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Written by John Ise, BT Contributor   
June 2018

Despite financial challenges, public club holds on

IPix_JohnIse_6-18t’s said that the sport of golf consists of a series of continuous tragedies interrupted by the occasional miracle. As a non-golfer, I find there’s something soothing in observing the game. The mental focus of golf requires players to accept routine failure humbly, practice patience, and hone their skills via the smallest increments of coordinated muscle exertion.

“To find a man’s true character,” observed P.G. Wodehouse, “play golf with him.”

In many ways, the golf course of Miami Shores Country Club (MSCC) came into being alongside the Village of Miami Shores. The pineapple plantation and grapefruit grove that was excavated in the early 1930s by the Shoreland Company for today’s golf course came shortly after the village’s incorporation in 1932. The course is partly a product of President Roosevelt’s New Deal. His Works Progress Administration (WPA) addressed the massive joblessness of the Great Depression via public works projects, and employed locals in constructing elements of the golf course, according to Alberto Pozzi, general manager and resident historian of MSCC. The coral wall that rings the course on its southern and western sides is a relic of the WPA.

The MSCC opened to the public in 1939 as a municipal department of the Village. In the mid-1940s, the Village converted MSCC into a private facility, stipulating for a brief time that to be eligible for membership, one would have to own property within Village limits. The popularity of MSCC grew to such an extent that rich and famous locals who lived outside the Village would purchase vacant lots just to be eligible for membership.

The country club continued as a popular destination throughout the 1960s but began a long decline in the 1970s. Economic stagflation, Miami’s rising immigration numbers, and fewer retirees all combined to dampen Miami Shores’ golf-friendly demographics.

Into the 1980s, MSCC’s poor financials were evident in deteriorating conditions on the golf course and within the clubhouse. Losing anywhere between $600,000 and $700,000 a year, the Village began to explore options to spin off MSCC’s management.

Pozzi says Village Council meetings were endless yammering sessions on course design, upkeep, on even how many golf carts to purchase. “There were as many opinions about MSCC as residents,” he recalls.

By 1988, however, the Village did manage to spin off MSCC’s maintenance operations to Professional Course Management, with the stipulation that the company would significantly invest in the renovation of the clubhouse and course. Yet even under new management, MSCC continued to shed money, precipitating a pivotal decision to open the club and course to the public.

Membership finally began to climb, and the club, with its sunken horseshoe bar, became a popular watering hole. The food and beverage side of MSCC’s general ledger became more prominent as the golfing side leveled off.

Alas, progress came to a screeching halt with the great financial crisis of 2008. The nation’s banking and financial sector slid into turmoil, and financially stressed families gripped their wallets tighter, with discretionary spending on things like golf and country club memberships being first on the chopping block.

Thankfully, with the economic recovery, MSCC is financially sound, thanks primarily to the popularity of its food and beverage operations, event rentals, and the narrowing of the golf market in South Florida. And the country club’s Fourth of July fireworks show is one of the very best annual family experiences in the village.

While MSCC is a relative healthy operation, the same cannot be said of the game of golf. Both locally and nationally, traditional golf is a game that is, at best, stagnant or, worse, in sharp in decline.

In 2014, about 25 million people played golf, down 18 percent from a decade earlier, even though the population grew by six percent. Fewer people golf, those who do golf less frequently, and the median age creeps upward as fewer young people golf. As The Economist noted in a 2014 story: “To some extent, golf’s appeal has become its undoing.... Playing 18 holes, the game’s standard, takes four and a half hours or more, not counting commuting or lunch. Time-starved Americans rarely devote so many hours to anything -- other than, perhaps, a transcontinental flight and sleep.”

Over the past decade, more than 800 golf courses have closed nationwide. Even in sunny, golf-hospitable South Florida, more than 40 courses have closed. Westview, Oak Tree, Sabal Palms, Presidential, California Club, Fontainebleau, and the Diplomat are among shuttered courses. (See the BT’s “The Trouble With Golf,” April 2011.)

Ironically, these local closures have benefited MSCC because fewer courses have funneled more golfers to Miami Shores. MSCC is also fortuitous as being a course whose land is municipally owned, and thus somewhat insulated from the pressures of rising property values and the greed of developers. Most new golf courses are today built within larger residential developments as a means to boost their overall value.

MSCC, cognizant of the graying of golf, has acted proactively by creating a junior golfing program, summer golf camps, and monthly family nights at the clubhouse. Cell phones, once taboo on golf courses, now are allowed, and golf carts even are equipped with chargers.

The broader question is: Will golf continue its attrition, make a comeback, or transform into something else? Enterprising businesses have experimented with shortening the game to seven holes, widening the putting holes to 15 inches, and even having sensors in the golf balls that synch to your smart phone.

The newly opened TopGolf in Miami Gardens is perhaps the complete Frankenstein version of the sport. The enormous three-story structure resembles a netted urban driving range. Microchipped golf balls registered to your name are really projectiles for a swath of targets. A kind of mishmash of golf, darts, and video gaming is the end result. Neon lights, thumping music, and a sports bar add to feeling you’re in a disco rather than a golf course. I, for one, yearn for a return to the tranquility of MSCC.

“The camaraderie and fun of this place is what makes it the areas’ best-kept secret” enthuses MSCC advisory board member Mark Gallo. And seeing the pride and glee of Pedro Rajo recounting his 153-yard hole in one (“Against the wind!” he emphatically adds), MSCC is seen by many as an oasis. In a somewhat cruel twist, golfing tradition mandates those who hit a hole-in-one purchase drinks for everyone in the clubhouse, which left Rajo $260 poorer after his hefty bar tab.

Thus, this non-golfer is rooting for the sport, and thereby MSCC. The meditative, calming quality of golf just may be the antidote we need to the frantic, rushed, stressful pace of our modern lives.



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