Sandridge Golf Club needs, deserves a new clubhouse


Sandridge Golf Club sorely needs a new, larger and better-equipped clubhouse with an expanded parking area, but the self-supporting, county-owned facility hasn’t generated enough additional revenue to cover the entire cost of construction.

Even as Sandridge Golf Director Bela Nagy continues to revise the initial plan that attracted higher-than-expected bids, the projected costs are about $4 million above the funds available for the project.

The county should cover the difference.

Whether through a one-time investment in what has been a wildly successful public amenity, or by providing a low-interest long-term loan, there’s no good reason the County Commission can’t get this done.

It would be money well-spent on a county-operated recreational gem that serves thousands of local residents annually and draws raves from visitors who can’t help but be impressed by the quality of the courses, maintenance of the grounds and club-like service provided by the staff.

It would be money that needs to be spent for Sandridge to properly accommodate the increases in usage the facility has experienced in recent years, especially since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought swarms of new residents to our community.

During the fiscal year prior to COVID, 95,000 rounds of golf were played on Sandridge’s two 18-hole courses, named “The Dunes” and “The Lakes.” That number increased to 114,000, 119,000 and 124,000 the next three years.

This year, Nagy said Sandridge is on a pace to at least match that 124,000, which is projected to produce $5 million in revenue. One day last week – with Daylight Saving Time in effect – a whopping 560 rounds were played there.

“We can’t put any more people out there this time of year,” Nagy said, adding that the rounds-played numbers are also increasing during the off-season months.

Certainly, then, the Sandridge clubhouse is something our county commissioners should be discussing publicly, rather than merely rejecting the submitted bids and requesting a less-costly plan under the cover of a routine consent-agenda vote, as they did last month.

And they need to discuss it soon, before any revised plan is finalized.

As Commission Vice Chairman Joe Flescher said: “You want to reduce costs where you can, but if you reduce them too much, are you accomplishing what you want to accomplish?”

While the bids did seem high – in the neighborhood of $15 million – much of the sticker shock was the result of Nagy’s initial estimate of $5.5 million being unrealistically low.

And he knew it.

“That $5 million was just a placeholder,” Nagy said. “I knew it wasn’t enough. Once we really got into it, I envisioned it would be $9 million to $10 million. I’m not sure the commissioners knew that, though.”

During the design phase, Nagy learned the site work and infrastructure needed to install water and sewer connections, along with expanding the parking lot from its current 85 spaces to 210, would drive the costs even higher.

He did not know how high.

Only three construction companies submitted bids, and one was immediately eliminated because it didn’t provide the requested timetable. The two qualified bids came from Proctor Construction of Vero Beach ($14.7 million) and Di Pompeo Construction of Fort Pierce ($15.8 million).

“When I first saw the bids, my heart sank,” Nagy said. “But once I got over the shock, they fueled me to find a way to get this done, even if we had to downsize a bit.”

In the past month, Nagy said he has trimmed $2 million off the cost of the project, reducing the size of the proposed new clubhouse from 22,000 to 19,000 square feet.

He has also made the pro shop smaller – though it would still be 500 square feet larger than the existing space – and worked out a verbal agreement to share the costs of the water and sewer connections with the county, which is undergoing a similar project at Hobart Park.

In addition, Nagy said Sandridge’s dramatic increase in usage the past two years has provided the additional revenues needed to pay for up to $9 million of the construction costs.

If Nagy can get those costs down to $13 million, the County Commission would be foolish to not recognize Sandridge’s value to the community and write a check.

Remember: The plans for the new clubhouse go beyond a more-roomy pro shop, expanded parking, additional office space and locker rooms. They also include an actual restaurant – not the glorified snack bar there now – and banquet hall, which could be leased for group events, such as weddings.

That’s not only another amenity for the community; it’s another revenue stream for Sandridge, which has operated as a self-sustaining enterprise since its opening in 1987.

The clubhouse was built in 1992, and as Nagy put it: “We’ve outgrown the facility.”

Not only does Sandridge attract residents and visitors in big numbers, but it’s also the home of golf leagues formed by communities such as Sea Oaks, Marbrisa, The Lakes at Waterway Village, and Village Green.

Other groups regularly reserve tee times.

In addition, Sandridge serves as the host site for numerous tournaments, including an American Junior Golf Association event Nagy is bringing here in June.

And for newcomers to the game, or those who want to lower their handicap, golf instruction is available.

But when the club is busy – as it so often is nowadays – the clubhouse can get crowded.

“I agree that Sandridge is very popular, very well-used, very well-maintained and very well-run,” Commission Chairwoman Susan Adams said. “It’s a wonderful alternative for people who can’t, for whatever reason, join a country club.

“I believe the level of service at a public facility doesn’t need to be as luxurious as it is at a private facility, but it should still provide a nice experience,” she added. “That’s what Sandridge does. It’s a facility that accentuates the good feeling we have about our community.

“I agree the clubhouse upgrade is necessary, but the initial design might’ve been more aspirational.”

Adams said she expects the commissioners to publicly discuss the Sandridge clubhouse project when Nagy completes his revised plan.

He shouldn’t cut too much, though.

The county’s growing population is projected to reach 200,000 by 2030, which is only six years away. Many of the new residents who move here from the Northeast and Midwest do so because they want to play golf on a year-round basis.

Not all of them can afford to join country clubs.

So unless the county builds another public course – and there’s nothing on the horizon – we can expect to see more and more golfers playing at Sandridge, which has earned the county’s support.

The commissioners talk about being “good stewards of the county’s tax dollars.” Here’s a chance for them to practice what they preach.

Besides, 10 years from now – if the commissioners do the right thing and provide Sandridge with the additional funding – people will look at the new clubhouse and say, “You built that for only $13 million?”

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