Students, alumni play final holes at The Claw before its permanent closure

The final rounds of golf were filled with nostalgia as friends gathered to take their last swings at the golf course. ORACLE PHOTO/JUSTIN SEECHARAN

Students and alumni played their final holes at USF’s golf course The Claw on Monday, its last day of operations.

As groups of friends and families were taking their final swings, they felt a mix of nostalgia and disappointment. Chad Dorrell, a 2001 alum who has played at The Claw for 23 years, said playing the course one last time was bittersweet.

“This is a course I played a lot in college and before I had kids. Obviously, it’s been a staple of USF for longer than I have been here. We’ve had successful golf programs for quite some time and now, all of the sudden, the course is closing,” Dorrell said.

Dorrell began playing at The Claw while he was a student at USF. On Labor Day, he took his son to play at the course for the first time before the 18-hole, par-71 green permanently closed.

President Rhea Law announced the closure of the course in June. The course, which opened in 1967, was closed after years of financial loss and aging facilities, including the clubhouse and golf cart storage buildings. It was deemed too costly to repair the facilities and the course was no longer utilized by USF’s golf teams, according to a June 29 Oracle article

The Claw was losing nearly $200,000 annually to maintain and would have needed a large investment to reopen the clubhouse and golf cart storage, according to the Oracle article.

Members will be refunded a prorated amount and can contact Indigo Golf Partners general manager John Sparrow with questions, according to an FAQ page. Indigo Golf Partners was responsible for maintaining and operating the course for USF golfers.

Alum Otto Meyer, who graduated in 2002, also began playing at the course in college and worked at the ProShop for four years. 

Meyer booked the course’s final tee-time with his friend, Derek Stewart, as a final farewell.

Stewart did not attend USF, but he lives a mile from the course and has played a couple times a week since 1991.

“We kind of wanted to close it down…,” Stewart said. “It’s going to be very, very sad leaving here and having to drive by every day. I’m going to look over just about every time and be like, ‘Man.’”

“We played here countless times. It’s convenient in its price. It’s a place in my heart. I had been very, very sad about [the closure] for weeks.” 

Meyer said his favorite memories were from working at the course and the time spent with friends he played with.

“It’s sad. We’re sentimental about it,” Meyer said before playing his final round. “I’ll take something with me [from the course] and put it in [my] office.”

Alum Paris Manis, who graduated in 2022, and English education senior Brennan Turner came to The Claw to relive their favorite memories at the course one more time. Turner said their final round was special because it was the first golf course they played together.

“I’ve been playing at The Claw for two years. It was the first course I ever played,” Manis said. “The first time I played, I got a hole-in-one on hole 8 here. I always cherish that hole.”

Turner’s favorite hole is also the eighth, which is surrounded by lakes and oak trees. Manis remembered seeing gators in the lakes and other wildlife on the course frequently.

“There are no houses here, which is really nice compared to every other golf course. It’s just beautiful all around the course,” Manis said. “I would hate to see them develop this area.”

No details have been released on future plans for the land at the time of publication.

Golfers, such as Manis and Turner, were concerned the closure of the 56-year-old course – designed by golf course architect William F. Mitchell – would impact the wildlife in the USF Forest Preserve. The 120-acre course serves as a buffer between the forest preserve and Fletcher Ave.

“It’s sad to see what is coming of it. Obviously, this is home to a lot of creatures and animals and all that great stuff. So, seeing this get plowed over…just breaks my heart,” Turner said.

However, in her email announcing the closure, Law said “the closure will not impact the Forest Preserve land and this decision does not change the university’s commitment to maintaining the natural environment in the preserve,” according to a June 29 article from The Oracle.

While many golfers were upset by the decision to close the course, industrial engineering senior Aidan Webb said he was not surprised by the closure due to the quality of the course.

“It wasn’t the best course for the price, so I’m not too upset about it. It was close and convenient,” Webb said.

Webb said he did not feel the quality of the course was worth the price to play, which was $29 per person per day. The convenience of the course being just five minutes from campus was the main reason Webb and his friend Jacob Meester, an economics junior, played at The Claw.

“It was close to campus, it was the school’s course and it was cheap,” Meester said.

Meester’s favorite part about the course was the challenge each hole presented. Many courses Meester has played in the area are geared more towards a leisurely game, but he said The Claw requires more strategy.

The Claw is one of the most challenging in Tampa Bay with long, tight fairways surrounded by large, towering oak, cypress and pine trees, according to The Claw’s website.

While student, alumni and community golfers will no longer have access to The Claw, the course’s legacy will be remembered by those who did play their final, bittersweet rounds.

“We’re sad. That’s why we’re out here today,” Manis said. “We’re actually kind of a little upset. This is the first course we ever played.”