My article in the Treasure Coast Palm newspaper about the demise of the PGA Learning Center

PGA Learning Center sale marks the sad end of a golf gem in Port St. Lucie

June 30, 2020- by Craig Dolch of TCPalm

PORT ST. LUCIE — When the PGA Learning Center was built in 1999, Treasure Coast golfers could test their skills by hitting out of bunkers and off grass that simulated the sport being played around the world.

It was a historic practice facility, perhaps the most versatile and largest of its kind.

Now the PGA Learning Center is history. The sod-walled bunkers that replicated playing in the British Open, its multiple greens and large practice facility have been overrun by weeds.

Renamed the PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance, the property was put up for sale by the PGA of America in 2017, and it sold on March 26 for $5.5 million to Common Wealth Trust Services.

Former PGA of America president Paul Levy said in ’17 by selling the Learning Center, and the neighboring St. Lucie Trail Golf Club, it “will enable us to focus more sharply on PGA Golf Club, ensuring it delivers on the promise of high-quality operations and course conditions.”

No doubt the PGA Golf Club and its three championship courses – the Wanamaker, Ryder and Dye – has stepped up its game with renovation of all three layouts in recent years. Too bad the Learning Center missed the proverbial cut.

“In terms of golf development, the amenities at the Learning Center were second to none,” said Mark Cammarene, general manager of Fairwinds Golf Course, the only county-owned course in St. Lucie County. “Just a great place.”

No question economics played a role in the sale. Don’t they always?

If a business is profitable, it usually stays in operation. Or someone buys it to hopefully make it more profitable.

But with three affordable championship courses nearby, the Learning Center struggled to maintain its customer base. Not even an all-day/night pass could attract enough customers.

“It’s a tough business model with the amount of expenses to carry the place,” Cammarene said. “You had lighting and 40 acres of turf to maintain. That’s almost as big as a nine-hole course. And expenses in our business continue to skyrocket. We’re not just cutting grass.”

Now comes the $5.5 million question: What will replace the Learning Center and its adjacent buildings?

There are almost as many guesses as holes on a golf course. I’ve been told it will become – take your pick – a business center, an upscale RV park, apartments or a senior living center.

What will be key is if St. Lucie County changes the zoning of the property. Typically, once a certain period of time has passed – in this case 20-plus years – zoning can be altered.

Another major factor: the coronavirus pandemic. When the property was sold in late March, we were in the early stages of COVID-19. Any business plan must change post-pandemic.

Dr. Steven Greer, who moved to Port St. Lucie last year, said he made an offer for the Learning Center. He said he wanted to get a lease with an option to buy, planning to keep the golf operation intact, while converting the adjacent buildings to an office complex that would include an orthopedic doctor to help golfers.

A Feb. 13 email from a PGA of America official to Greer said the Learning Center is “currently under contract and scheduled to close in March. Thank you for your interest and should something change we will make sure you are notified.”

Greer said he believes his offer was never seriously considered by the PGA of America.

“They are probably going to sell it so it can become an office complex and they can make millions of dollars off it,” Greer said. “But the PGA’s mission is to promote the game. How does getting rid of the Learning Center promote the game?”

The PGA of America plans to expand the driving range at PGA Golf Club to offset some of the lost green space from the Learning Center.

One thing is certain: The Treasure Coast has lost one of its golf gems.

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