SPRING LAKE, Fla. – Edd Vowels and his friends have been playing at Spring Lake Golf Resort for years, so they heard that Wauchula State Bank had planned to shut it down by mid-May.
"Somebody had to step up and do something," said Vowels. If the name sounds familiar, he and his wife of 52 years, Rita, formerly owned nine McDonald's in Highlands, DeSoto and Okeechobee counties. He sold the last one in Arcadia to his son, Tim, who subsequently bought one in Okeechobee. The rest are now owned by corporate McDonald's.
The bank had taken over the courses in May 2014 from the former owner, Michael Tellschow, and had been trying to sell it.
"A lot of my friends live out here, and if the course closed, their property values would go down the tubes," Vowels reasoned. "We went into negotiations three months ago."
He became the official owner on April 28. In the meantime, one of the superintendents over-fertilized the 18 greens on the Cougar Trail course, and the grass died.
"The roots are still there," Vowels said. "That's why we're using an outside company. We're trying to revive them. But we may have to replace some of the greens. We don't know."
A few days ago, the company came to spray the greens, but an algae buildup had to be removed first. The Vowels emailed for help.
"Thirty of our members showed up," Vowels said. Rakes in hand, they stayed a couple of hours until the job was done.
Vowels, 72, isn't one of those guys who chafes at retirement. He was OK with playing golf three or four times a week. He stayed busy at his house in west Sebring. He and Rita took some cruises, and they RVed frequently to the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina.
"I wasn't looking for another job," Vowels said Thursday. "But I don't like to sit still all the time."
Did he ever want to own a golf course? "Well, everybody has a dream. I guess it was in the back of my mind to own a golf course. Thank God we've got good help."
About 60 employees run the three courses, which also include the 18-hole Panther Creek course and the nine-hole Bobcat Run course, the restaurant and the downstairs club.
So, what has he learned about golf courses in the past three weeks?
"They are very hard to run," Vowels said. "And they're very expensive to run. There are so many parts: the golf courses, the restaurant, the bar, getting enough people to play golf to support the thing. Maintenance is the big thing."
That superintendent who over-fertilized the greens? No longer has a job.
"It's very expensive to bring back these greens," Vowels said. "We hope to get them back before fall comes. We have a lot of members who are snowbirds. About 60 percent of them go home in the summertime."
But the Panther Creek course remains in good shape, and the Bobcat Run course, which is usually closed during the summer, remains open this year.
"Bobcat is a nine-hole course," Vowels said. "A lot of members like it. It's a shorter course for them."
"I'm dumb to the golf course world," Vowels said. "There are so many things to learn, grasses and greens, trying to get play in here, and I've never run a full-line restaurant. We're coming around; we've put in new menus; we have specials on different nights. Years ago, the restaurant was a boomer. It was full all the time. But it's just gone down and down. It's almost non-existent."
Three cooks are running the show now, one in the morning who also prepares and cooks soups and roasts and prepares fresh food for the evening shift, and two cooks at night.
Although Vowels calls his customers members, Spring Lake Golf Resort isn't a private club. "The restaurant and golf course are open to the public. There's nothing private about it.
"Over the past three to five years, there's been a lot of bad talk about this: the golf courses weren't any good, the food wasn't any good. You have to have play on the golf course. We're trying to reverse that frame of mind so people will come back and give us a try."
This article was written by Gary Pinnell from Highlands Today, Sebring, Fla. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.