By MITCH TRAPHAGEN
It was a perfect January morning in paradise — not hot, not too cool. You walk through the clubhouse, a group is playing bridge off at one table, and a group is meeting at another. People look up and wave. You wave back. This is a special place.
Club President Gene Welper summed it up perhaps even better:
“A group of friends gets together, play a round, and then they’ll come into the clubhouse for soft drinks or a beer and sit at a table telling lies,” he said with a laugh.
And that is certainly part of what a good life is all about.
Welper continued, without being facetious, to accurately describe the membership at the club.
“The people here are really nice,” he said. “They are genuinely nice. The people are friendly. It is relaxed here, it is friendly. This is a nice place.”
The first rounds at Caloosa Golf and Country Club were played in December 1980. At that time, it was nearly in the wilderness, but Sun City Center soon grew around it. And as the area grew, so did the membership. And the club changed to meet the changing needs of the membership. After more than 36 years, the course is beautiful, with mature foliage and outstanding maintenance.
“This is a very unusual course — it consists of four loops,” Welper said. “What that does for us is that we don’t have to have structures out on the course. For the members, no matter where you are, it is always easy to get back to the clubhouse.”
The club, with a roughly 175-acre course for all levels of players, is completely debt free. Volunteers do much of the work — but nothing goes missing.
“We work really hard to stay within our budget,” Welper responded. “Almost everything is done by volunteers. The only paid employees are the people who work on the course, some part-time people who work in the pro shop and maintenance guys. Of course we often have to fight Mother Nature, like every other golf course in Florida, but we have very effective programs laid out for weed control. It is not a seat-of-the-pants operation — it’s very sophisticated.”
The club saves money in other ways to provide a better experience for all members. One is that they don’t carry the overhead of a formal restaurant, but they have the facilities, including a dance floor and stage for live music.
“We don’t have a restaurant operation, but we have a lot of social activities,” Welper said. “We are set up for catering, and we have a full catering kitchen for use. We do have a beer and wine license. It has really worked out well. Social activities are paid for by those who participate.”
As a case in point of just how much the members take pride and ownership at Caloosa, Welper pointed out that the modern and immaculate catering kitchen was completely remodeled, courtesy of the generosity of a “couple of members.” And thanks to that, more than just golf happens at Caloosa.
“We have formal dinner dance parties. We have special events like a Kentucky Derby party coming up. We have an upcoming birthday ball. We are more than a golf course,” Welper said with pride.
Golf is a healthy activity, and the membership can prove that.
“We have two members who both played here on the very first day the course was opened,” Welper said. “One is 97 years old. He’s a good player. He has slowed down a little. He probably only plays five to six days a week now,” Welper added with an admiring chuckle.
The clubhouse, the course and the people…the good vibe of the club is palpable, especially on a beautiful February morning. That it is a good place certainly attests to the membership, but it also says much about the management of the club.
Soft drinks, beer and wine are sold on the honor system. In more than 36 years, they haven’t had problems with that yet. Yet the club has changed with the times.
“We began as “couples only” and that continued until a number of years ago when we allowed individual members as well,” Welper said. “And it wasn’t just couples only then, it was married couples only. But we’ve changed with the times and being a couple today only means living in the same household.”
There are social activities, there are putting greens, and there is a driving range that is free for members to use (“All the balls you can hit,” according to Welper). They don’t rent golf carts, but for those members who live across town or across the region, they do offer cart barn storage for rent. And they are working on plans to add more. There are 345 golfing members with a membership limit of 450.
“We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been growing year over year,” Welper said. “We have a trial membership program in which they can try it out for three months. It gives people a chance to check it out to see if they like it. If they do, we hope they become members. We very rarely have people who don’t like it.”
To join, an application must be filed but there is no initiation fee.
“We don’t try to be the cheapest in town, but we are very competitive — we work very hard to give you the best value around,” Welper added. “If you want to play golf and you want some social activities, come join us. If one of you is a golfer and the other isn’t, one can join as a golfing member, the other can join as a social member. We have a number of clubs — we feel we have one of the best courses in the area so if that’s all you want, we have that. But we also have so much more.”
Caloosa Golf and Country Club is a special place in a fast-paced world. It is welcoming, it is relaxed, and indeed, people are friendly.
“We’re here, and we welcome you to come join us,” Welper said. “We do have rules and we play by the rules, but we want everyone to enjoy themselves. We have room for more people, and we would welcome you.”
He paused to look around the well-maintained course.
“There are no downsides here. We are more than a golf course.”
For information about Caloosa Golf and Country Club visit their website at www.golfcaloosa.com or call 813-634-2870.