Seminole considers taking a swing at buying Deer Run Country Club land

Article and Video Courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel

By Martin E. Comas

Published February 10, 2021


When John Gembecki moved into the Deer Run neighborhood more than three decades ago, he could look out his back window and get a scenic view of the 16th tee of his community’s golf course.

Years later, he moved into his current home in Deer Run. This time, overlooking the 18th hole.

“I played golf here,” Gembecki said. “It’s where I raised my family.”

But in June 2019, Deer Run became the latest golf course within a residential community to shutter its fairways, greens and clubhouse. Last August, the course’s owner submitted preliminary development plans with Seminole County that shows 213 homes on the 138-acres at the center of the Deer Run neighborhood.

Now, residents of the 2,950-home community – nestled between Casselberry and Winter Springs, just north of Red Bug Lake Road – are asking county leaders to buy the land and turn it into an open park where residents can walk on trails, throw a Frisbee or simply enjoy a picnic.

On Tuesday, county staff plan to hold a community meeting at Metro Life Church in Casselberry to discuss the feasibility of buying the old golf course property for a recreational facility.

Still, county leaders cautioned that no decisions have been made about a purchase, and county staff have not appraised the property.

“At this point, the county is only in the exploration and information gathering stage,” said Joe Abel, deputy county manager.

Bob Dello Russo of Golf Enterprises of Central Florida Inc., which bought the Deer Run golf course property in 2002 for $1.5 million, did not return calls for comment.

Even so, the proposal follows a recent trend of local governments purchasing active or shuttered golf courses to save the land from rooftops and driveways.

In 2015, the city of Casselberry bought the struggling Casselberry Golf Club for $2.2 million. The city now maintains and operates it.

In January 2017, Oviedo purchased the Twin Rivers Golf Course for $5.5 million to save the 310 acres from development.

Later that year, Seminole purchased the old Rolling Hills Golf Club that sits between Altamonte Springs and Longwood for $3.95 million. The county is now turning those 100 acres into a
public park.

Across the country, nearly 500 golfing facilities have closed between 2017 and 2019, about 3.4% of the total 14,300 facilities, according to the National Golf Foundation. Experts cite younger people’s less enthusiasm for the game, along with a glut of golf courses.

For decades there was a building frenzy of new home communities that featured the open views of golf courses as their center pieces. Most homes in Deer Run, for example, were built in the late 1970s.

“The fact is that so many golf courses have closed or are closing, and they are within golf course communities,” commission Chairman Lee Constantine said. “And the people in these communities had an assumption that they would have a golf course and open space in their community for the life of their homes….But with Deer Run, there’s still a lot of things for us to look at and consider.”

Deer Run residents know it will be an uphill climb convincing the Seminole commission to purchase another country club.

“What we would like to see — whatever the outcome — is to prevent residential development on the golf course property,” said Deborah Bauer, who grew up and has lived in Deer Run for 40 years.

She and other residents have started a web site,, that gives members of their community’s 22 homeowner’s associations, the latest information about the property.

Randy Stowell, who has lived in Deer Run since 1984, enjoys a “panoramic view of 16th fairway and green.”

Like many of his neighbors, Stowell is concerned that the addition of new homes, along with the driveways and roads, will cause more flooding on streets and yards, an issue the community already deals with after a summer storm or other large rain event.

“When we get any rainstorm, all the water goes through this golf course,” Stowell said. “And if they put houses here, then some properties are going to flood.”

A passive park, he said, could act as a sort-of stormwater retention basin.

Commissioner Jay Zembower said it is important for the county to study and “have a candid conversation with the community” about purchasing the golf course for a park and its value to all Seminole residents.

“We definitely have a need in that area for soccer fields,” Zembower said. “We have a lot of residents that are just clamoring for soccer fields. Because [nearby] Red Bug Lake Park is overused, and it’s over capacity. We have people literally on waiting lists waiting to be able to use the soccer fields.”

Gembecki remembers the Deer Run Country Club as the centerpiece of his community, and its clubhouse as the site of weekly gatherings and weddings.

“It’s the loss of that open, green space that we worry about,” he said. “And it’s the flooding issues.”