Sandestin purchase comes with a plan

Sandestin Resort

Sandestin Resort

Northwest Florida developer Tom Becnel isn’t a golfer, but he had his eyes on one of the state’s most prominent golf resorts for years.

Becnel finally got the deal done, acquiring Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, which has four golf courses and sprawls across 2,400 acres near Destin, Fla., from Intrawest ULC of Vancouver, British Columbia.

In a recent conversation with Sandestin homeowners, Becnel said he had considered buying the property in the 1990s, before Intrawest acquired it. Now he not only owns the resort but recently moved into the Burnt Pine neighborhood in Sandestin.

John Russell, who was hired last year by Intrawest to runthe resort, will continue to do so as president of newly formed Sandestin Investments LLC. He said he already has seen advantages to having an owner who is just down the street as opposed to 3,000 miles away.

“The thing that’s changed with the new owner is a high level of commitment to property improvement and 100-percent accessibility to the decision-makers,” Russell said. He added, “Intrawest really didn’t have a long-term plan for holding on to the property, whereas the new owner does.”

Russell said some capital improvements already are in the works. Short-term projects include renovating or replacing the existing spa and expanding food-and-beverage operations at the marina. He said those projects are in the design phase and he hopes to have construction completed by summer.

There are long-term plans to build a new clubhouse to service the Raven and Baytowne courses and renovate the practice area. Russell said the greens will be replaced on the Burnt Pine course, and he added that the Links Course needs “significant investment.” The Links often is thought of as Sandestin’s fourth course, but it sits on some of the most scenic waterfront land on the property.

Unlike many of his counterparts in the hospitality industry, Russell is upbeat following a difficult year in 2009, citing improved bookings by leisure travelers and groups.

Said Russell: “ ’10 looks good, and ’11 looks great. We’re not out of it yet, but it’s a whole lot better than it was a year or a year and a half ago.”

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