New course means new cost
Winter Park’s golf course is once again ready for play, but some residents are upset at price increases after its recent renovation.
The city of Winter Park celebrated the reopening of the Winter Park Country Club golf course with a ribbon cutting ceremony, putting an end to a seven-month rehabilitation of the nine-hole course that included new fairways, sand traps, contours and sprigging.
“The Winter Park Golf Course is now the best nine-hole golf course you will find anywhere in the region, and we’re very proud of that,” Mayor Steve Leary said moments before the ribbon cutting. “It’s a tie to our past. It’s a park. It sits on the rail line. It’s in our core. It brings together young and old.”
“It brings this community together.”
But a new and improved course now means higher membership fees. Winter Park resident Jack Bridgeman and his wife before were able to play with a joint annual membership for $845. The cost to renew the annual membership for both of them is now $1,800 – more than double what it cost before.
Bridgeman was willing to pay the higher amount for himself due to how often he plays, but admitted it’s a big change in price.
“Most of the people that are members that still have time left are probably going to use up the time left to play and then probably will not join,” Bridgeman said. “Many other people are not real happy.”
Bridgeman added that the course no longer offers membership discounts for families either – just a flat fee per player.
Other Winter Park Country Club members such as Maitland resident Henry Pfingstag will have to pay $1,080 due to living outside the city limits.
“The increases are like a virtual doubling,” he said.
“It’s not that big of an amount of money, but it’s the percentage.”
But what Pfingstag finds even more disconcerting is how the new pricing structure treats seniors and players who need to use golf carts. The cost of renting a golf cart has gone up from $7 to $10, he said. That per-person fee now must be paid for each play-through of the nine-hole course.
Pfingstag said his friend Jim Knoblauch, who can’t walk the course due to blood clots in his legs, will now be forced to pay the higher cart fee every time he plays.
“It costs them $10 every time they get in the cart,” he said. “If you play twice a week, pay $20 a week and you have to have a cart because you’re handicapped, 50 (weeks) times $20 is another $1,000. That’s like a tripling of the rate.”
“If you’re over 80 or handicapped, let them have an annual membership for the cart.”
Pfingstag, who’s played the course for more than 30 years, has not yet renewed his membership but thinks the new course is still overall a positive change.
“The redesign is excellent in my opinion,” Pfingstag said. “It’s fantastic.”
Controversy surrounded the golf course project early on due to a sudden change in management earlier this year. Residents took issue with the city’s choice to lay off staff, including Golf Operations Manager and PGA Pro Justin Ingram, an assistant manager, and two part-time workers at the pro shop. Resident Jim Cooper called the city out on its decision during the April 11 City Commission meeting, highlighting the value of Ingram in particular to the Winter Park Country Club.
“I was totally appalled at the way Justin Ingram and the staff of the golf course were terminated,” Cooper said.
City Spokesperson Clarissa Howard told the Observer that city management, not the City Commission, made the decision on the layoffs.
As for the higher membership fees, city Parks and Recreation Director John Holland said they’re meant to help pick up the tab for maintaining the improved golf course.
“It’s a better course and better environment to play on,” Holland said.
“The city was putting in $200,000 (per year) toward our revenue to make out budget. It was a business accounting decision…It’s going to cost more to upkeep the course. This helps offset that.”
Winter Park Country Club Golf Pro Shop Manager Gregg Pascale said there will still be benefits in place for members, including 10 percent off items in the pro shop, an ability to book tee times seven days in advance and access to country club tournaments.
Pascale said residents should come out and see the new course for themselves.
“If you haven’t given us a chance, it’s completely different from what it was in the past,” he said. “It will challenge every level of golfer.”