Florida is golf mecca, but not Gainesville: Golfers like me frustrated with lack of options

David Whitley
The Gainesville Sun
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Mark Twain said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled,” nicely encapsulating his dislike of the sport.

He would have loved Gainesville.

You can walk for days and not even stumble upon a golf course. Compare that to neighboring Marion County, where there are 93 golf courses just within Ocala’s city limits.

I’m lying about that, just as I lied about Twain. He’s widely credited with the quote, but researchers have concluded the words never passed his lips.

I’m allowing myself to lie in this case because I’m a golfer. Therefore, I lie about my handicap, my driving prowess and whether I foot-wedged the ball from behind a tree.

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Gainesville is forever wandering the golf desert

One thing I’m not lying about — it’s depressing being a golfer in Gainesville. What’s worse, there doesn’t seem to be a way out of the golfing desert.

“That’s about what it’s going to be,” Scott Dombek said.

He was the pro for 43 years at West End Golf Course, which closed in 2019 after a 50-year run. There just wasn’t enough business to keep the place going.

That’s an all-too-familiar refrain in Gainesville, which supposedly is in Florida, which supposedly is the golf mecca of the free world.

A ball sits on an old driving range tee at the closed West End Golf Club in Gainesville in 2020.

There are about 1,250 golf courses in our state, that’s 300 more than the No. 2 state, California. Of those 1,250, Gainesville currently has four.

Four.

Ironwood Golf Course, Turkey Creek Golf Course, Hawkstone Country Club and Mark Bostick Golf Course. You have to be a member or guest to play the last two.

Gainesville Country Club has shut down, supposedly for maintenance, until October. Perhaps it’s coincidental, but GRU shut off power to the golf course last month over a $39,000 unpaid utility bill.

I called GCC Wednesday for an update. The phone number was out of service.

Ugh.

Meadowbrook Golf Club closed last year due to flooding problems. Ownership is trying to downsize the course and add a TopGolf-like driving range, but those plans are in flux.

Bottom line: When it comes to golf, we might as well be living in Anchorage.

Check that. Anchorage has five golf courses.

It also has the excuse of being in Alaska. What’s Gainesville’s excuse?

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We are in Florida. We’re just not in the right part of Florida.

“If you look 40 miles south to Ocala, you’ve got all the snowbirds and retirees and Canadians,” Dombek said. ‘Everybody comes to Florida, but it starts from Ocala south.”

Snowbirds, retirees and Canadians play a lot of golf. So do some college kids, but they do it on the cheap. Gainesville doesn’t have the upper-income demographic to support more than a couple of swanky clubs.

Most local golfers don’t flock north with the seasons. Clubs can’t jack up rates in the winter on tourists and snowbirds and make budget for the rest of the year. And it cost $500,000 to $1 million a year to maintain a course.

Such business realities explain why we’re not Ocala. But heck, we’re not even Tallahassee.

It’s a college town. It can freeze in the winter. Leon County’s population of 291,000 is only about 23,000 more than Alachua County’s. Yet the Tallahassee area has nine golf courses.

Really, there is more to life here than football

Hey, at least we have Billy Napier.

As nice as that may be, there is more to life in Gainesville than Florida football. There’s Mark Bostick GC, the university’s historic golf course — at least for now.

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There are plans to build a new university golf course west of town as part of 4,000-acre development. The official UF party line is that Bostick will stay open. The land is ripe for campus expansion, however, so color every golfer in town skeptical.

Losing a well-groomed course in the heart of town would be a gut punch to local golf lovers. And they are out there. The proof is Turkey Creek.

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It went under in 2011, and the fairways turned to tundra. That pained members and residents of the community.

They eventually bought the course, revitalized it and now keep the place humming thanks to their volunteer efforts. It’s the kind of story that would bring a tear to Old Tom Morris’ eye, but it’s also rare.

There’s always hope that junior golf programs will take root and produce a new generation of Gainesville golf nuts. I’d love to say the course menu around here is going to expand to even Tallahassee size.

I’d love to, only I’d be lying.

The truth that for all its frustrations, golf is not a good walk spoiled. Whoever believes that, however, should move to Gainesville.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley.

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