Healthy property values and happy residents are not the only things Walden Lake Golf & Country Club lost May 15, when it closed the Hills golf course.
With the closing, Walden Lake and Plant City lost another golfing option for players in town and surrounding areas.
When I took this job and moved down from Atlanta, I began looking at the lay of the land — both from a work and personal standpoint.
Outside of my college town in south Georgia, Plant City was unfamiliar territory. Everything was new — the people, the places and the overall way of life.
But, when I discovered that there was not one, but two 18-hole public golf courses in Walden Lake, a peace came over me.
That would be my refuge, I thought.
When I had some free time away from the office, needed a break from reality or just simply wanted to work on my game, I saw those courses being a fixture in my personal life here in the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.
When my busy and sporadic schedule would allow, I played many rounds at the courses. Any time I would see deals or specials online, I jumped on them, stockpiling rounds and range tokens for a rainy day (figuratively, not literally).
The golf facilities now are a bleak shadow of what was built in the 1970s, when the original developer, Walden Lake Inc., built the first 18 holes. In the 1990s, the course was expanded to 36 holes, and the property has seen many owners since its inception.
Visions Golf LLC purchased the course from Fairways Group in 2006. Current General Manager Steve Mercer took over management of the courses after previously serving as manager of the now-defunct Plant City Golf Course.
After the closing of the Hills course, the Lakes course is the only public golf course in Plant City — and the only 18-hole regulation course within eight miles.
Visions Golf has lost money every year since taking over Walden Lake operations. Memberships have declined in recent years and are down to about 100.
There have been talks of possible development of the Hills course property that could include commercial space for shops and restaurants and/or additional residential units to the community. Walden Lake residents have voiced concerns and are fighting the idea, including circulating a petition. No formal rezoning requests have been filed by Visions Golf.
With the future of the golf club uncertain, the future of golfing options in Plant City remains bleak.
The courses have a rich history and have hosted numerous charity and competitive events. The course and practice facilities also act as the home of the Plant City High boys and girls golf teams.
By cutting the amount of holes in half with the closure of the Hills, charity tournaments and high school teams likely will start taking their business elsewhere. Having only 18 holes available to play, tournaments often become too long, and organizers would have to decrease the number of participants they can accommodate. Translation: A tournament at Walden Lake would mean fewer funds raised.
If there is one thing I know about golf, it is that those who play are passionate about the game. I’m not able to play nearly as much as I would like, but when I get the opportunity to play a round, nothing can stop me. I will gladly spend the extra money on gas to drive 30 minutes to an hour to play a quality course.
I’ve seen players from Lakeland, Brandon, Valrico and Tampa play Walden Lake. Sometimes, it’s easier to find someone from outside Plant City than a local. This obviously affects memberships, because members of clubs usually live in — or even on — the area of the course.
But, with the closing of the Hills course and the decline of the club, in general, golfers likely will find other places to work on their game and spend their hard-earned money. That’s a shame, because golf is a great game and a quality course can be a great piece of a community.
And although public golf still exists in Plant City, at least for now, the “quality” part can be debated.