Bye, Bye Birdie: 2017 brought more notable golf course closures

This past year brought more painful golf course closures.

Golfers lost five of the best ocean holes on the eastern seaboard, one of the most exclusive (and expensive) Top 100 public golf courses in America, arguably the best public play in Kentucky and one of the "best modern designs" if you follow the preachings of Golfweek.

Losing this dynamic fourball - the Ocean Links at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation, Wynn Golf Club, Old Silo Golf Club and Wolf Run Golf Club - should surprise no one. Ocean Links was considered the stepchild of the three courses at the resort, Wynn was never more than a toy for casino mogul Steve Wynn , Kentucky doesn't attract many traveling golfers and Wolf Run has been a rumored casualty for years.

The final tally for course closures in 2017 won't be known for several months until the National Golf Foundation releases its annual report. Last year, 211.5 courses closed, according to the NGF, which projected "150 to 175" closures this year. In researching this story, I found dozens upon dozens of courses either closed or on the brink. Expect more of the same in 2018 as course supply continues to more properly align with customer demand.

The futures of high-profile places to play such as Bulle Rock Golf Club in Havre de Grace, Md., and two award-winning Mike Strantz designs in Virginia - The Tradition Golf Club at Stonehouse in Toano and The Tradition Golf Club At Royal New Kent in Providence Forge - are in limbo (Both Strantz courses no longer have operating websites). Pete Dye's Top 100 Bulle Rock, a former host of a major on the LPGA Tour, is for sale.

Municipal courses around the country from Stockton, Calif., to Tucson, Ariz., and beyond are also under attack as government officials look for ways to cut costs. Two prominent munis - Fitzsimons Golf Course in Aurora, Colo., (home to "Ike's Tree" named in honor of President Dwight Eisenhower ) and the Highland Park Country Club in Highland Park, Ill., - shuttered for good in December.

The final Deegan's Dozen of 2017 looks at 12 of the best golf courses to close this year:

12. Winchendon Golf Club, Winchendon, Mass.

Comment: Any time a course with a Donald Ross lineage dating to 1926 closes, it's time to shed a tear. Winchendon, adjacent to a prep school of the same name, never opened in 2017, according to a clubandresortbusiness.com story . Golf Advisor user 'u000007635743' titled her 2015 review 'Donald Ross Beauty but Getting Old'. She wrote: "If you like Donald Ross the golf course designer then you'll LOVE these greens. Quick, many false fronts and in GREAT shape. The rest of the course is very tough (conditions-wise). Many, many boulders coming up through the fairway plus you'll need to ride your golf cart like a jockey on the horse or you will need a chiropractor later. Some very tough par 3's and short nearly driveable par 4's."

11. San Geronimo Golf Club, San Geronimo, Calif.

Comment: The consensus best public course in Marin County north of San Francisco closes Dec. 31 after being bought by the county for a maximum of $8.85 million, according to a to a marinij.com story . The land trust buying the 157-acre golf course will thwart a potential sale to a private developer and "protect endangered central coast coho and threatened steelhead trout in (the) San Geronimo Creek and its tributary, Larsen Creek." Golfers lose a hilly and serene 6,801-yard course by Robert Muir Graves dating to the 1960s. Golf Advisor user 'u000004394450' wrote in his four-star review : "Its really so sad an area so beautiful will be just wild growth in a year. I feel for the people with the beautiful houses looking over the course. Soon it will just be wetland and they will lose serious money."

10. Cannon Ridge Golf Club, Fredricksburg, Va.

The birdhouse is the target on this blind shot into the par-5 16th hole at Cannon Ridge Golf Club in Virginia.

Comment: Cannon Ridge tried to make a comeback in 2016 after a multi-year closure, but it just wasn't meant to be for the demanding Deane Beman/Bobby Weed design on the outskirts of Washington D.C. Built upon a historic Civil War site in 2003, Cannon Ridge tried to piggy back on that theme with Civil War plaques spread throughout the routing. Golf Advisor user 'u00000304969' wrote in his review : "This has been one of my go-to courses since it reopened, and I'm sad to hear that it's closing at the end of this season. Conditions are above average - the putting surfaces are inconsistent, but the fairways are mostly outstanding (among the best I play all year). Layout is pretty challenging - quite a few forced carries, and you definitely should stick to the appropriate tees for your game. Hole #16 is a monster par-5 that is one of my favorites (and also one of my most-feared). And Hole #5 is probably the toughest par-4 I play all season. Thanks for the memories, Cannon Ridge. It's a shame to see you go."

9. River Ridge Golf Club, Sealy, Texas

Comment: Built in a floodplain, Hurricane Harvey was the final blow for the 27-hole facility, which closed in November, according to the Sealy News . Major floods have plagued the Jay Riviere design the past few years. Golf Advisor user 'ksdrewes' called River Ridge "worth the drive", writing in his 2014 review : "The 3 nines offer a wide variety of interesting holes that are both fair & fun to play. Practice facilities are ample & the new enclosed area by the food stand is great. Maintenance is usually excellent and I especially like their greens. They will hold mid-iron approach shots and, though usually on the quick side, they roll very true. All in all, one of the best courses in Houston area for the money."

