Home Business St. Croix business Residents, Golfers Part Owners of Carambola Golf Course

Residents, Golfers Part Owners of Carambola Golf Course


Dec. 9, 2004 – Sugar Island Associates, owners of the Carambola Golf Course, decided to shut it down in July 2003, according to Sam Graci. He said they were tired of losing money. This news sent golf members "into a frenzy and then a panic."
The verdant course, located in St. Croix's rain forest, commissioned by Laurance and David Rockefeller in 1964 and designed by Robert Trent Jones, could look instead like a pasture in just a couple months, Graci said.
Graci and other St. Croix residents were appalled by the thought. Closing the golf course would be bad for Carambola Resort, bad for St. Croix golfers and bad for the island economy, Graci said.
He and other golfers decided they had to do something. Their first effort was to search for new owners and new operators.
When that effort failed, they reconvened and decided to buy the course themselves.
In July of this year 33 residents became a group and owners of half of the equity of the golf course. Sugar Island Associates retained half interest. Most of the money earned from the purchase went right back into the course. Almost a million dollars has been spent recently upgrading it. Along with taking over upkeep of the course, the new owners, most of them golfers and all of them full- or part-time residents of the island, took over management of operations.
Talking at his office at North Shore Partners Wednesday, Graci said there is room for 90 more investment-owners. However, he added, "None of us are looking to make a lot of money on this." He projected the course would probably remain in the red through the first year of new ownership unless "a large influx or tourists and local golfers" turned things around.
One problem, according to Gracie, is the group took over operations in July as the slow part of the season was going strong. "It was like buying a bakery. You still have to make the bread whether anyone is buying it or not," he said. In the second year of ownership, he believes, the group might make a profit.
What the group did immediately was purchase a new fleet of mowers and landscape equipment for course maintenance.
The group also bought a new pump for the sprinkler system. The new pump will work with a planned new sprinkler system to be installed next year.
Graci sees the sprinkler system as being the key: "Once we have adequate water everywhere, then we can fine-tune some things." He talked about bringing more lushness to the fairways, along with better weed management on them and in the rough. A major overhaul in the greens is also being planned. The group is presently working with a golf course architect and a golf course development consultant.
He said, "We might not become the best golf course in the Caribbean, but we will compete with the best."
A planned modification of the course is the addition of two tees on each hole. Many destination courses worldwide have five tees. The longer tees (black tees) are called "championship tees." Added to Carambola, they will make the course over 7,000 yards long. The longest tees now are 6,800 yards. The championship tees will open Carambola for more types of tournament play, such as PGA Qualifiers. The shorter-type tees proposed are often referred to as "senior tees" and will be for those who enjoy golf more when the course doesn't demand the ball be hit long distances.
Course operation changes are also going into. Graci said Carambola will be unique in its "three-prong" outreach to golfers. It will still be a resort golf course, but it is also reaching out to local residents with special rates and establishing itself as a country club.
Golf members have until now only had golfing privileges. However, starting in January, if all negotiations are satisfactorily resolved, members at Carambola will also have use of the swimming pool and lighted clay tennis courts near the club house, Graci said. The group is also planning a yearly calendar of social events for club members.
"We want to become more of a family destination. We are planning the addition of a playground, too," he said.
Although the golf course has no direct economic tie to Carambola Resort, Gracie described the relationship as "symbiotic."
"They need us to do well so they can entice more guests. We want them to have more guests so we can have more golfers."
The bottom line, according to Gracie, is "We plan to get better and better all the time."
The course is already home to the annual, now international, Teens on the Green competition. (See "Renny Roker Gets His 15 Minutes of Fame").
"Inside Golf," a weekly television show broadcast by Comcast SportsNet, is featuring Carambola Golf Course on shows this week. This is the first golf course off the mainland United States the TV show has featured.


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