The Heritage Harbour golf course in Bradenton, Florida has been a favorite of both locals and snowbirds for many years. The course opened in 2001 as Stoneybrook Golf Club at Heritage Harbour and changed to its current name in 2018. Since its inception, it has been operated as a public course and a semi-private club.
In the years after the 2008 financial crisis, the condition of the course continued to deteriorate. Different golf course management companies were brought in to make improvements and turn things around, but conditions didn’t improve and the golf course was put up for sale, something that worried residents who had once upon a time purchased golf course homes.
Local PGA golf professional turned publisher turned real estate broker Mark Bruce put together an investment group and purchased the distressed property, thus adding the title of Golf Course Owner/General Manager to an already crowded business card. His knowledge and expertise in each area have melded together nicely as everything he foresaw for Heritage Harbour is coming to fruition.
By his admission, Bruce says the course was desperately in need of repairs. Bruce and a group of investors purchased the club about 4 years ago. Florida weather, especially summer heat and torrential afternoon rains is hard on golf courses. “The lifespan of core elements like greens, bunkers, and turfgrass is only about 12 to 15 years, so now, after 21 years, it was time for us to do some heavy lifting”, says Bruce. As one of his partners told me, “I came down to visit the property shortly after agreeing to become an investor. As Mark was touring me around the property I stopped him and asked, “what have you gotten me into?”
Mark Bruce knew exactly what he was doing. After doing his due diligence, he put together a business model that will ultimately pay for the course renovation, clubhouse improvements, and ongoing maintenance of the golf course. Bruce has partnered with ResClub, whose business model brings quality traffic to vacation rental property resorts. Visitors that are in golf vacation mode will provide additional revenue streams for the resort developer. With this new business model, the shift to frame the property as a micro destination golf resort makes perfect sense and will generate sufficient revenue for years to come to properly care for the course and make it a “must play” in Southwest Florida.
The uniqueness of what Bruce and ResClub’s CEO Craig Williamson have created is unparalleled. You can be a visiting vacationer for a short or extended stay, a member that comes every year for two to four weeks, or a seasonal owner that lives in a Villa for up to six months a year. Here’s how membership works. A $99,000 membership will get you four weeks of use for a 30-year term on a vacation home at Heritage Harbour in Bradenton, FL or you can choose from more than 4,500 resort locations and 600,000 hotels in more than 100 countries within an extensive travel exchange network. The biggest difference between this type of ownership and timeshare is that with a timeshare, you still pay maintenance and resort fees. The ResClub membership model has no closing costs, HOA, property management fees, or ongoing utility expenses either. With this type of membership, there is a fixed annual return – they pay you back between 5 – 8% each year. Use your new vacation home for 4 weeks during the year and you’ll get 5% of your investment back; don’t use it at all and you’ll get 8%. So instead of forking out $3 – 5,000 in fees, you are getting a check for $5,000 – $8,000 each year. Looking for a seasonal place to call home? Whole ownership of a villa is available and owners can use it for up to 179 days a year as a “seasonal home” or keep their use limited to four weeks and deploy the villa into the resort rental platform to create income. The whole goal is to create an experience for Members and Owners that creates a net-zero cost of ownership and gives them amazing lifestyle and personal use benefits.
Ultimately, the new Heritage Harbour Golf Resort will include 74 villas and a 100-suite golf lodge and will be the only full-service golf resort in Manatee County. It will include a resort-style pool, fishing excursions in the nearby Manatee River or Gulf of Mexico, corporate meeting and event spaces, and various other amenities.
The Heritage Harbour Golf Club was designed by Arthur Hills, one of America’s foremost golf course designers who was best known for building courses that are fun to play, beautiful, challenging, and require a strategy. He has designed many of the country’s finest courses – over 200 throughout the nation – and renovated just as many. I’ve often commented on how mundane Florida golf can be; after all, there’s only so much you can do with water, sand, and palm trees. Arthur Hills has taken those three aspects of Florida golf and created a Sunshine State masterpiece. As far as the layout goes. It’s incredible, winding its way through ponds, lakes, wooded areas, and wetland preserves. By successfully playing the angles Hills gives you, you are rewarded with manageable approach shots and opportunities for birdie.
Unfortunately, Arthur Hills passed away in May 2021, so we will never know what changes he would have made to his original design. Instead, Bruce and his partners have turned the redesign efforts over to someone they feel is an up-and-coming course architect, Nick Campanelli. Campanelli is just 38 and is a graduate of Penn State University. He is a Partner in the highly successful boutique landscape architecture firm M-D-L-A, whose presence is mostly in the Northeast US. In 2010, he submitted the winning entry into Golf Digest’s “Dream Hole” Armchair Architect Contest. His risk/reward par 4 hole was judged by fellow course architects Gil Hanse, Jeff Mingay, Tripp Davis, and Todd Eckenrode. As the contest winner, Campanelli was awarded probably the most inspiring life experience he will ever have; a four-week micro-internship with Pete Dye in French Lick, Indiana.
The full renovation will take place in the summer of 2022 and will include new turfgrass for the tees, fairways, and greens complexes, rebuilt bunkers, and upgrades and technological improvements to the irrigation system. Although the majority of the course will remain unchanged, The first and second holes will be replaced with the Lodge and two groups of villas that border a fifty-eight-acre wetland and beautiful bodies of water. Two new holes will be added to the existing course. Several other holes will be rerouted and redesigned. I’ve seen the renderings and they are quite impressive.
Several aspects of the current club will not change; at least it’s not in the current plans. The Heritage Harbour practice facilities will still include an aqua practice range, two putting greens, a short game area, and a fully stocked pro shop.
The clubhouse currently has a very active Bar & Grill. They’re open for lunch every day with happy hour from 4 – 6 pm. Wednesday’s is Cornhole Night with a special sports menu and Thursday’s is Burger Night with special prices on half-pound burgers served with your choice of fixings. There are all kinds of ice-cold beverages and adult libations. Be sure to check out their online calendar for other special events.
These days it’s hard to find a vacation destination with something for everyone, but Heritage Harbour and the Bradenton area will soon be changing that. The area offers great golf, both fresh water and deep-sea fishing, world-class beaches, exquisite culinary offerings, and luxury shopping. The Resort is just minutes away from I-75 and is destined to become one of Florida’s premier all-purpose resorts. For more information about all that is going on with Heritage Harbour or to make an appointment to visit and purchase a vacation home, you can give them a call at (941) 746-2696 or visit them online at www.heritageharbourgolfclub.com.