The PGA of America, which helped to establish Palm Beach County as one of the nation’s top golfing locales, is “poised” to leave Palm Beach Gardens after half a century to move to Frisco, Texas, the website Golf.com is reporting, describing it as "a top-secret project nearly five years in the making."
The group — whose proper name is the Professional Golfers’ Association of America — issued a statement Thursday morning saying nothing’s been decided.
“Last year we issued a request for proposals to a number of markets that are potentially well-suited and interested in developing a new headquarters campus for us,” it said. “The due diligence phase is ongoing.”
Pete Bevacqua, PGA’s chief executive officer, did not return a call Thursday. A Post reporter who sought more details at the PGA headquarters Thursday morning was instead provided a copy of the brief PGA statement.
The PGA of America, which employs 210 people, has been an institution in the city since it moved there in 1965 from Dunedin, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, where it had relocated from Chicago a decade earlier. PGA Boulevard, the main street in Palm Beach Gardens, is named for it.
The website Golf.com, quoting "multiple PGA of America officials involved in the project," said the PGA would move to the new Panther Creek development, about 30 miles north of Dallas. Two 18-hole semipublic courses are planned there, one of them slated to open by 2020. The report does not give a timetable for a move.
PGA of America Chief Operations Officer Darrell Cral told Golf.com the request for proposals attracted more than 100 responses.
The report cited Panther Creek’s proximity to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, one of the world’s largest air hubs.
“We actually had a consultant come in and tell us there was no difference in airport transportation between West Palm Beach and DFW. I laughed in his face," one PGA executive told Golf.com.
The report said many PGA officials consider the current national headquarters outdated and out of space. Another PGA of America official said in the report, "We've studied this nine ways to Sunday for several years. It's time to make a decision and move on."
She said a consultant reached out to her about nine months ago about potential new sites in the county and her outfit has shown the PGA “various options” on as many as seven sites. She said she could not elaborate. She said PGA officials told her in December that another site was in play and that she “heard rumors” that it was in Texas.
Palm Beach Gardens Mayor Maria Marino said Thursday the city has been working closely with the Business Development Board and referred a reporter to Smallridge.
The nonprofit PGA reported in statements that, for the budget year ended June 30, 2016, it brought in $79 million in revenue, down from $108 million the year before that. The report said Bevacqua earned $1.6 million.
George Linley, executive director of the Palm Beach County Sports Commission, learned of PGA’s potential departure Thursday morning when a news alert popped up on his phone as he attended a Palm Beach County Tourist Development Council meeting. The news quickly spread among the tourism board’s members, but wasn’t discussed publicly at the gathering.
“Having PGA of America in Palm Beach County helped define us as a premier golf destination,” Linley said. He said he’d be disappointed if the reports were true.
Palm Beach County tourism officials bill the area as “Florida’s Golf Capital,” a slogan they have trademarked because of the large number of courses available here. When the PGA moved to Palm Beach County, the county had 32 golf courses. It now has about 170 golf courses at about 120 facilities, Linley said.
Linley said PGA’s departure would not affect the county’s reputation as a golf tourism destination. Palm Beach County remains the only South Florida location that is home to a PGA tour event, The Honda Classic, he added.
Linley also pointed to a series of golf events planned in the county, including five NCAA golf championship events.
“We are still a leader in the state,” Linley said. “In terms of sports tourism, we won’t lose any business and we will continue to grow.”
The PGA of America originally had considered Royal Palm Beach for a new site. In 1962, John D. MacArthur, the founder of Palm Beach Gardens, who'd made billions in insurance before coming to Florida, struck a deal: He would build two championship golf courses. The PGA would build a clubhouse and an office building. Eventually, the title to the entire property would be turned over to the PGA.
But MacArthur couldn't completely satisfy PGA officials that he had clear title to all the golf course property and the agreement eventually evolved into a lease of PGA office space in a clubhouse built by MacArthur.
Later, MacArthur and the PGA fought over greens fees and their lease and he had them evicted in 1973. Three years later, the developer E. Llwyd Ecclestone Jr. promised to provide a new Palm Beach Gardens home, and the PGA of America moved into a 36,000-square-foot office building at the PGA National complex just west of Florida’s Turnpike in 1981.
Reported by Eliot Kleinberg, Jeff Ostrowski, Susan Salisbury, Jennifer Sorentrue, Wayne Washington and Sarah Peters in West Palm Beach; and Bill DiPaolo in Palm Beach Gardens. Special correspondent Brian Biggane contributed to this story.