Do you want a challenging and rewarding golf experience?
If your answer is yes, then say hello to three American Indian golf buddies who pursued their passion for the sport and purchased the Plantation Palms Golf Club, in Land O’ Lakes, Florida, in April of last year—with early success.
“We were very busy from November 15 to April 15 with the snowbirds,” said Steve McDonald, co-owner. “We bought the golf course in April 30 and just had our first year anniversary. We had a golf tournament, a membership meeting, followed by a big celebration.”
There is much to celebrate for Steve, who was raised in Kansas with the Prairie Band Potawatomis, and his two partners, Mitch Osceola, from Seminole tribe of Florida, and Jayson Ray, who belongs to the Klamath tribe in the Northwest.
The trio, which bought the property under their corporate name MJS Golf Group, with the initials matching their first names Mitch, Jason and Steve, has already grown the business while still making ground improvements.
In one year, the three businessmen increased the playing rounds from 26,000 to 30,000 a year. The goal is 40,000. They also grew membership to their 18-hole, semi-private club from six when they acquired the property to 103.
“Our goal is 175 members. We don’t want to take away from public playing,” said Ray.
The golf course and country club, set on 148 manicured acres, is situated in the Tampa area, in the community of Plantation Palms, which has about 875 homes.
“We were looking to purchase a golf course for the Seminole tribe of Florida,” said McDonald, who along with Ray and Osceola plus six other partners were then operating Ha-Sho-Be Golf, a management consultant firm contracted by the tribe to find a golf property for acquisition.
Ray said Ha-Sho-Be submitted about five golf courses in south Florida for the tribe to look at, but the tribe passed. That was when the trio thought about being the investor and acquiring Plantation Palms.
“Because of our native background we were able to secure a BIA guaranteed loan. We got a loan through the Native American Bank in Denver, Colorado,” said McDonald.
“We were groundbreakers in getting a BIA guaranteed loan to purchase a golf course,” said McDonald.
Ray said their company was one of the first non-tribal enterprise to get a guaranteed loan from a capital financing program specifically established to assist Native people.
“We are a 100 percent native-owned business with no tribal ownership,” he said, adding that there are about 73 golf courses owned by the tribes.
“We are three independent businessmen. Our tribes have no controlling interest. We are regular people who happen to be entrepreneurs,” said Osceola.
Running their own business means hard work. Osceola said it is a 24/7 operation. The golf course is open when there is daylight, and that could be from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
McDonald said that since they started managing it, they have worked on the aesthetics and playability of the course. They have done extensive work on the drainage, removed invasive shrubs, improved turf quality and added brand new range bulbs and equipment.
Next on the list is a Chickee hut that they will start building in June to be used as a shade area and for barbecue. A Father’s Day Pro-Am Golf Tournament is scheduled for June 16 and a Native American Veterans Tournament is slated on November 7.
Ray said that last November, the tournament drew the Seminoles of Florida, Choctaws of Mississippi, Creeks of Alabama and Cherokees of North Carolina. He said he expects enthusiasts from the same tribe and other tribes to come this year. “We are trying to get the Oneidas from New York too.”
Promoting the sport has been a long been a mission for the three who have been friends since 1994. Prior to owning their business, they were involved in the First Nations Golf Association, a non-profit organization that promoted the game to the Natives, with particular interest in programs for the youth.
Their individual backgrounds speak of their passion for the game. McDonald has been a 25-year member of PGA and one of the most decorated players on the First Nations Golf Association’s Professional Tours, winning several tournaments; Osceola, a graduate of the San Diego Golf Academy is a proponent of golf for his tribe; and Ray has run several golf tournaments for Natives.
At the moment, Plantation Palms is keeping them busy but teeing off another golf course is a possibility. “Our plans are to grow when the time is right. We don’t want to over extend,” said Osceola.
A Course Overview
Plantation Palms Golf Club
Year Opened: 2000
Course Designer: David Harman
Length of Course: 6,843 yards
Green Fees: From $45 to $65 with cart, a bottle of water and range balls
Layout: The links-style design starts with a welcoming par-5 then slowly steps it up with a mixture of par-3s. The course has many elevation changes with attractive framing of greens by the use of pine trees, water and large snow-white sand traps.
The Challenge: Hole 14, par-5, 570 yards
The demanding second shot has to fly over water. It is the number one handicap hole and one of the toughest par-5 in the Tampa area.