As a gust of wind blows through the half-empty parking lot, Jason Wadsworth sits in a golf cart and patrols an area he’s looked over countless times the past two decades.
Wadsworth began working at Polo Trace Golf Club as a range attendant in 1999 and has worked his way up to operations superintendent, but he will soon be looking for a new job.
After opening its doors nearly 30 years ago in 1989, Polo Trace Golf Club will close for good on Tuesday, leaving longtime employees looking for jobs and longtime players looking for a new course.
“It’s been my way of life for the last 19 years,” Wadsworth said. “(Golf) is not just a hobby, you live it.”
In a bit of cruel irony for those who love the course, the place that houses their “way of life” is set to become a place of living for over 300 families.
In May 2017 that GL Homes, a Sunrise-based company, bought the golf course and club house with plans to build between 318 and 320 single-family homes on the land in suburban Delray Beach.
The company will also construct a recreation facility for residents, but that does little to appease those who have played many rounds of golf.
John Bianco, who joined Polo Trace Golf Club as Director of Golf in 2001 and has served as GM for about six years, says he’s seen a final farewell from longtime members, many of which have now joined other courses, and regulars coming by to get one last round of golf in.
“It’s tough to say goodbye, especially for the people that play here, because they absolutely love this course,” Bianco said. “I’ve seen some ladies cry and some other players that have been here get choked up, because everyone is kind of sad to see the course leave.”
It’s a trend, thought, that isn’t going to change.
After a building boom in the 1990s and 2000s, the industry has been struggling. About 5 percent of courses, or more than 800, have closed in the past decade.
Bianco cites reduced rates from companies like GolfNow, an online golf booking service, along with millennials’ lack of interest for the sport and more husbands and wives with fulltime jobs and less leisure time as factors that have led to the a decline in the industry.
Other Palm Beach County courses — Boca Teeca, Sherbrooke Golf and Country Club west of Lake Worth and the Wanderers Executive Course in Wellington — have all closed in recent years.
Steve Nadeau, who decided to play a round at the course on Tuesday with his son while visiting the area from Boston, said he’s only heard good things about Polo Trace and attributed its impeding closure to a changing industry.
“People don’t have as much time to play golf for five or six hours anymore,” Nadeau said. “All in with lunch and things like that, you’re talking about a half a day, or more.”
Nadeau also pointed to the emergence of popular indoor facilities like TopGolf — similar to the computerized Drive Shack golf entertainment center planned for the former cell phone waiting area near Palm Beach International Airport — as a factor in the decline of the sport.
Still, he said nothing beats the fresh air and a day spent on the golf course.
“It’s something you can do with your kids, it’s multi-generational and you can do it forever,” Nadeau said. “My son plays lacrosse, hockey and football, but you’re not going to do those long, and we can’t do those together.”