Chuck Leisek has spent many of his mornings the past 15 years hitting golf balls at the Pebble Creek Golf Club (PCGC), where he lives just off the 12th hole.
The 86-year-old never broke 70, but shot his age plenty of times, has just missed a hole-in-one on the No. 2 and No. 6 holes, and loved every day he was out on the course.
When he found out that the golf course was shutting down for \good on July 31, he and his wife Janice, also an avid golfer, were crestfallen.
“We never thought in our wildest dreams this golf course would ever be closed,” says Leisek. “It’s deeply disappointing. And that’s an understatement.”
The writing, however, had been on the wall for the past few years, as owner Bill Place, who bought the club in 2005, has been actively trying to sell the property the past five or so years.
The first weekend in June, letters were sent out informing residents that the 6,436-yard golf course, the oldest in New Tampa, was shutting down for good.
Place said there is no special event or farewell scheduled for the club. The last one out on the 31st will turn off the lights, lock the door and that will be it.
Place is currently negotiating with Pulte Homes on building 230-240 single-family homes on the golf course.
“Never once when I bought the course was I even thinking it would be a development site,” Place says. “We took what was then a failing golf course that was horribly maintained, and we put in probably $2 million over the first five years. We put in new greens, built a new banquet room, and really got the club making money initially.”
Included in the improvements was Mulligans, the popular Irish pub that opened in 2007, but also will close July 31.
Place says the 2008 recession stopped the club’s momentum, and it has been on and off ever since.
Leisek says he remembers when Place bought PCGC and restored the course to its previous glory, but says he is one of many who questions how much money Place actually has been losing.
And, although he says he had heard rumors of Place “skulking around trying to sell it,” it was still a surprise to everyone he knew when they received notice that PCGC was officially closing.
Place says club members like Leisek, however, were far and few between at Pebble Creek.
Although there are roughly 1,400 homes in the community, only 13 residents are among the club’s 70 current members. He describes the support from the community as non-existent.
“I don’t mean that negatively, like people despised the golf club,” Place says. “There’s just not that many golfers (living) in Pebble Creek.”
He says that when he approached the HOAs about having all homeowners pay for a social membership to keep the club alive, it was rejected.
“We do get a fair amount of public play,” Place says. “That’s essentially what kept us going as long as we did.”
Golf courses have struggled in recent years, especially as amenities in large communities, but the number of rounds played in 2020 actually were up nationally 13.9 percent from 2019, according to Golf Datatech, primarily because of people looking for relatively safe recreation activities during the pandemic.
It is the largest increase in rounds played since Golf Datatech, which specializes in golf market research, started tracking stats in 1998. Place says that surge was short-lived at Pebble Creek.
“Even though we had a little bit of a bump from Covid-19, I’ve already started to see it back off as people go back to work,” Place says. “We’re on a path to repeat 2018 and 2019, when we lost money those years.”
Place also says that merely maintaining the course had become financially untenable. He says that PCGC still has its original irrigation system and that “it failed miserably during this recent drought.”
He adds, “It was time.”
Pebble Creek was built by a group of nine investors and opened in 1967, at a price tag of $500,000, 20 years before Arnold Palmer visited to help dedicate the opening of Tampa Palms Golf and Country Club by playing the first round.
PCGC was once dubbed the “grandaddy of New Tampa golf courses.”
At its outset, the semi-private Pebble Creek Golf and Country Club was a hit. It quickly reached 300 members in 1967 and stopped accepting any additional members so there was room for the occasional non-member golfer. Over the years, improvements were made (the course actually opened with no bunkers) so it could host bigger tournaments, and membership ebbed and flowed.
When it comes to selling the 149-acre course to a developer, which appears to be Pulte Homes, Place knows he will have a fight on his hands. Efforts to rezone the property and getting Pebble Creek’s two homeowners associations (HOAs) on board will be an uphill battle.
“Everyone is devastated,” says Wayne Rich, the president of the Pebble Creek Village HOA, which represents about 300 homes. “Nobody is excited about it.”
Rich says roughly 100 homes between the two HOAs are located on the golf course, and could have their backyards replaced by new neighbors. He has seen what Pulte is proposing, and says he’s “not crazy about it.”
A group on Facebook, as well as another group of residents, have already mobilized to oppose any development, emboldened by last year’s success at stopping Place from getting a brownfield designation for the course.
DR Horton, one of the original interested buyers of PCGC, had done preliminary testing two years ago and discovered that there were contaminants on the golf course before withdrawing its interest.
A brownfield site is a property that is contaminated, which hinders efforts to expand or redevelop it. But, there are significant tax credits offered to help clean up brownfield properties. Hillsborough County commissioners voted against the request.
Without those tax credits, Place will likely foot the bill. A preliminary estimate, he says, indicated it would take 6-9 months to decontaminate the soil. That alone could cost Place $1 million.
But, he still has potential developers like Pulte lined up.
Leisek will get in a few more rounds before then, and he says his golf membership is being transferred to Plantation Palms in Land O’Lakes, roughly 20 minutes away and also owned by Place.
He says it won’t be the same, and will miss member dinners in the clubhouse and even visits to Mulligan’s.
But, what he’ll miss most is a golf course he shared 2-3 times a week with his friends and neighbors.
“We had a lot of good times here,” Leisek says. “It’s very depressing. Very upsetting.”
For Rich, who remembers the many Mother’s Day banquets he attended at the club, July 31 will mark the end of an era.
“The golf course is part of the heritage of this community,” he says. “It’s sad to see it go.”