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Improvements scheduled for Babe Zaharias golf course

The Sports Authority will spend $452,000 on renovations at the aging course beginning in May or June 2003.

By LOGAN D. MABE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 22, 2002


FOREST HILLS -- It has been nearly 30 years since the city of Tampa-owned Babe Zaharias golf course has seen much in the way of improvements. But responding to a bit of hue and cry from residents along its Forest Hills fairways, the club will get a facelift next summer.

The Tampa Sports Authority board, which manages three city-owned courses, last week approved spending $452,000 to spruce up the aging Babe Zaharias course. Another $73,800 will be spent at Rocky Point Golf Course, one of three courses owned by the city.

TSA executive director Henry Saavedra said course officials will consult with golf course architects before determining how to best use the money. "We haven't determined exactly what we're going to do with it," Saavedra said. "We haven't determined whether to do a complete renovation of nine holes or do all 18 greens. It might be a better use of the funds to scrape the greens and put in new irrigation and new sod, or do one nine-hole section completely."

The renovation money became available because the TSA was able to refinance a current loan from the city for a lower interest rate. The new deal created the additional $525,000.

Renovations will likely begin in May or June, following the golf high season, Saavedra said. The work could take two to six months.

Bill Najmark, a vocal critic of management at "The Babe," said course officials are spending more than some local courses on operating expenses, but not getting much for their money.

"They're spending in the upper ranges and getting poorer results," said Najmark, who was recently banned for three months from the course after threatening a TSA official. "Why is this course in such bad shape?"

Jeff Henderson , the TSA's director of golf operations, said course conditions at "The Babe" have suffered in recent years because of inclimate weather.

"The difficulty that all golf courses have had, this past summer in particular, is fungus and algae caused by going through four years of drought followed by an incredibly wet summer," Henderson said. "With the constant moisture and lack of sunshine, golf courses experienced this very difficult fungus problem.

"Actually, Babe Zaharias is quite playable. This particular individual (Najmark) unfortunately doesn't listen or deal with facts and he's just running amok out there."

Henderson said that Florida golf course greens ideally should be revamped every 12 to 15 years. "When you stretch it out to the 18- to 20-year mark, that's kind of iffy," Henderson said.

In three of the past four years, "The Babe" has lost money. But Saavedra said the negative numbers can be attributed to a drop in play as a result of the recession and reduced tourism caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"I'm hoping that that turns around next year," Saavedra said.

-- Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 269-5304 or at mabe@sptimes.com

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