The Ocean Links Golf Course at Amelia Island, the first design on the First Coast by World Golf Hall of Fame architect Pete Dye, will reopen next fall after a court judgement in favor of property owners at the Omni Amelia Resort.
Our Florida Times-Union news partner reports a Nassau County circuit court judge minced no words about his view of the resort’s conduct in a scathing decision issued on Dec. 5 and filed last week against the Omni Amelia Island LLC in granting permanent injunctive relief in favor of the Amelia Island Equity Club.
Steven Fahlgren wrote that the resort “undertook to accomplish as much destruction as possible in a single day, without notice to the club,” when it began tearing down Ocean Links Golf on Nov. 12, 2017.
The resort said that it plans appeal. In a statement, marketing director Michelle Valle said, “we are disappointed in the court’s final ruling. Our vision continues to be to create a park-like setting for the entire Amelia Island Plantation community to enjoy.”
The resort had no estimate on the cost to repair damage and renovate the course.
Fahlgren gave Omni Amelia until Oct. 31, 2019 to bring the course back to its previous condition. Fahlgren’s decision also prohibits the club from using the property for anything other than a golf course.
The judge awarded court costs and attorney fees to the club. Stephen Busey, the club’s attorney, said his firm will file a motion this week detailing their fees.
“The Omni’s sudden closure of the Ocean Links course was the product of Omni’s arrogance, greed and disdain for contractual obligations,” Busey told the Times-Union. “Judge Fahlgren, at the club’s request, rightly remedied that wrong.”
Mary O’Donnell, Omni Amelia’s general manager at the time the course closed, did not respond to a request for comment. She has recently been promoted to managing director of the resort.
Omni Amelia closed Ocean Links one day after it was still booking local tee times. The club moved in bulldozers under police protection and began tearing down the greens on the three oceanside holes with the intention of converting the property into “green space,” for parks, bicycle trails and nature trails.
The resort did not notify property owners that it had begun the demolition until that day, in an email time-dated 5 p.m. By that time, the heavy construction equipment had already been at work a full day. The Equity Club filed for an emergency injunction halting the demolition, which was granted two days later.
Resort management said at the time that the private equity club had not fulfilled its promise to provide 10,000 rounds on the two course (on top of resort guest rounds) including a minimum of 3,000 rounds at Ocean Links. The resort said less than 1,000 rounds had been played at Ocean Links in 2017.
The resort issued a statement then that said: “Omni’s business judgement is that current demand for golf is better served by making material improvements to the Oak Marsh Course and investing all golf resources into the operation of one quality 18-hole course.”
The resort also claimed that Ocean Links was “by far the poorest quality course in Omni’s entire golf portfolio of 21 courses and Omni received many complaints about the quality of the golf layout ... Ocean Links denigrates the reputation of the resort as a quality golf destination.”
The Equity Club’s suit claimed Omni Amelia Island LLC broke the long-standing agreement to operate the golf course, dating back to 2010 when Omni bought the property, which included the Oak Marsh Club, as part of a bankruptcy case involving the original owners.
The club also had voted overwhelmingly earlier last year (96 percent) to not give its permission for the course to be closed, after Omni informed the club of discussions to close it. In testimony, Omni representatives told the club it was under the belief that it needed the club’s consent.
The resort also told employees, in court testimony, to tell club members who inquired about the future of the course that it was damaged during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and “requires significant resources to repair, which are not readily available.”
However, testimony showed that Omni Amelia had already received an insurance payment of $387,000 for damages caused by the storm, which indicated course repairs were “readily achievable,” according to Fahlgren’s decision.