By: Tico Gimbel, Mike Illers and Gino Betta (Three member panel)
Killearn Country Club (KCC) has been a thriving component of community life in Tallahassee for nearly fifty years. With the current special restrictive covenants set to expire in 2021, the club is now at a crossroads.
Mr. Barton Tuck, the owner of KCC, notified the membership of his intent to close a portion of the club’s 27-hole golf course (the nine holes referred to as the North Course). This notification triggered the Members’ right to purchase portions of KCC property. Once this right was triggered and consistent with the special restrictive covenants, we were appointed and approved by the Membership as “The Panel” to represent the members as it relates to this option to purchase. The Covenant is entitled “Members’ Right to Purchase”, not Member’s Right to Purchase (note the placement of the apostrophe).
Initially, the option to purchase was set to expire on October 15, but we worked with the owner to secure an extension to November 2.
This extension provided us with additional time to gather information as to how the Membership wished to move forward. Mr. Tuck provided some commitments to the Membership during this time. We also sought input from those members interested in exercising the option to purchase and tried to ascertain their vision and plans for an ownership and management structure.
The owner’s plan would create a permanent conservation area with a maintenance escrow account on most of holes 1-6 of the North Course and sell holes 7-9, including the driving range, in order to raise capital to build new facilities. As part of this plan, the owner would invest the proceeds from the sale of the property back into the club and extend the restrictive covenants on the remaining 18 holes for 40 years.
Everyone should understand that if the current restricted covenant expires as scheduled in 2021, it will leave the original Championship 18-hole course along with the North 9, all of which is currently zoned as single family residential property, without any restrictive covenant protecting it as a golf course.
We reached out many times to those members seeking to purchase the club for their plan for KCC, but we were rebuffed. We offered to distribute their plan to the entire Membership and again, we were rebuffed. Other members presented the group with a series of questions inquiring about their plan and they were also rebuffed. Prior to the appointment of the Panel, they discussed purchasing KCC and selling the property the next day to an investment or golf management company.
The right to purchase specifically excludes some very critical pieces of the property (tennis courts, locker rooms, pool area, dining facilities, etc.). Financially, can the club be operated without a pool, tennis courts and dining facilities? Many members do not golf. Without these areas of the club, how many members will be lost? Additionally, do we want a management company operating our club? KCC’s prior experience with a management company greatly contributed to the current need to upgrade our facilities.
The reality is, this small minority group’s (6% of the Membership want to purchase) interest is to preserve the status quo at the expense of new facilities and upgrades. They would rather the owner go bankrupt and close the entire course in 2021 (which is a short six years away). Perhaps if the non-members filing lawsuits and delaying the upgrades had joined KCC, the increased revenue over the years would have supported keeping all 27 holes open.
Killearn Country Club has a great history. Over the last fifty years, the club has hosted many professional golf tournaments, weddings, and other special events that have contributed to Tallahassee’s economy. The residents of Killearn, and Tallahassee as a whole, should want a strong and thriving club and support the membership as we move forward. This is an important decision and one we hope our fellow neighbors, elected officials, and community will support.
Tico Gimbel, Mike Illers and Gino Betta are long-time members of Killearn Country Club. They were appointed by an overwhelming majority of KCC members (195 of 197 that issued an appointment) to serve as “The Panel” responsible for determining whether the Membership wanted to exercise its’ right to purchase the golf course from the owner. Only 6% of the Membership voted to exercise the right to purchase.