9911 Seminole Blvd. Seminole, FL 33772       Ph. 727-397-5563   View TBN's FREE e-Edition today!  
Click here to learn more
Largo Leader Facebook Twitter
Missing Links property rezoned
Longtime customers, employees protest plans for future RaceTrac
Article published on
  Print E-Mail
Golfers practice their swing at Missing Links Driving Range, which was rezoned April 1 to allow for a RaceTrac to be built. Residents protested that the facility, which includes a miniature golf course, a golf school, a pro golfing shop, batting cages and an ice cream store, is unique and should not be replaced with a gas station.
LARGO – The fate of the Missing Links Driving Range is uncertain. As of April 1, the front 2.4 acres of the property has been relabeled a “commercial general” future land use, a change that representatives of RaceTrac requested in order to build a gas station and convenience store along East Bay Drive.

More than 1,500 customers and employees of the facility signed petitions against closing the facility. The miniature golf course, the golf school, pro golfing shop, batting cages and ice cream store made Missing Links too unique to replace with a gas station, protesters argued.

“This place means more to the city of Largo than any gas station could mean,” said Bob Blair, an employee who helped lead the charge against closing it. “Missing Links has become a staple of the community.”

Largo commissioners voted 5-1 to approve the last step in changing the future land use April 1. All but Commissioner Woody Brown agreed that the new land use would mean the property would match the other three corners, which are all designated commercial general.

Even with the change, Missing Links could stay the way it is, staff confirmed.

“Either way, the owner is going to do whatever he chooses,” Commissioner Harriet Crozier said.

William Hancock owns the property itself and is a co-owner of the Missing Links business with Jim Smith. Smith said he feels caught in the middle, between loyal customers and his business partner.

RaceTrac first approached Hancock about leasing the land. Smith said he can appreciate that the driving range is not the most profitable use for the property.

“He’s decided to make a business decision. I don’t begrudge him one bit for doing that,” Smith said. “I’d like to see it stay a golf facility.”

Smith, 64, said he’s been golfing his whole life. He was a two-time winner of the Florida State Senior Open and, before that, played in the 1978 U.S. Amateur and the 1986 U.S. Open.

He opened the golfing business in 1987 with Hancock, whose family owned the land, Smith said. The timing was right. They modeled the “family fun center” after Storm’s Driving Range in Clearwater, which similarly offered many more attractions than the golfing range.

“We knew it would work. We studied their operation,” Smith said. “Now there’s a Home Depot where that (driving range) used to be on Gulf-to-Bay.”

The business was self-sustaining, even after the bad economy hurt the golf industry. Missing Links offers a cheaper way to practice one’s swing than a round of golf, Smith explained.

The deal with RaceTrac has been in the works for at least six months. Even before the city voted, Smith said he couldn’t be optimistic about the future of Missing Links.

“It was a good run. Twenty-seven years,” he said.

Smith, one of the professionals who offered private lessons at Missing Links, said he had been close to retirement anyway. Still, the potential closure of Missing Links has been “real emotional.”

“It’s been the love of my life,” he said, his eyes watering.

Others were less conflicted on the issue. Andre Fecteau, a customer who led the petition drive, said he represented the will of the people and could have obtained “thousands more signatures.”

“Why do people come to Largo? Recreation,” he said. “This is the most universally hated and despised thing to come before the council ever, to change that driving range to a gas station.”

He urged the commissioners to purchase the land from Hancock and keep the facility as is.

Michael Riso, another golf instructor, emphasized the environmental value of the land in its current land use designation as “recreation/open space.”

“We could use more green and less black,” Riso said.

Brown, running the meeting in Mayor Pat Gerard’s absence, was the sole vote against change. He said he was concerned that piecemeal changes to the future land use map at the request of businesses undermined its purpose.

“If we do that every time, what’s the point of the plan?” he asked.

Blair said Missing Links was a reason for customers to drive to Largo, rather than just pass through it, stopping only to “get gas and a quick Coke.”

“It is a family recreation center, and if you take it away, what are they going to do? There are no other facilities like Missing Links, an all-in-one place, anywhere in this county,” Blair said.

Little League players used the batting cages during the summer. Those who came to play miniature golf and enjoy ice cream when they were younger now bring their own children.

“We’ve had a lot of generations come and go,” Smith said.

The land use change doesn’t affect the remaining 5.7 acres of the property at 1201 East Bay Drive, farther away from the main road. Smith said he didn’t know what Hancock had planned, if anything. The land is crisscrossed with utility easements, particularly power lines, limiting its use.

Hancock declined to comment on the future of the property after the commission vote.
Article published on
Copyright © Tampa Bay Newspapers: All rights reserved.
Printable Version E-mail article
Community Focus Online
Featured Print Advertisers
Tarpon Springs Merchants Association

Oct. 15 - 18

Web site        View Ad
Five Fish Boutique
735 Dodecanese Blvd, Suite 1, Tarpon Springs
(727) 485-8660

Web site        View Ad
Flooring America
9012 Seminole Blvd., Seminole
(727) 397-5509
100 Patricia Ave., Dunedin
(727) 733-1356

Web site        View Ad
NuSmile Dental
13611 Park Blvd., Suite G
(727) 475-7866

Web site        View Ad
Senior Health Care Solutions

(866) 633-4427

Web site        View Ad
Omega Gamma Delta Fraternity
Looking for Alumni
Contact Mark Quering
Beta Chi 1972

Web site        View Ad
Oakhurst & East Bay Medical
13020 Park Blvd., Seminole
(727) 393-3404
3800 East Bay Dr., Largo
(727) 539-0505

Web site        View Ad
Bell Hearing Instruments, Inc.
801 West Bay Dr., Suite 405, Largo (727) 585-2675
Factory Location
700 Stevens Ave., Oldsmar (813) 814-2355

Web site        View Ad
Tarpon Springs Recreation Division
Zombie Run, 10/17
Coastal Cleanup, 10/7
Trunk or Treat, 10/31

Web site        View Ad
Custom Couture of Tarpon Springs
208 East Tarpon Ave., Tarpon Springs
(727) 238-7194

Web site        View Ad
Abbey Carpet & Floor of Largo
13120 66th St. N.
(727) 524-1445

Web site        View Ad
Law Office of Stephen C. Whalen, P.A.
1968 Bayshore Blvd., Dunedin
(727) 726-0439
(727) 409-7347(Cell)

Web site        View Ad
Florida Center for Back & Neck Pain
Dr. Greg Hollstrom
11444 Seminole Blvd.
(727) 393-6100

Web site        View Ad
US Ammo Depot
118 E. Tarpon Ave, Suite 208, Tarpon Springs
(727) 940-8636

Web site        View Ad
Tampa Bay Newspapers
Online Advertising
For information, e-mail
Online Services Directory
Tampa Bay Newspapers
9911 Seminole Blvd.,
Seminole, FL 33772
Phone: (727) 397-5563
Fax: (727) 397-5900
Submit News