Palmetto's Palm View Hills Golf Club has run its course after 55 years

PALMETTO -- Since 1960, Palm View Hills Golf Club has offered golfers an executive course in Palmetto with affordable prices without a long wait.

The family run operation is closing Sunday.

Citing a decline in participation since the Great Recession of 2008, Palm View Hills course owner Gary Hamilton said he knew the course wasn't going to last.

The decision to shut it down and sell to developer Highland Homes for $1.5 million was difficult, he said.

"It's just not what it used to be in Florida after the recession," said Hamilton, who started working at the course in 1961. "The rounds of golf have just deteriorated to the point that it's just not feasible."

Sunday, the last day the course will be open to the public, play is free for anyone. Hamilton said he is giving back to all those who supported the course, built by

his father, Dick Hamilton, in 1960, with a free round on the last day it will be open.

Featuring ladies and men's leagues, the course peaked with roughly 220 rounds per day during season, Hamilton said.

The number dwindled since 2008, dropping roughly 50 percent and January play confirmed for Hamilton it is time to move on.

"It was very slow for January here," Hamilton said. "If I could have 12 Januarys, we'd still be in business. But you know the summer's coming, and it's going to drop off dramatically."

The par 63 offers several par-4s under 300 yards, while mixing in par 3s and a player friendly track short on hazards.

Originally, Dick Hamilton grew gladiolus on the 40 acres now serving as the back nine.

Freezing temperatures in 1958 crushed the bulbs and the golf course idea, stemming from a family vacation to Michigan where there was a golf course on a coldwater lake, took shape in the barren land.

Eventually, the land on the other side of 28th Avenue East was bought and developed into an additional nine holes.

From Dick Hamilton, the course was passed down to Gary. His two sons, Ryan and Greg, worked at the course, too.

Greg Hamilton held the superintendent title until Friday.

Ryan Hamilton worked at the course during his high school days at Saint Stephen's Episcopal School before attending the College of Charleston and embarking on a career in law enforcement as a police officer in Columbia, S.C.

He made the trip down for a mini-vacation to play the course a couple times before it shut down.

"It stings and it's hard to see it go," Ryan Hamilton said. "... But if it's not making money, it's not making money."

The course record is shared by Gary and Greg, who recorded 8-under par 55s at different times, while Gary's wife, Jean, holds the women's course record with a 62 set in 2008.

Kaye Bracken, a part-time employee, started playing the course in 2004 when she relocated to Florida and was hired four years later. She said she's sad it's ending.

"I'm sure the economy had a lot to with it," Bracken said. "From '08 on, I see fewer and fewer people taking (golf) up."

Gary Hamilton said he laid off four employees the past two years, which led to a decline in course maintenance. In turn, fewer players have turned out in recent years.

Borrowing a page from Augusta National's Masters tournament, Palm View Hills' final day will start with honorary tee shots from Ruth Horesting and Bobby Rudge, the oldest ladies and men's league members, respectively.

With its closure, Palm View Hills joins several other local courses shut down in the 2000s, including Oakford Golf Club, Sarasota Golf Club, Foxfire Golf Club, Sunrise Golf Club and Forest Lakes Golf Club.