By Ed Bertha
Courtesy of Real Magazine
Kevin you brought two significant projects to Sarasota, The Ritz-Carlton and The Concession. Why Sarasota?
“I came down in 1993, looked at the John Ringling hotel and was amazed there was an 11 acre parcel on the water behind it for sale. I always believed Sarasota was one of the top three markets in Florida and it was void of a five star hotel. I felt like this was a perfect site for it (Ritz-Carlton), went to Ritz-Carlton and they liked the idea too.”
“In looking for a Ritz-Carlton golf course I became aware of the void in golf in Sarasota also. If you look at Naples they have 33 golf courses over $100k year and at the time Sarasota didn’t have any. I started looking around and wanted to do as high of quality golf course as we possibly could. We were fortunate enough to find a piece of ground over 1,200 acres that had never been farmed, ranched or anything else so we started the golf course.”
How/Why did you decide to name the course and development after one of the most memorable moments in golf, Jack Nicklaus’ concession to Tony Jacklin in the 1969 Ryder Cup?
“Well that kind of happened a little bit by chance. One day a friend of mine called and said Tony Jacklin would like to talk to you. We went to lunch and Tony asked if maybe he could help out with the course. About a month later he called and said he had a concept that might be interesting. We discussed the Ryder Cup memorabilia he accumulated and possibly utilizing it in the clubhouse. He had a painting of Jack and he shaking hands and proceeded to tell me about the battle and how it ended up becoming the conceded put. I knew about the story but the more he told it the more I became intrigued and noticed at the bottom of the painting there was a plaque that said The Concession.”
“It all began to click. If Tony could be involved with Jack we could name it after The Concession. It would be great. Tony and I agreed we would do that. I had one major problem in that this was a signature golf course and Jack doesn’t do signature golf courses with anybody else. I said Tony let’s not tell anybody, let’s get all of the trademarks on The Concession and then we’ll sit down with Jack. It was kind of funny Tony and I sat down with Jack and started talking about it. Jack agreed that Tony could be involved. Tony being the gentlemen he is said “Jack I don’t want to get in the way. I know you do these things.” Jack said “Tony if you are going to be involved you have to be involved completely,” gave a wink and said “I’ll make that concession again.” It was a great moment. It was kind of meant to be.”
Working along side Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin surely provided some memorable moments. What is your favorite?
“Jack probably visited this course more than any other course. Part of it I think is he realized it was part of his legacy. He ended his career Friday evening at the British Open with a birdie putt, and Monday morning after the British Open, he was here. That was his dedication to it. Jack was here all the time and so was Tony of course.”
“Probably the most fun moment was prior to opening. Tony had played the course from the back tees because he knew Jack and he were going to be playing in the inaugural. So I picked up Jack from Dolphin Aviation and the first thing he asks is ‘has Tony been playing much?’ I said as a matter of fact he has been playing. ‘Playing on the back tees?’ I said yeah. Jack said, ‘Ok, here’s what we’re going to do,’ he goes, ‘I’m going to ask Tony to play from Member’s tees, and I’ll to play from the back tees.’”
“These guys are thoroughbreds and they have to win. So Jack realized that because Tony had been practicing that he might be at a disadvantage, and he took care of that. And of course Tony hadn’t played from the Member’s tees and it was like playing a new course for him too. It was an interesting moment. You could see that competitive spirit, it never leaves.”
In your mind what is the most significant aspect of The Concession Golf Course?
“One is that we made the decision not to do residential around it, and in Florida that’s almost unheard of. What’s happened in golf course developments is the lots have become so small, because of the density and obviously the bottom line. They push the lots towards the golf course and the golf course is compromised, and the residents are compromised. Most people that live on golf courses don’t spend any time in their backyards because it’s just not private. So we made the decision, where a golf course can built on 150 to 180 acres, to dedicate 520 acres for just golf. It’s a golf course with no out of bounds which again is unusual.”
“Also it’s the density. People would look at you kind of strange thinking you have 1,240 acres and are only constructing 230 – 240 homes, that is almost unheard of in Florida. We did it too because we’re very dedicated to maintaining the trees and the beauty that was out here, not looking at maximizing the density at the risk of wiping out some 200-yr old trees, so we’ve been very good about that, staying even farther away than required by the state to save trees and preserves. That is the grandness of it, and that will always be there. It won’t ever change, and I think that’s what is going to put it in the world of the Masters and Pinehursts.”
