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Miami's lone city-owned golf course faces uncertain future

How David Beckham and a soccer stadium might spell the end of International Links Melreese Country Club, to the dismay of local golfers
March 24, 2018

MIAMI — Forgive me a moment while I invoke a little Joni Mitchell (or, if you prefer a more recent version, Counting Crows) as there’s a point to the “Big Yellow Taxi” lyrics.

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
’Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Or, if soccer star David Beckham and his real-estate partners have their way, a stadium for a Major League Soccer team where one of the top public golf courses in the country currently stands.

Earlier this month, Miami city manager Emilio Gonzalez met with Jorge Mas, a business partner of Beckham’s, about building a sprawling complex on city-owned property that currently is Miami’s largest park and includes International Links Melreese Country Club. The idea encompasses a 180-acre project that would include a large soccer facility, a youth academy, restaurant, retail and office space and was floated after Mas recently expressed concerns over the original proposed location for the Beckham soccer project, a nine-acre plot in the Overtown section of Miami just outside of downtown.

“I suggested that perhaps Melreese could be an interesting place to consider, given what it provides,” Gonzalez told the Miami Herald. “They expressed an interest. We both agreed to continue a dialogue.”

Gonzalez isn’t wrong. The property, which sits adjacent to Miami International Airport, is a prime parcel of land nestled next to a highway and less than six miles west of downtown. All this is why it has previously attracted interest from developers.

There is money to be made in a city renting out the property to allow construction of a $200 million/25,000 seat stadium, but at what cost? Go ask people around here how the Marlins Park deal worked out for them. Then-owner Jeffrey Loria struck a sweetheart financial arrangement with the city in the early 2010s in which the team ended up covering less than 20 percent of the cost of the facility. There were grand plans beyond the baseball stadium, but they have yet to come to fruition and don’t appear to be taking root anytime soon.


As for Melreese, the issue wouldn’t be so much what could be there in the future but what the city would be losing from its past. And this isn’t a story isolated to Miami. It’s about the impact golf courses can have on communities.

Designed by Charles Mahannah and Dick Wilson and opened in 1961, Melreese is the only city-owned course in Miami. It’s home to a chapter of The First Tee that boasts more than 2,000 kids with an outreach program that extends to another 60,000 students spread across a number of elementary schools. It also features programs for Special Olympians and military veterans, and its junior program, which has been around for 50 years, produced LPGA veterans Cristie Kerr, Moira Dunn and Tracy Kerdyk. Additionally, a number of area college teams use the facility, which has hosted the PGA Tour Latinoamerica’s season-ending championship the last two years and has served as a qualifying site for the PGA Tour’s new tournament in the Dominican Republic.

And here are two other important factors: It’s one of the few municipally owned businesses in Miami that doesn’t lose money—the course is expected to at least break even on a budget of $3.5 million—and is a rare green-grass space in a city that has few remaining.

“It would seem to me the city is selling out,” said Tour pro (and former PGA Tour member) Erik Compton. “It’s all about revenue for them. They could make room for the stadium [elsewhere] though.”


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Melreese holds special meaning to Compton, a two-time heart-transplant recipient who grew up playing here and continues to practice at the course along with a handful of other players from various tours. “Melreese is a sacred place to a lot of people who come to play golf at a normal facility that’s outstanding,” Compton said. “I bring my daughter there to hang out and use their computers and learn about golf. I see the argument [for the stadium project], but the golf course allows people to enjoy fresh air, enjoy a green space in the city and relax. There would also a huge impact on kids with disabilities and all the charitable dollars it raises.”

Added Kerr: “I would’ve been nowhere without this program. We had no money. They gave me my start, and without that, I wouldn’t have the life I have, the career I have, the family I have or the foundation I have that has raised $4 million to help other people. At the end of the day, business is business, but you have to think about all the families this would be affecting, too.”

The course underwent an extensive renovation in 1996-97 and again in 2014. It’s reasonably priced—green fees are as low as $35 for locals—and does nearly 40,000 rounds a year. It also features a two-sided driving range, indoor hitting bays, a learning center and classroom space. Tiger Woods once held a clinic here, and a who’s who of Miami athletes and celebrities have used the space similarly.


“That’s what I’m concerned about, all the money the private sector has put in and all the time and all that would be going to waste,” said Gonzalo Fernandez-Costano, another tour pro who lives in the area and often practices at the course on his weeks off. “It’s hard to believe they would consider getting rid of such iconic place in Miami for soccer. They could go to Marlins Park, or somewhere else.”

Indeed, Melreese, like a lot of courses around the country, isn’t just a golf course. It’s a piece of a community that has deep ties to the game.

The day after the news broke, the phone of Charlie DeLuca, whose family company manages the property for the city, was lighting up. Two days after that, a petition was launched to save Melreese, with 1,000 signatures garnered shortly afterward.

“My son has spent countless hours on this course and has many wonderful memories with his friends,” one resident wrote. “His coaches not only helped him become a pretty good golfer but also helped him into an incredible young man. It can’t always be about money.”


To the DeLuca family, it never has been. Charlie DeLuca, Sr. has been overseeing Melreese since the early 1970s. He and his son, Charlie, have spent countless days, sun up to sun down, doing everything from giving lessons to keeping the property on track financially.

“This is a jewel,” Charlie Sr. said. “It’s not just the property, we have kids, school programs, disability programs, charities. All of that is helping the community.”

According to the Herald, the fate of Melreese may ultimately rest with voters, and a referendum could be possible either in August or November, sources told the paper.

The deal, which potentially could include a nine-hole golf course as an olive branch of sorts, is still a long way from done. Yet here’s hoping it never comes to pass—for the simple fact that the idea of wiping out a terrific public facility for a professional sports team and all the eye candy that goes with that isn’t just bad for golf. It’s bad for people, the same people that Beckham and his group I’m sure are hoping fill his stadium. Ask the Marlins, again, about that.

No no no
Don’t it always seem to go,
That you don’t know what you’ve got
’Til it’s gone
They paved paradise …