Golf course sale upsets residents

Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post

By Eve Samples

Published January 24, 2008


The cash-strapped Martin Downs Country Club has sold its village center and two golf courses to one of Wellington's largest landowners - and the deal already is ruffling feathers among residents of the Palm City development.

Glenn Straub, owner of Palm Beach Polo Golf & Country Club in Wellington, paid $4.75 million for the Crane Creek and Osprey golf courses, plus the tennis center, after the country club's "blue ribbon panel" decided his bid gave the courses the best shot at remaining private, said Larry D'Erasmo, acting president of the Martin Downs Liquidation Board, formerly the country club.

But some residents of Martin Downs say they didn't get to weigh in on the sale - and they worry about Straub's reported plans to convert the clubhouse and tennis courts at the village center into nine new homes. Straub, who could not be reached for comment, also has talked about building equestrian facilities on part of the property.

"It's amazing to me that this has happened with no input, no meetings," said one resident, who did not want to be named.

Straub is no stranger to controversy. Last year, he was sued by developer Mark Bellissimo, who wanted to exercise his option to buy the Palm Beach Polo Equestrian Club. The two eventually settled, and Straub sold Bellissimo the property for $25 million.

And in July, 18 homeowners associations at the 2,200-acre Palm Beach Polo development filed suit against Straub, claiming his companies improperly levied a special assessment on homeowners and restricted access to community records. The suit called him the "self-proclaimed 'dictator' of Palm Beach Polo." At the time, Straub defended himself by saying the suit was lodged by a "dissident group" in the community.

The bottom line, D'Erasmo said, is that Martin Downs' membership is less than half of what it used to be, and the club had to sell to avoid going belly-up. Though there were other bidders for the property, those parties wanted to take the golf courses public, and that ruled them out as options, he claimed.

"If he didn't buy it, and we didn't sell it, the bank would have owned it," D'Erasmo said. "That's how close it is, and that's how close it was."