By: Donald Rodrigue, Hometown News
STUART – The Martin County Commission made history Jan. 8 when it voted unanimously to build a modest clubhouse and reduce the current 36 holes at the municipal golf course to a reconfigured 27-hole layout after dozens of public hearings held on the matter over the last four years.
The Commission has not voted unanimously on the topic since July 28, 2015, when a completely different Board voted to follow the advice of the National Golf Foundation and the Golf Course Advisory Committee and begin much-needed golf course renovations, which have been caught in a holding pattern of advice and counter advice ever since. The former owners of the Martin County Golf and Country Club had already shuttered the asbestos-and-mildew-infested clubhouse the previous August and then turned the entire facility over to the county the following December. Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Abbate told commissioners in January 2015 that it would cost more than $800,000 to restore the 11,229 square-foot clubhouse, and the structure was eventually demolished in what some commissioners viewed as a political maneuver aimed at eventually shuttering the course. When former District 2 Commissioner Ed Fielding and Commissioner Sarah Heard made and seconded a motion to reconfigure the layout of the course last October without a new clubhouse, both Commissioner Doug Smith and Chairman Ed Ciampi protested and defeated that measure with the aid of Commissioner Harold Jenkins.
“Here we are today four years later still with no clubhouse, no adequate bathroom facilities and we’re wondering why our rounds are going down,” Commissioner Smith fumed Oct. 9. “You’ve got to have a clubhouse, you just can’t put toilets out there for people because that’s not what they want. Our other parks don’t treat constituents in that way.”
Chairman Ciampi complained during the same meeting that the Board in 2015 “could have saved the building, saved a fortune,” while keeping the structure on its historic footprint. After the Fielding/Heard motion failed that evening, Commissioner Smith then made a motion to amend the Capital Improvement Project sheet to include the clubhouse and other Golf Course improvements with “the potential future elimination of nine holes,” which passed 3-2, with former Commissioner Fielding and Commissioner Heard dissenting. Now three months later as Mr. Abbate detailed his plans to build a modest, 4,000-square-foot clubhouse and eliminate nine holes from the Blue & Gold Course and redesign it as a nine-hole Executive Course, all the members of the Board complimented him on his effort, with Commissioner Heard leading the pack.
“I think the proposal you’ve come up with is sound,” she said. “I think that the reduction in holes is extremely important: It saves us money and also gets rid of the holes in the runway protection zone, which I think is absolutely critical. This is the best proposal we’ve seen so far, and I’m encouraged that it actually can be a fiscally prudent course of action.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Commissioner Harold Jenkins, who had made reference last October to the county’s rapidly increasing subsidy of the course, projected by Mr. Abbate at the time to be $626,000.
“We have gone around the block a few times, and I think we’ve ended up exactly where we should be, so I’m fully supportive of it,” he exclaimed.
Commissioner Stacey Hetherington, the newest commissioner who won the District 2 seat after Mr. Fielding retired last fall, then made it known the latest proposal would ultimately pass…