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Plans for the 165-acre Golden Gate Golf Course property in Collier County have been discussed since the county purchased the land for almost $28 million in 2019. A lease agreement with BigShots Golf in May 2021 paved the way for the company to create and finance plans for nonprofit youth program First Tee, a 12-hole public golf course and a BigShots entertainment facility.  

The facility was supposed to be finished by summer 2022 with the county committing $7 million in taxpayer funds to support refurbishment of the course. However, BigShots asked the Collier County Commissioners on Tuesday for its sixth extension of its financial contingency period, seeking another 60 days. The commission voiced concerns with the company taking more than 20 months to begin construction before approving a 60-day extension by a 4-1 vote.  

“We’re all frustrated with how long this project has been going on without the actual construction, and I know that my fellow commissioners are concerned as to what really happened in here and what’s causing the delay,” Commissioner Burt Saunders said.  

Randall Cousins, senior vice president of BigShots, said the company shares the commission’s frustration, citing lost revenue caused by the delay.  

“From our perspective, this is a venture that should produce millions of dollars in revenue, and every month that we’re delayed that puts that revenue further and further away,” Cousins said. “So we’re highly motivated to get this project under construction.”  

BigShots faced a handful of obstacles since signing the lease, such as needing to conduct a study on protecting bats on the course and removing arsenic that was discovered on the property. With inflation issues, costs of the project continue to rise as construction is delayed. So far, BigShots has spent $3 million on materials such as elevators, glass doors and air conditioning units that are being kept in storage. 

“We continue to spend money. We’re very enthusiastic about this project,” Cousins said. “We certainly think there’s a path here, but we’ve run into some issues that have just required more time than we anticipated during diligence.”  

The 60-day extension will allow BigShots to finalize design concepts, budgeting and financing. Commissioner William McDaniel said no more extensions should be given and there should be greater focus on the veterans nursing home and planned housing projects, along with potentially creating a separate arrangement with First Tee. 

“I would suggest that we recapitulate the entire project, prioritize the utilization of land for what’s most important, and that’s our veterans nursing home first,” McDaniel said. “Set aside the construction of the golf course indefinitely until such time as that location is picked and blessed by the Veterans Administration, both at the state and federal levels.” 

Saunders responded by saying those are not appropriate decisions to make at this time, as the focus should be on the 60-day extension for BigShots.  

“The item today is whether or not we’re going to extend this for 60 days, the item today isn’t, ‘Are we going to cancel a golf course, are we going to move the veterans nursing home to a bigger spot.’ That’s not on the agenda,” Saunders said. “If you have that, put some substance together and present it, but to bring this up at the last minute with no notice is not really the right way to do the county’s business.” 

Commissioner Rick LoCastro, displeased with BigShots not taking on some tasks simultaneously to expedite the development process, said the company should not expect another extension after this one. 

“If we’re 60 days away from doing something, I think you guys packing it up because you couldn’t get 60 days is a real waste of all the time we’ve waited up to this point and all the progress that has been made,” LoCastro said. “But I can tell you, like Commissioner McDaniel was saying, he’s sort of out of time. I think everybody else here has a very short fuse because we’ve got that property for some other projects, as well, on that same piece of land and are moving forward at light speed.”  

Cousins is hopeful the next time he is in front of the commissioners it will be to schedule a groundbreaking ceremony. The project is anticipated to take 40 weeks, giving a tentative opening time of spring 2024.  

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