As if fortunes weren't bad enough lately for International Links Melreese Country Club in Miami, now the popular semi-private golf course, less than a mile from Miami International Airport, has to deal with the cleanup and recovery from a fire that destroyed about 40 golf carts last Tuesday night, July 24.
The good news, though, is that police have a suspect in custody, thanks to video surveillance of the property and an anonymous tip.
Carlos Crespo, 20, has been charged with first-degree arson and burglary of an unoccupied structure after causing around a half million dollars in damage, according to a published report in the Miami Patch community newspaper.
Surveillance video of Melreese arson
No motive for the crime has been determined, and the suspect has not released a statement, according to police.
The fire, though, is just the latest bad news for the golf course, which is home to the local First Tee program and has been serving community golfers and visitors for years.
A few weeks ago, a group led by former soccer star David Beckham convinced Miami City Council to put a proposal on November's ballot that would build a new soccer complex on the property where Melreese Golf Course sits. The site would be the home of a new expansion Major League Soccer franchise owned by Beckham (an option he has exercised as part of the deal he signed to play for the L.A. Galaxy in 2007) and his partners, Miami brothers Jorge and Jose Mas. If voters approve, Melreese's days would be numbered. MLS is planning for the new franchise to begin play in 2020.
While supporters of the project contend that the new complex and MLS team will bring countless jobs and revenue to the area, Melreese, its golfers and supporters of The First Tee program are understandably upset that the golf course may close.
First off, in an area that's rich in high-end country clubs and resorts like Trump National Doral, affordable public golf (Miami residents get discounted rates) is far and few between. Throughout the years, the course has been known for its junior programs and tournaments. LPGA players Tracy Kerdyk, Christie Kerr, Patti Rizzo and Moira Dunn played there as juniors. And International Links Melreese Country Club is also home to University of Miami women's golf team as well as the men's teams from Barry University and Johnson and Wales University.
The 6,500-yard course was originally designed by Dick Wilson in 1961 and renovated five years later by Robert Trent Jones Sr. In 1997, the course underwent a $3.9 million renovation by Charles Mahannah. The course has five lakes, nine waste bunkers, 97 sand bunkers and a cypress wetland.
Tiger Woods, a PGA Tour rookie at the time, conducted a clinic during the reopening in front of 3,500 fans.
Another champion for the club is PGA Tour veteran Erik Compton, who has undergone two hear transplants. He's often seen out at Melreese practicing when not on tour. Compton was at the City Council meeting, voicing his support for keeping the course.
"I’ve had the opportunity to play very beautiful golf courses all around the world," Compton said, according to a story in the Sun Sentinel. "Melreese is a very special place. Soccer can fit in Miami, but not at Melreese. These kids have nowhere to go if you take away Melreese. Soccer doesn’t belong at Melreese. The kids belong there.