When Wayne Rosen purchased a Homestead golf course and club house in 2014, he closed it with a promise that he would spend $12 million to fix it up and reopen it. His vision? A lavish and ritzy country club that would attract locals and tourists going to and from the Florida Keys.
Three years later, the golf course is still closed, a neglected property overgrown with weeds, infested with snakes and invaded by unruly ATV drivers after dark.
The country club sits at the core of the Keys Gate community — a cluster of 15 manicured, gated neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city whose owners were assured they’d have access to a well-maintained golf course when they bought their homes.
Rosen, developer of Keys Gate, sold the golf course years ago, then repurchased it. He says he’s still willing to fix it up, just not with his own money — a distinction he didn’t make when he promised to pour in millions of dollars.
Since then he has tried to get federal anti-poverty money to fix it and later, to use it as leverage to get property rezoned so he could build houses. The rezoning got him a new opponent — Homestead Miami Speedway, which doesn’t want new homes as neighbors.
“I’m willing to build it, but need some contribution,” he said. “And quite frankly the golf course isn’t a priority right now.”
It is a priority for some homeowners, though. They’ve organized and are asking the city of Homestead to rescue the privately owned golf course.
Rosen’s unfinished business has been at the center of community controversy for years. Residents of Keys Gate paid a premium for their views of picturesque greens and tiny lakes, along with the amenities of a clubhouse.
Early on, that’s what they had.
The golf course was built in the early 1990s, around the same time development was taking off in the area. The moderately priced homes with large lots are in the newer part of the second oldest city in Miami-Dade County and are a mixture of cluster, ranch and estate-style homes.
Rosen sold the golf course, and for years it was managed by an Indiana management company, R.N Thompson.
I’m willing to build it, but need some contribution. And quite frankly the golf course isn’t a priority right now.
The promise of a top-tier course was used as a selling point and featured in advertising. Real estate agents often gave homebuyers memberships as a gift. A covenant filed with the county says the course “shall at all times be maintained, managed and operated as a golf course” until 2028.
The 18-hole course sits on 130 acres. Roughly 3,900 homes surround it, with room for about 2,800 more.
“I used to play on the course. I bought here because of the amenities and the golf course,” said William Thibault, a Keys Gate resident. “This is important to the community in general, not just Keys Gate, but to Homestead, Miami-Dade County. What happens if we just sit quietly for another two years? That impacts the people that own the property.”
Residents upset about the golf course didn’t get any relief from their homeowners association — all the board members were appointed by Rosen. So Thibault and other homeowners reached out to the Homestead City Council, first asking the city to help clean up the golf course with money earmarked for its public art program. But that money was already budgeted for the new library.
I bought here because of the amenities and the golf course.
William Thibault, Keys Gate resident.
Now the homeowners want the council to place a measure on the November ballot asking voters to approve a tax increase to pay for the golf course. Another option they’re considering is drafting a referendum and circulating petitions to put it on the ballot.
“Right now it’s a discussion. We’re looking into whether or not it can be a possibility, putting it on the ballot somehow,” said Chuck Schumacher, another Keys Gate homeowner. “We are meeting and kicking around ideas on what to do.”
Rosen says the covenant — signed by himself and the previous owner, a construction company called Florida Design Communities — “has no legal standing” and that “it’s not attached to the land’s title policy” because the geography of the property was not accurately described.
The homeowners association isn’t going to sue Rosen, said Patrick Gleber, an association board member who was appointed by Rosen. There are “no grounds to. It’s not a valid covenant.”
Rosen said he’s open to the idea of having the question of buying the golf course on the ballot and that he’s willing to get creative.
“Nothing is off the table,” he said, adding that he’d be willing to sell the property, swap it for other land or accept donated funds to clean it up. “It all depends on how good the deal is. I’m taking it day by day.”
If residents are willing to have their taxes raised in order to renovate a golf course, then let that be it. I’ve seen crazy things get passed in the past so it wouldn’t surprise me.
Jon Burgess, Homestead councilman
Jon Burgess, a long-time councilman, says raising taxes to buy the golf course is “going to be a tough sell.”
“It’s bad business,” Burgess said. “We’re here because somebody doesn’t want to fulfill a business that they bought into. Nobody told them they had to go buy the golf course. If residents are willing to have their taxes raised in order to renovate a golf course, then let that be it. I’ve seen crazy things get passed in the past so it wouldn’t surprise me.”
If he doesn’t get help to clean up the course or if it isn’t sold, Rosen said he’s eager to make it a park.
“A park would probably make more sense for this community anyway,” he said. “When people buy property they want open green space. A place to take your baby on a stroll, take a run or take advantage of the amenities.”
But a park isn’t what Rosen sold to buyers of his homes, and it’s not what he promised when he bought the golf course.
In 2015, the City Council agreed to help Rosen get a $3.5 million low-interest federal loan to restore the country club. But when the Miami Herald pointed out the anti-poverty dollars were earmarked for projects that would eliminate slums or blight, he pulled out of the deal and vowed to let the ground go brown.
Months later, he promised to get the golf course fixed and dangled a big-name golf course designer, on the condition that the city council approve a rezoning that would let him build 91 single-family homes in an industrial area near the Homestead Miami Speedway, Homestead Air Base and a beer warehouse.
The council rejected the request, but voted to let him build about 180 town homes.
“You have to understand that you can’t ask me to build a golf course without having those single-family homes to help pay for it. It’s called cash flow,” Rosen said at the time.
The Speedway filed an appeal in circuit court challenging the city’s decision to allow homes near an industrial site. And now, Rosen says the Speedway’s action is partly to blame for the golf course not being renovated.
“Everything is all on hold because we were sued,” Rosen said.
Rosen estimates it would cost $1 million a year to operate the golf course.
“Golf courses are losing money and are closing down every day. I’m not going to lose money, affect myself or my family when reality is I’ll be semi-retired in two years, hanging out in Ocean Reef playing tennis,” he said. “Put together a deal that makes sense and then we’ll talk.”
Stephen Mona, chief executive officer of the World Golf Foundation told the Miami Herald it’s typical for developers to shut down golf courses. The number of courses across the country dropped by about 1,000 in the last 10 years, he said.
“Sometimes the dirt is worth more than the grass,” Mona said. “In a lot of cases, the golf courses that have closed have been bought by real estate developers and rezoned. Sometimes it becomes more valuable to a developer as an apartment complex or strip mall.”