ORMOND BEACH — A local investor group has purchased the former Tomoka Oaks Golf & Country Club with plans to redevelop it as a new home community. They paid $2.6 million, according to Volusia County property records.
But some residents are hoping for a mulligan that can result in reopening the 57-year-old semi-private golf course which shut down a few years ago.
“Tomoka Oaks has the best drainage of any course around,” said John T. Anthony, a longtime Tomoka Oaks resident whose home sits off the seventh tee. “It’s 25 feet above sea level and is one of the highest points in the county. If we’re going to save any golf course in the area, it should be this one.”
Anthony is one of a number of residents who recently began displaying signs in their front yard with the message “Preserve Tomoka Oaks Golf Course.”
“We have a lot of residents that are very concerned about the future development of this nearly 60-year-old golf course,” said Jim Rose, a longtime resident who chairs the golf course committee for the community’s voluntary home owners association.
The community is just off of North Nova Road, about a mile north of The Trails Shopping Center, in Ormond Beach. It is bordered on the east by Nova, on the west by the Tomoka River, on the north by the Florida East Coast Railroad line, and on the south by The Trails residential subdivision.
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Opened in 1964 as a Sam Snead course
The 18-hole Tomoka Oaks Golf & Country Club opened in 1964 as a Sam Snead Signature course. Snead was a legendary PGA golfer whose career spanned five decades until his retirement in 1987.
The defunct Tomoka Oaks golf course includes a two-story clubhouse that used to have a restaurant, bar, golf pro shop and banquet facilities. It also had tennis courts and a community swimming pool. All are no longer in use.
The new owners include Ray Barshay, owner of the RiverGrille on the Tomoka restaurant next to Tomoka Oaks, and Carl Velie, a local Realtor, as well as an investor from the Orlando area.
No firm redevelopment plans yet
Barshay said he has heard the rumors regarding his and his partners’ plans for the former golf course land, which sits in the middle of the Tomoka Oaks community. Most are untrue, he said.
“We’ve heard people say there could be 600-some homes out there. We haven’t decided anything yet,” he said. “We don’t have a fixed plan at this point. It’s still early in the process.”
Barshay said he and his partners plan to hold multiple meetings with Tomoka Oaks residents to understand their concerns and to explain their intentions regarding the former golf course.
The first meeting is set for May 20 at the Ormond Beach Performing Arts Center at 399 U.S. 1. The start time has not yet been announced. Rose said his understanding is that it will be in the early evening.
“We plan to sit and listen to what people have to say,” said Barshay. He is a former Tomoka Oaks resident who still lives in Ormond Beach, as does Velie.
The chances of the golf course reopening are pretty slim, Barshay conceded. “I’d love to see it reopen, but there’s not a way to make the numbers work today. To bring that course back would probably cost $6 to $7 million. The amount of money needed to restore it is epic and you could invest all that money and still not know if you could make a profit.”
Tomoka Oaks Golf & Country Club is one of several public golf courses that have closed in Volusia County in recent years. Others include the city-owned River Bend Golf Club next to Ormond Beach Municipal Airport that ceased operation at the end of December.
An Orlando developer is also looking to redevelop the former Sandhill Golf Course in DeLand with a housing development. Sandhill closed in 2017.
Anthony said some home owners association members hope to convince the city of Ormond Beach to sell the River Bend Golf Club property and use the proceeds to buy and reopen Tomoka Oaks Golf & Country Club.
“It’s not craziness, but I don’t know if the city wants to do that,” he said.
Anthony said Ormond Beach City Manager Joyce Shanahan is a Tomoka Oaks resident but has not weighed in on the matter. “Joyce lives just three houses down from me, but she stays neutral,” he said. “She’s not going to interject her feelings at all.”
Shanahan did not respond to a request for comment.
No legal obligation to keep golf course
Anthony said some HOA members are under the belief that Tomoka Oaks has a deed restriction requiring the golf course to remain open.
That is no longer the case, confirmed Steven Spraker, the Ormond Beach’s planning director. “The property in 2006 had a planned residential development order approved by the city that would have allowed 122 residential units, but would have required (then-owner Dick Ryals) to keep the golf course. But then the recession hit and the development was never built. That development order has since expired.”
City Commissioner Dwight Selby, who is also a Realtor, expressed doubt that the city would step in to buy the Tomoka Oaks golf course property from Barshay, Velie and their partner.
“I think the opportunity to do it would have been before Ray and Carl bought it,” Selby said. “There really wasn’t a push before that. Nobody came to the City Commission.”
The city’s zoning for the former golf course property allows up to four houses per acre to be developed. “With the roads and storm water retention ponds that would be required, the more realistic number of homes that could be built would be in the 350 range,” said Anthony.
The owners will need to obtain a new planned residential development order from the city before proceeding with their project, according to Spraker.
“City staff has encouraged the contract purchasers to conduct a pre-submittal neighborhood meeting to discuss the potential project with homeowners in the vicinity of the property,” according to an email Spraker wrote in response to an inquiry from Tomoka Oaks resident Mary Greenlees. “With the pre-submittal neighborhood meeting, there would be five public meetings for the development order action to provide input on the project.”
