For anyone who grew up in the Lakeland area and who plays golf, Cleveland Heights Golf Club likely has a special place in your golfing memory.
Many of us “cut our teeth” playing on the 27-hole layout, learning the game through the Junior Citrus program or playing with our dads. Cleveland Heights was never the nicest course in town or anywhere close to the condition of Grasslands and Lone Palm, for instance, but it was always in above average condition and was a really nice place to play.
But about a year ago, things really started to go downhill. During the course’s signature event, the 4-Ball, it was in especially rough condition. Many of the greens had dead spots, fairways were sparse, and it was simply no longer a fun place to play.
I played the course twice last weekend, and boy what a difference from a year ago. I’ve played it other times in the past year, but this past weekend was really the first time I noticed significant improvements.
The greens were, well, green, the fairways were lush, and the tee boxes were distinguishable from the rough. It looked like it did years ago, and was a pleasure to play.
The course is owned by the City of Lakeland, and it has been footing the bill to subsidize the facility for years. The city brought in some “ringers” over the past year to help rejuvenate the course, including Lakeland golf architect Ron Garl and my uncle, who is the superintendent at Eaglebrooke.
The condition that the course is in now is a real success story of a group of committed people coming together to rescue an important part of our community.
My only remaining hope is that the course can thrive financially.
According to The Ledger’s story from last July about the city’s stance on the course, it was reported that Lakeland had subsidized the course by $700,000 that fiscal year. It also anticipated possibly footing another $1.9 million for the course through 2012.
When we played last weekend, the course was not crowded at all on Saturday. It was a beautiful day, but no one was playing. It was a little busier on Sunday, but not quite as packed as I would expect on a weekend.
It’s hard to imagine the city continuing to pour money into the course if it keeps ending up in the red. Maybe they could find a private buyer to take it over again, but we would lose the security of the city ownership and who knows what condition it might end up in.
So, the present looks very promising for Cleveland Heights.
I can only hope it carries this momentum into the future.