Omni Closed Amelia Island Ocean Links, Ordered to Rebuild Property
I have never entered into a property transaction associated with a golf course, much less an elite one. Nevertheless, I have always wondered how the symbiotic relationship works between home owners and decisions made by golf course owners, whether private or corporate. At first glance, it appears to be a delicate dance of interests from the very onset, and I would want to understand not only the contractual obligations of each party, but of the course’s freedom to make future plans within or outside of an operating agreement. In younger years, I remained blissfully ignorant as I played down fairways in the forest courses of the northwest, dotted with beautiful homes along the tree line. I only knew then that I wanted one.
Amelia Island is the southernmost in a barrier island chain from South Carolina to Florida. It has five other courses, and thirteen miles of public beach. However, Ocean Links is a Pete Dye and Bobby Weed creation, and is beloved by its adjacent residents who hold memberships in the club. To close such a course should have gone through a lengthy, transparent and collaborative process with fellow property owners, but Omni Resort suddenly moved bulldozers under police protection onto several of the ocean holes. For two days, they scraped and piled up the remnants of fairways and greens. Home owners were not notified until that day, and it took two more days for an injunction to be handed down. On the very morning bulldozers invaded the course, Omni’s was still taking tee-times.
Property owners were taken completely off their guard. The testimony of one strongly suggests that when the matter came up for a vote of approval, the residents roundly rejected it. Others claim that the closure is a violation of a ninety-nine year operating agreement. One source for the corporation suggested that the land would be turned into a recreation area of sorts, where walking and riding paths abound in harmony with already present wildlife. The real thrust, however, seems to be the erection of condominiums, a great many of them. Residents resign themselves to the fact that condos are more profitable than golf courses, and as usual, money talks louder than anything else.
What if corporate interests that govern the course had other ideas for that property? Would it make a difference? What if the course owners along those forested Oregon fairways decided that a zinc mine would be just what the doctor ordered for that stretch of land? Certainly, the property value for those elegant homes would plummet, or likely disappear entirely. Many bureaucratic barriers exist to block such an event, but let’s think hypothetically for a moment. What if the bulldozers suddenly appeared on what that region holds dear as a symbol of its good life through any corporate decision? Could anyone without primarily financial interests do anything about it? Whether Omni’s plans include walking trails and/or condos, the board isn’t saying. That leaves residents in the dark over where their property values are going, not to mention their club and their love of playing golf there.
For those wishing that for just once the money interest would fail, there is a glimmer of light on Amelia Island. Attorneys for the 1,400 member Amelia Island Club took Omni to court over this intricate collision of interests in what was intended to be a collaboration. The court has recently ordered that by October 31, 2019, the destroyed course must be restored to its original condition. Omni will certainly appeal the case, but if it stands, the cost of rebuilding Dye’s and Weed’s ocean-side jewel will cost them a hefty hunk of change. The Resort has begun its response campaign with subtle inferences that Ocean Links is, or was, an inferior course. For those who know better, it may be difficult to make that recently ubiquitous American habit stick. One might as well call a Renoir cheap hotel art than dish a Pete Dye course.
Golfers and property owners of Amelia Island will eagerly await updates. Meanwhile, we should all keep an eye open for zinc mines, symbolic or otherwise, popping up where they shouldn’t.