Governor says Florida needs more golf courses

Florida Gov. Rick Scott

Florida Gov. Rick Scott

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Gov. Rick Scott says golf is so important to Florida’s economy that, in a state with more than 1,200 golf courses, more should be built.

In visiting the recent Players Championship here, Scott, a first-term Republican, outlined the economic benefits that the game provides, including the millions of tourists who visit Florida to play the game year-round, and the need to market the Sunshine State as a golf destination.

In turn, Scott intends to work with local markets that want to grow the golf-course inventory.

“We look at programs to add more golf courses around the state with a variety of well-named golfers,” Scott said.

Nevermind that nationwide, the golf market is saturated with too many courses chasing a shrinking pool of players. Last year, 157 1/2 golf courses closed and 19 opened, measured in 18-hole equivalents, the National Golf Foundation reported. It was the sixth consecutive year in which more courses closed than opened, and according to Joe Beditz, the NGF’s president and chief executive, there’s more to come.

“The supply correction is likely to continue for the foreseeable future,” Beditz said.

In March 2011, a bill was introduced in the Florida Legislature that would have required taxpayers to contract to build at least five golf courses in state parks. Jack Nicklaus, a longtime North Palm Beach resident, was picked – without competitive bid – as the designer of the proposed Jack Nicklaus Golf Trail.

However, the proposed legislation – Senate Bill 1846 and House Bill 1239 – served as a unifying force for an unusual alliance of opponents: fiscal conservatives and environmentalists. One Florida columnist called it “the worst idea in history.”

The resulting outcry led to a swift legislative defeat.

Is the governor trying to revisit this proposal?

“If we can get a return for the state taxpayers, which in our state is funded primarily by sales and property taxes, then we’ll do it,” said Scott, who made a fortune as the founder of Columbia Hospital Corp., forerunner to Columbia/HCA. “So I tell people all the time, If you can show a return for state taxpayers, I’m very interested.”

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