Aug 21, 2015
by Ken Jackson, Staff Writer, Osceola News Gazette
Kissimmee Oaks Golf Club is currently closed...It should come as no surprise to residents of The Oaks. They have witnessed the club’s turmoil over the last few years. But, better days are ahead. The course is slated to reopen in early November, according to its new lease-holder and operator.
Mike Armel, who heads the locally-owned Armel Golf Solutions, has a new 10-year lease with Prudential Property Management and worked this week to clean up the areas surrounding the professional shop. The plan is to turn the par-72 layout back into the course that locals and vacationers played and enjoyed in its better days. He said he would be on a riding mower himself.
“There’s a lot to get done, and I want to see the work for myself,” said Armel, who owns and operates Boca Greens Country Club in Boca Raton and was recently a co-owner of North Shore Golf Club near Moss Park in Orlando. His company has worked with acquisition and management of more than two-dozen courses in the Mid-Atlantic region. Armel, his company, fellow investors and family are pouring $500,000 into the club, which boarders many of the 1,500 homes in The Oaks. That amount is just to get the course back into playable condition after months of neglect as banks, mortgage holders and investment companies wrangled over the property. Ranjit “Randy” Singh acquired the course in 2009, which is when it began a slow slide downward, residents said earlier this year. He held a mortgage with Anupam Kothari, who represents the Kothari Group, a Canadian investment firm that includes Prudential under its umbrella.
Kothari foreclosed on Singh in February then bought the course at an auction at the Osceola County Courthouse on March 18. Kothari retained Integrity Golf Company, headquartered in Winter Garden, to oversee the management of Kissimmee Oaks’ restoration, in April. Armel, who attended the foreclosure hearing in March, said he received a call from Kothari, who could not be reached at press time Friday, earlier this summer to gauge his interest in doing what Integrity chose not to do. “I found out more of what it’ll take, and I’m beyond excited. It’s an awesome layout,” said Armel.
On Monday, workers, including Armel’s wife, DeAnna, were inside the pro shop painting and laying new tile in the snack bar. The current focus is on the landscaping, cleaning the roof tiles, power-washing the exterior and resealing the parking lot. “It’s about changing the homeowner’s first impression,” Armel said. “Right now it’s embarrassing to the residents, I’m sure.”
The golf course itself is the next project. Armel said a fleet of turf equipment valued at $150,000 would soon be on site so a five-person maintenance staff can redefine the tees, fairways and greens. New irrigation satellites and a pump station will be installed. The equipment maintenance facility, which suffered fire damage in 2014, will be repaired so it can be fitted for electrical service. New golf carts are on order.
Armel, who has been in the golf course business for 30 years, lights up when talking about how they’ll bring back the golf course. “I think we’ll be able to open it back up for play — and it will actually look like a golf course — around Nov 1,” he said. “The greens, they’ll be ‘puttable.’ Then we’ll overseed with winter grass and be ready for the winter season. “We’re spending money to get it running again. I’m sure more will be spent down the line. Next summer we’re thinking we can replace the greens, which will mean shutting down again, but the summer is always a slow time.”
The reopening will come with a new identity and a slightly new name to reflect the changes, Armel said. “This was an outstanding course years ago. Over the last few years it went in the wrong direction. We have the chance to create the new direction,” he said. Aside from a lease payment, revenues generated by the course will stay locally. “The benefit to Mr. Kothari comes when he sells this, and as part of the lease agreement I have the right of first refusal of any sale during the 10 years,” Armel said. Once the course re-opens, locals and residents will benefit, too, he said.
“Our rates are going to be beyond affordable for locals, and even beyond that for the residents,” Armel said. Mark Winklebauer, chair of The Oaks Golf Advisory Committee, said talk in the neighborhood is that this is the best news about the golf course they’ve heard in years. “I’m excited because this course has been neglected for so long, and (Armel) has big plans to fix it up to where it used to be,” he said. “Everybody in the community’s been asking what they can do to help. I’ve seen nothing but positive support. “There was some false hope when Integrity came in. Not a lot happened, and that isn’t Integrity’s fault. It came down to funding, but it’s good to see that people didn’t lose hope.”
Oaks Homeowners Associate President Sheila Dickerson said she’s already met with Armel, who won her over as well. “Along with the residents, I’m super happy. He loves this course and this community, and wants to be a part of it,” she said. “It’s what everybody here has been wanting to hear.”