When one door closes another one opens, and in the case of the refurbished Poinciana Golf Club in Lake Worth, those doors were literally across the street from each other.
Residents of the Poinciana community had grown tired of the haphazard conditions of their hybrid executive golf course, so when news of the sale of neighboring Forest Oaks Golf Club to developers broke, they seized upon the opportunity to enlist the services of the Grillo brothers, Vinnie and Paul, to spruce up the course. The siblings took over operations Aug. 1, closed down the course for repairs and reopened three months later to rave reviews after overhauling the greens, fairways, tees, sand traps and the pro shop.
“The people that live in the community are very excited,” said Vincent Grillo Jr., who moved to Florida from southern Connecticut 10 years ago and bought Forest Oaks six months after being hired as general manager with business partner Nick Pisano. “For years they’ve looked at pretty much an overgrown golf course that’s all weeds and dirt and now it’s transformed to lush grass and playability.”
Timing was everything in the dramatic transition, because when Vinnie was first approached by some of the golfers who lived in Poinciana about helping restore the course, he wasn’t initially receptive to the task. But after his younger brother moved down from Connecticut and he was in the midst of brokering the sale of Forest Oaks to Mattamy Homes, he viewed it as a chance to keep his entire staff intact and work with Paul to bring an older course back to life.
The brothers will maintain both courses through the end of the current golf season and then Forest Oaks will close for good in the summer, with the new owners converting it into a new 450-unit housing development. At that time, all of the equipment and staff will move across Lake Worth Road to Poinciana, where the entrance is a mere quarter of a mile from the Forest Oaks driveway.
“We have a lot of the same customers and hopefully all of our Forest Oaks members will follow us to Poinciana, in addition to more newcomers,” said Paul Grillo, who managed Sterling Farms Golf Course in Stamford, Conn., for 25 years. “This is not your typical executive golf course as we have four par 4s, three par 5s and 11 par 3s, so it’s not your typical par 60. It’s a par-64, 4,500-yard executive course and when they came to us the course was in disrepair.
“So far they’re all thrilled with the conditions. It’s really done a 180. The greens are fantastic. We’re still a little thin on the tees and fairways but they’re coming around also, and I would say in a couple months’ time they’ll be beautiful also.”
Among some of the highlights of what is being planned at the course by the Grillo brothers are the ability for kids 12 and under will get to play for free (with a paying adult) after 3 p.m. They’ll also be running specials and clinics that will be found on the official website and they plan on being one of the most competitively priced municipal courses in Palm Beach County.
The Grillo family was golf royalty in Connecticut, as the patriarch, Vincent Grillo Sr., was head golf pro at Oak Hills Golf Course in Norwalk for three decades. Vinnie was general manager and head golf pro there as well for almost the same length of time before resigning in 2011 and moving south.
Back in 1986, the brothers’ parents bought a house on the Lake Worth Municipal Golf Course, and they spent a lot of time in the area over the years. Golf continues to be the family business and the elder Grillo still can be seen on both the Forest Oaks and Poinciana links at the age of 89.
“He still comes around and waters the flowers for us,” Vinnie said. “He’s going to be 90 next year but he still likes to play and hopefully this tradition will be passed along to our kids and the younger generation.”
Should that indeed happen, then Poinciana will be in good hands for quite a long time.