By David Aaro
Oak Bridge is the oldest community in the Sawgrass Players Club neighborhood; it includes a golf course, tennis courts and residential area with 354 homes. And in recent years, the neglect and deferred maintenance of the public property have caused the club to suffer and lose money.
Oak Bridge (the former Ponte Vedra Golf and Country Club) was formerly owned by Jamey Golf LLC and over time the mortgage payments to First Atlantic Bank became non-performing. Alta Mar Holdings LLC, led by Dave Miller, purchased the note from the bank anticipating a buyer that would allow Alta Mar to turn a profit. Since no buyer was forthcoming, possibly due to the amount of improvements needed to bring the property up to date, Alta Mar continued to hold the note. Foreclosure was initiated when Jamey Golf didn’t make payment on the note in summer 2015 and Alta Mar took ownership in Feb. 2016.
Miller estimates $5 million is required for upgrades within Oak Bridge and because of the decline in the golf course, believes that it will impact property values not only in Oak Bridge, but throughout the Sawgrass Players Club if not undertaken.
Alta Mar is proposing changes to Oak Bridge to make it more financially viable, including $1.5 million in fairway and green reconstruction, $500,000 in a new tennis facility and clubhouse, $1.8 million irrigation system, a new driving range and $500,000 going towards the new golf clubhouse. Miller currently has two of the top restaurateurs in Ponte Vedra, from Cap’s on the Water and Eleven South, developing a new restaurant for the clubhouse.
“New tennis courts, rebuilt tennis clubhouse, redone golf clubhouse, golf pro shop, driving range. All are sustainable and will exist no matter where the golf course goes in the future. The big money is on the course,” said Miller.
The course wasn’t exactly in the best of shape when Alta Mar purchased it.
“It was terrible. Every facet — what you see here to what you don’t see. The maintenance was terrible, the greens were terrible, the tennis courts were terrible,” said Miller.
The grass is worn and patchy on not only the fairways, but also the rough and greens. There are at least four sprinkler heads heavily spilling water, creating large puddles. Because of these broken sprinklers impacting the water pressure, many of the areas on the course are not getting the necessary water for the grass to grow. Additionally, there are cracked and uneven foundations on the cart paths, outdated maintenance equipment — even the main fountain is broken.
Alta Mar’s solution is to repurpose a portion of the golf course and use funds from the sale to make the remainder of Oak Bridge financially viable. The group proposes to sell off roughly 40 acres of the golf course to a continuing care facility and a non-profit organization. Also proposed is access for the community directly from State Road A1A to limit traffic in the other neighborhoods. (In the past Oak Bridge had a gate at A1A.)
“I think I’m doing everything I can do, but at a certain point it requires community commitment. That community commitment is allowing us to carve off that 40 acres out by A1A, which is 25 percent of the course and redeploy the proceeds of that to fix the course,” said Miller.
Essentially two of the holes adjacent to A1A are being planned to be taken out in favor of the continuing care retirement community. To give perspective, the main area of construction will be behind the business centers in Sawgrass Village.
These changes are in limbo due to the deed restriction on the golf course that is active until 2023. Sawgrass Players Club members must vote to remove the deed restriction that states that the property may only be used as a golf course until that time. Miller has presented his proposal to sell and develop the 40 acres in order to generate funds needed to upgrade the golf course and is now awaiting a vote from residents, who belong to nine separate homeowners associations.
If residents vote to remove the deed restriction, then the project still needs county approval to become an entitled zone property capable of being developed.
Miller wants to put residents’ minds at ease, although he realizes that he and his company do not yet have the trust of all the homeowners. He has offered to put a percentage of proceeds, or $2 million, from the partial sale in escrow to alleviate fears that the money will not be reinvested in the golf course.
“The choices we all face are simple. Either we carve out the 40 acres and invest in golf course, gaining a reduced but much improved Oak Bridge or if voted down, we have to react to the economics from now until 2023,” Miller said.
If the deed restriction is not removed, Miller believes that Alta Mar has no choice but to shut down the back nine holes immediately and let them go fallow until the deed restriction expires and they can explore selling the entire property.
The club’s website, www.rediscoveroakbridge.com contains updates and background on the project.
Photo courtesy David Miller