Golf Course are redoing their greens starting later this month. The work at GCC will start May 5 and is expected to last until August 5. UF’s makeover will begin May 19 and should last into the start of football season.

Because the UF course is also having its traps reworked, the course will be closed except for the pro shop and driving range. GCC will have temporary greens and if you know anything about golf, temporary greens are like being told you have tickets to the Final Four only to find out they are for the junior college version.

Both of these projects are needed. You want to lay some blame, it should be directed at Invasive Grass and the Nematodes. No, it’s not an alternative band I listen to on The Spectrum (although it is kind of catchy). Invasive grass has taken over the greens at the GCC. Nematodes killed the greens at UF.

But because of these two situations and with Turkey Creek still in limbo, golfers in the community are headed for the “Summer of Despair.” That squealing of tires you’re about to hear is from golfers heading south to tee it up when the weather turns hot.

Gainesville residents are about to be limited to three regulation golf courses in Alachua County for a few months — Haile Plantation, Ironwood and Meadowbrook, plus the Par-60 course at West End. Those courses may reap the benefits of the “Summer of Despair” but a lot more golfers are probably going to head to Marion County where there are 19 courses.

Because the inconvenient truth is that we’re a lousy golf community here in Gainesville. It’s no secret. Everybody knows. Ocala kills us when it comes to golf. It has more retirees who need more courses. More members mean money which means budget to maintain the courses.

One pro in the area called Gainesville “a distressed market” when it comes to golf.

It’s a chicken or egg thing. Is there less money going into maintenances because there are fewer golfers or are there fewer golfers because there are fewer quality courses?

The funny thing is that Ironwood had planned to redo its fairways until word started to circulate that GCC and UF would be doing their greens. Imagine if we were down to two courses? Many of you could not care less about this “Summer of Despair.” Personally, I’ve laid off for nine months because of a variety of physical ailments. But I miss the game, the camaraderie and the me-against-the-course battle and the thing that I love the most about golf — that it’s the only sport where the playing field is constantly changing during competition.

There is good news. The work being done this summer will make the two courses that much better. And there is some discussion about Turkey Creek making a comeback, whether it be through a buyer or the city of Alachua getting involved.

There is a chance we can achieve as a golf community what we used to be — mediocre at best.

In a couple of weeks, mediocre will look pretty good.

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