WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – The idea of walking out your back door, sitting on your porch, and looking at the serene nature of a golf course has long been a retirement dream for countless Americans. But across the nation golf courses have been losing money and shutting their doors, leaving those who bought into the idea of an idyllic retirement on the fairway with a nightmare situation on their hands.
Right now, the North Carolina Court of Appeals is considering the fate of a former golf course in southern New Hanover County located within The Cape subdivision. Homeowners have picked up the perhaps fight to make one last stand of thwarting the attempts of a developer and preserving the green space they bought homes along.
The course in question has gone by several names over the years, most recently Masonboro Country Club — but now once lush greens are brown and previously manicured fairways are overgrown with shrubs and grasses. The owners of the golf course shut the operation down following Hurricane Florence and are trying to have the land repurposed for more residential units.
Golf courses can make money, over time, but in a time where land and home values are seeing all-time highs, the property market can prove much more profitable for both landowners and developers. It’s a story that has become common across the country, and locally, a good example of a similar situation can be seen at echo farms.
The neighbors at Echo Farms formed a grassroots organization to fight back against the development of the greenspace but ultimately were only successful in saving a small portion of the land.
Despite the challenges they face, the Homeowners Association at The Cape believes that they can be victorious in their lawsuit. At the heart of the suit is the argument that an easement that was granted back when the golf course was developed was explicitly for the purpose of running a golf course.
It might come as a surprise to people moving into a golf course community, but the neighborhoods and homeowners are often not the owners of golf course property. Sometimes, they are owned by the members of the club and paid for with annual dues, other times, private companies run and maintain the courses.
That is what happened in The Cape. Homeowner Association President Bill Connelly said they tried for years to reach an agreement, even asking to purchase the course from the owners.
“There’s a long history here of discussions that went nowhere that finally led to us filing suit,” he said.
Then, there’s the matter of developers charging a premium for golf course lots, like many of the ones inside of The Cape, as a sales tactic.
“The course was never a part of nor owned by the residents or the Homeowners Association, it was always independently owned,” said Mike Bodnar, a Cape resident.
But, golf courses are not cheap to maintain.
From staffing to landscaping maintenance, the expenses can quickly add up. Without people paying to play rounds, it’s not hard to see how they can quickly lose money and how owners of courses can end up underwater.
The golf course at The Cape hasn’t always been a losing venture, Bodnar said, but in its latest iteration, the golf course owner decided to spend millions of dollars on redoing the course. In doing so it made it one of the hardest courses around.
“After the first nine months that we were open, they did a survey and there were 15,000 rounds of golf played and 45,000 golf balls retrieved by one of those companies that came in,” he said.
Challenges are something that many golfers enjoy, but when a course is too difficult that the average golfer can’t enjoy the game, it’s no surprise that numbers drop off.
Rayl Tayloe is the attorney representing Southern Destiny, LLC., the owners of the course who want to sell it for additional residential units. The case has already been ruled upon by a Superior Court judge who ruled in favor of additional units.
“He did determine that my client, southern destiny was entitled to repurpose its property from a golf course to a residential subdivision,” he said.
One of the bigger concerns of residents is the fact they don’t know yet what is being planned.
“The plan is for only a portion of the property to be developed as a residential subdivision … What ends up being built out there is yet to be determined if we are successful in the court of appeals,” Tayloe said.
The parties argued their sides in the Court of Appeals in December, but we won’t know the result for several months. Bodnar said he would not be surprised if the case ends up all the way at the State Supreme Court.
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