What was the most challenging from a development standpoint?
“Mainly that at first we were considered far out there. Putting our entrance off of University Parkway obviously we had to work with what supposedly is perceived as our competitors at Lakewood Ranch, although we haven’t had a competitive relationship. We value a lot of what they did and have done and I think they look at us and think that we’ve kind of raised the bar, and the price of homes. It worked out well. They allowed us to extend the road three miles and make Lakewood Ranch and University Parkway our front entryway and if they hadn’t done that it would have been a completely different development.”
“The other challenge was that the average memberships were about $30,000 when we started. We knew that we were going to do a golf course that was going to be expensive and obviously if that rate was going to be maintained in membership cost, it was going to be very difficult to do. So we were not only doubling, we were almost tripling in some cases the membership rates. Those were in the course and everybody didn’t believe that would ever happen; they’d never go over $100,000. Now I think we have three courses that go over $100,000.”
When you bought out New York based Property Management Group what were the implications for The Concession?
“I did buy my partners out. I bought them out just for the golf course. We are still partners for the residential part of the project. It was a friendly buyout. They aren’t golfers and I don’t think they really understood the significance of the business, some of the things that people that are around golf on a day to day basis look at. So they agreed to the buy out. The significance of it is was we implemented things like the clubhouse, a golf academy and the cottages that will continue to add to the golf course. We have half of the project done, the other half being all of the amenities and they will be just as good, and of the same quality, as the golf course. The main implication was that we were able to proceed very quickly with the amenities.”
Tell us about the golf academy.
“We put an agreement together with a gentleman named Jonathan Yarwood who is ranked as one of the best trainers in the world. In The Concession we have 27 acres of practice area which is probably one of the largest in the country. Jonathan was the trainer for Michael Campbell who won the US Open. He’s been a trainer for a lot of the pros and has created a facility here that is second to none that allows people to come and practice and train. It also allows our members to do that. We’re excited with his participation because he definitely brings international exposure for the club which obviously this club wants.”
The course has received numerous awards since opening. What is your goal for the course?
“Well we received the 2006 Golf Digest Best New Golf Course which is an extremely hard one to get. It’s very hard to get for a Florida course because a lot of the other golf courses are around the mountains of North Carolina or hanging off the cliffs of the Pacific. Typically Florida is a flat golf course. For them to select a Florida course was pretty unbelievable and particularly with the competition from some other great courses.”
“My goal is real simple. I’m dedicated to making this one of the top ten golf courses. We have the course that is capable of meeting that, we just have to finish the clubhouse and amenities to do it. If we get in the top ten, it will – I’ve talked about it before, everybody looks at The Ritz-Carlton and says that was the real impact, and that’s what made Sarasota, put it on the map with a lot of people. Obviously Sarasota was a great city before that, but that gave it exposure. I believe The Concession Golf Course will give it even more exposure because a lot of cities have Ritz-Carlton’s, but not a lot of cities have a golf course of this quality. So it will be interesting to see. This is a project, like the Ritz, that will live on for decades and beyond because it is that quality of a course.”
Is hosting a major event in the plans?
“It is. Both Jack and Tony have put out feelers that obviously we’d love to host a Ryder Cup event. I think the earliest one is twelve to fourteen years from now. That would be long term. There are other ones too. We have a real opportunity to do some of the skins events where four players play against each other. It’s an easy course to do that on, so we’ll more than likely do that sooner. You know even though there are several opportunities we obviously don’t want to do anything to make it difficult for the members. They’re our highest priority. But if we can do some events that the members enjoy that give us some exposure, that will happen.”
What’s your handicap and typically what is your score at The Concession?
“I’m living proof that you have to play golf. I just don’t get enough chance to play it. I’m probably an 18 to 20 handicap. Jonathon Yarwood and I have a deal that if he can get my handicap down that it will show how good he is. This is a tough course, it’s a course that even with an 18 to 20, I’ve birdied every single hole at one time. I’ve eagled one hole. It can be done. It’s a course you just have to pay attention to; you can’t lose your focus. You do lose your focus because you stand around and look at all the trees and the beauty that’s around you. I should be living proof that you can’t buy your way to golf. I have all the best equipment. I have the golfing clothes. I now own one of the best golf courses, and I still can’t play golf. So you can’t buy your way to golf.”