West Volusia County’s oldest golf course closed after a financial downward spiral over the past 10-12 years that has resulted in $1.5 million in debt. The club is also involved in a legal battle over pesticide contamination in private drinking water wells surrounding the club.
DeLand (Fla.) Country Club’s golf course, which opened in 1957, closed on September 9, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported.
West Volusia County’s oldest golf course closed its doors after going through “a downward spiral, financially, for 10 to 12 years,” said Dick Kelton, President of the club’s Board of Directors. “We tried to save it,” the News-Journal reported.
After playing his last round on the course on Sunday, and shooting an 81, Kelton opened the doors of the maintenance building to show the club’s electric carts to a potential buyer. By Monday, the markers and flags were gone from the course, the News-Journal reported.
In its best days, the club had over 400 members who used its swimming pool, tennis courts and golf course with rolling hills and a close-quarters layout.
“I had two sons (Hal and Russell) grow up here, working on the course, picking the range, running carts,” said Kelton, who puts current membership at “about 50.”
The course’s contoured fairways gave a different look and feel for golfers accustomed to the flat courses of Florida’s coastal communities, the News-Journal reported.
“It was a nice golf course. A real nice golf course,” said former longtime area pro Mike O’Sullivan, who coached the first women’s golf team at Stetson University in the 1980s and used DeLand Country Club as a home course. “Our (PGA) chapter also used to play a lot of pro-ams over there in the ’60s. It was a nice place, but like all these little private clubs, the cost gets to be too much and when the older membership dies off, the younger ones don’t always want to pay it.”
Now, Kelton said, the board will work through the club’s finances to determine what they can and can’t pay. The member-owned club owes about $1.5 million, nearly all in mortgage balance and outstanding loans from members. The club had 12 employees, the News-Journal reported.
Kelton believes the property could be sold for its real estate potential.
“We’ve had a couple of potential land deals that people have approached us on,” he said. “We’ll keep pursuing that avenue.”
The club was private until three years ago, when falling membership numbers prompted necessary changes, the News-Journal reported.
“We had a new board elected three years ago that pretty much started changing direction,” Kelton said. “We said we couldn’t survive as a private club. We needed to do something different. So at that point, we went semi-private (accepting outside play from non-members), but it was too little, too late. We were into the economic slump.
“We were doing pretty good this year through Easter. Then right after Easter, the rounds just nose-dived. It’s a spiral. If you don’t have money for maintenance, you don’t bring people in to play.”
Members who paid their yearly membership dues lost months of golf and have no foreseeable way for a refund, the News-Journal reported.
“If we had money to operate, we’d be open,” Kelton said. “It’s unfortunate, but we did everything we could to keep it going. We hit the wall.”
The club is also in a legal battle over pesticide contamination discovered in 2011 in private drinking wells surrounding the club. A group of residents filed a class-action lawsuit against the club and Shell Chemical, the News-Journal reported.