Course has had multiple owners over the years
Tomoka Oaks Golf & Country Club has changed hands several times over the years. Its longest owner was Dick Ryals, a local radiologist who bought the golf course in 1979. He and his family ran it until 2010 when they turned the property over to Putnam State Bank.
Putnam sold the golf course to an Orlando area investor group led by Ed Meixsell in 2011. The group held on to the property until its sale on April 23 of this year to Barshay, Velie and their partner.
Ryals is now retired still lives in Tomoka Oaks. He said the golf course ceased operations a few years ago, but “never officially closed. Functionally, it hasn’t been worth playing on for a few years.”
At one time, Tomoka Oaks Golf & Country Club was considered one of the Daytona Beach area’s premier golf courses, according to longtime residents.
Future NFL placekicker Sebastian Janikowski, who graduated from Seabreeze High School, was golfing at Tomoka Oaks when he learned he had been selected in the first round of the 2000 draft by the Oakland Raiders. He played in the NFL for 19 seasons.
“Almost everyone in Volusia County knows someone who either grew up in Tomoka Oaks or at one time lived there or played the golf course or played tennis there,” said Tomoka Oaks resident Beth King said. “It was quite the place to be.”
King said she and her husband, who is an avid golfer, hope the new owners can find a way to keep at least a nine-hole course.
“We’ve lived here for 15 years. The golf course was totally active when we moved in,” she said.
The Great Recession changed everything by not only causing a collapse of the housing market, but also of business for the golf course and clubhouse restaurant/bar.
“It wasn’t a recession, it was a depression,” said Ryals of the national economic downturn that began in late 2007 and kept the economy depressed in Florida for several years. “We eventually lost the course to the bank in 2010.”
Ryals’ plan to add townhouses and condos while retaining the golf course was intended to help keep it economically viable. The project would have included investing money to enhance the golf course. “His not being able to carry out that plan because of the recession was the death knell,” said Rose.
Anthony said, “The Ryals did a great job with what they had, but they just had a lot of bad luck.”
Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma the following year also accelerated the golf course’s decline under Meixell’s ownership, King said. “We had a ton of trees go down. They (the course’s then-owners) never fixed it after that. The worst part about seeing the deterioration of the course is watching it get to be where it’s not playable any more.”
Tomoka Oaks resident Missy Herrero said if Barshay, Velie and their partner can’t be persuaded to reopen the golf course, she would like the City to “take an active role in preserving the green space.” She noted that the City of Winter Garden recently purchased a closed golf course to sell to residents, while St. Johns County recently approved plans to spend $8 million to renovate its municipal golf course.
Rose, a retired attorney, said he has studied the documents regarding Tomoka Oaks and does not see a way to win a legal challenge that could prevent Barshay, Velie and their partner from redeveloping the former golf course into homes.
“I just want to make sure they can create a buffer to separate the new homes from the existing ones and to maintain the green space and the views that the current residents enjoy,” said Rose. He said he and his wife bought their home in 1990 because they thought it would always be along the golf course. Tomoka Oaks currently has 551 homes.
King said Tomoka Oaks also has a lot of wildlife that live in the wooded portions of the former golf course. “It was designed to be a golf course, not a residential subdivision. Once it gets destroyed, there’s no bringing it back,” she said.
New owners are longtime locals
Anthony said he has known Barshay and Velie for years and believes “they are good guys. I know they’re going to be responsible. But they also just paid $2.6 million to buy the property. They have a right to try to make money.”
King said she has known Barshay and Velie since high school when they all attended Seabreeze High. “I’ve known Carl since ninth grade and Ray was just a year ahead of us,” she said. She said she hopes as longtime locals they will be sensitive to the concerns of Tomoka Oaks residents.
“They (the owners) think they have legal right to redevelop the golf course, but the local residents have a right to object,” said King, who is an attorney.
Ryals said he is horrified to think Tomoka Oaks may never have a golf course again. “We don’t have any place to golf in Ormond Beach anymore that’s affordable.” Oceanside Country Club on the city’s beachside is a private course that requires golfers to be either a member or a guest of a member to play.
Barshay said he and Velie decided to buy the former golf course at Tomoka Oaks precisely because of their longtime roots in the community.
“If somebody was going to redevelop it, we figured it might as well be local people as opposed to people from out of town who might not care as much,” Barshay said. “I’ve lived here all my life and know a lot of people out there. We thought we could do something with it and put something nice in there.”
Barshay said whatever he and his partners decide to develop, it will be something that’s integrated into the existing Tomoka Oaks neighborhood. The new development, however, will have its own distinct identity as well as its own roads.
“We’ll come up with a site plan and a name for the community,” he said.
For information about the upcoming meeting on May 20, visit the Tomoka Oaks Home Owners Association website, TOHAweb.com or call 386-262-5525. Seating at the event is expected to be limited.
“We anticipate residents may also have access to the meeting via Zoom,” said Rose. “But ultimately, it’s the developers’ call. They’re putting on the meeting.”