By: Rob Harris
We’ve shared news about the California litigation surrounding Trinitas golf club, where a U.S. Bankruptcy Judge recently ordered the closing of the course based on findings that the owners constructed and opened the course without obtaining the necessary approvals.
From Vero Beach, Florida we find the opposite circumstance–a course owner who effectively has been forced to operate a golf course against its wishes. In 2006 Vista Golf purchased the former Vista Meadows golf course, a 27 hole facility, surrounded by condominiums. Vista Meadows was no longer operating as a golf course, and the purchaser’s plans were to use the course for other purposes, e.g. condominium development. The neighboring condominium associations objected. Boxed in by restrictive covenants that precluded other uses of the property, Vista Golf attempted to negotiate agreements with the condominium associations to enable them to purchase the course or share the operating expenses. Unsuccessful, Vista Golf brought suit, with its lawyer claiming that “it is unconstitutional to force someone to run a business.”
Escalating the conflict, whether by design or simply as a cost cutting measure, Vista Golf stopped cutting the grass. With the course turning to weed, the condominium associations sought an injunction. The court denied the request, holding that, while the course owner was legally barred from turning the property to other uses, “the court cannot require someone to operate a business against their will… The evidence shows that [the owner] does not wish to operate this golf course and does not have the financial resources to maintain it.”
While denying the condominium associations the injunction they wanted, the court also unleashed the county officials on Vista Golf regarding property maintenance. The county mowed the property and asserted liens which Vista Golf was forced to pay.
So, with no realistic choice other than to maintain the property as a golf course, Vista Golf sold nine holes to American Golf Club while leasing it the other eighteen holes. Reopening the course under the name American Golf Club Vero Beach, the new owner / operator recently opened eighteen holes, and is averaging fifty rounds per day. While the litigation with the condominium associations continue–indeed, American Golf Club has been added as a party–reports are that the condominium residents are pleased that the course has reopened.
Unlike the Trinitas west coast counterpart, here the stars seem aligned for a pro-golf resolution.