8. Stoneridge Country Club, Poway, Calif.

Comment: The future of Stoneridge, a former LPGA Tour host from 1987-92, remains uncertain after local voters rejected a zoning change that would have led to redevelopment, according to a story at KPBS.org . During its heyday, Stoneridge hosted the Kyocera Inamori Classic, attracting winners such as Laura Davies (1991), Judy Dickinson, Kris Monaghan, Patti Rizzo and Ayako Okamoto (twice). As its pool, tennis and clubhouse facilities aged, it opened up to the limited public play before getting caught a political showdown with a local developer who also bought and closed the Escondido County Club.

7. Twin Lakes Golf Course, Canton, Texas

No. 33: Twin Lakes Golf Course, in Canton, Texas, opened in 1999 and can play over 7,200 yards.

Comment: Golf Advisor users loved Twin Lakes, voting it among the top courses in the country in the friendliest (no. 21), value (no. 6) and place of play (no. 10) categories in 2016, all of which added up to a fifth-place finish among the best courses of Texas . Unfortunately, a series of tornadoes hit the 1,000-acre property in April of 2017, causing significant damage that forced the Dekkers family to make the tough decision to close the 7,239-yard course designed by Robert Hay 17 years ago. "I live in Dallas, and this is by far my favorite golf course in Texas, and am very sad to see it close down!" wrote Golf Advisor user 'Ronny5465254' .

6. Thornapple Creek Golf Club, Kalamazoo, Mich.

Thornapple Creek will close Nov. 5 after being bought by a new owner.

Comment: My childhood home of Michigan has lost some good ones over the past decade - Elk Ridge (2016), Yarrow Golf & Conference Center (2015) and Tom Doak's High Point (2008). This year, the closures were personal. I last played Thornapple Creek during a college roommate's bachelor party in the 1990s. I recall a fun, wooded track with a great log-cabin clubhouse. Years later, I played my family's first three-generation round of golf with my dad and young son at the now closed Lower Huron Par 3 Course near my former home in Belleville. Thankfully, the golf course at Hudson Mills Metropark near Dexter - where I last played in a weekly golf league with Ann Arbor News colleagues a decade ago - got a five-year reprieve from closing, according to a livingstondaily.com story .

5. Old Silo Golf Club, Mount Sterling, Ky.

Comment: From its splashy debut in 2000, this Graham Marsh course east of Lexington was a fan favorite. Deteriorating conditions throughout 2016, though, haunted the course until it closed this May. Oddly, Golf Digest ranked Old Silo no. 1 among the state's public courses and ninth overall in its 2017-18 ratings released in June. Golf Advisor user 'shuttfu' ranted about the neglect in his review in October of 2016 : "I played this course because Golf Digest listed it as the #2 Best Public Course in Kentucky. The layout reflects that! It is an excellent challenging layout. Course conditions - horrible. It appears that the Grounds crew was greatly reduced. Weeds, lack of attention, overgrown plants, grass, bushes - etc. Very Poor condition. The wooden steps walking up to the Pro-shop are breaking apart and are dangerous!. Many holes had no ball washers, and half that did there was no towels, handle broken, no water. One of the locals that I talked to stated - ever since the owner die(d), his son took over and has stopped maintaining the course. ... I only paid $14 which included a cart - a great buy almost anywhere. But I think I overpaid!"

4. Heather Glen Golf Links, Little River, S.C.

Heather Glen Golf Links is surrounded by woods, not real estate, but that might change drastically by 2018 if the course is sold and redeveloped.

Comment: What a fall from grace for Heather Glen, named by Golf Digest the best new course in America when it opened in 1987. The 27-hole facility - Willard Byrd did its original 6,783-yard routing with Clyde Johnston adding nine more holes in 1990 - is set to become a real estate development according to a MyrtleBeachonline.com story , adding another casualty to the Grand Strand. Golf Advisor user 'rkimbrell' wrote in his review: "I wanted to play her one more time while I had the chance. This course never disappoints. Some very very good holes. Lots of character, challenging but fun to play."

3. Ocean Links at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation, Amelia Island, Fla.

The setting surrounding the sixth green of the Ocean Links golf course at Omni Amelia Island Plantation will inspire you.

Comment: The abrupt November closure of Ocean Links hits hard for this reason: There's nothing like playing golf on the ocean. Although the rest of the 6,108-yard course felt too much like hemmed-in, target golf, losing five magnificent ocean holes feels like a gut-punch to the game. I once ranked the scenic Pete Dye/Bobby Weed design among the best courses in America playing less than 6,500 yards .

2. Wolf Run Golf Club, Zionsville, Ind.

Comment: Wolf Run has been rumored to be closing for years as the owner shopped it around and began allowing public play to the once-proud private club. The Indianapolis Business Journal reports that Wolf Run will be redeveloped into 360 single-family homes, 200 multi-family housing units, 50,000 square feet of retail uses and 50,000 square feet of office space. The course could theoretically open next spring as the legal and rezoning process plays out, but the end seems inevitable. Truth be told, its demise is probably for the best. The Steve Smyers design is symbolic of golf's past sins. It opened in 1989 when harder, tougher, longer was the mantra. For most golfers, it's good riddance to designs like Wolf Run.

1. Wynn Golf Course, Las Vegas

Comment: I've already admitted that I'll miss the Wynn in reporting its closure Dec. 17 , but again, most golfers won't. The Tom Fazio design was too expensive for the masses, and you can debate all day whether it was worth the $500 price tag. It makes perfect business sense to turn the golf course's 137 acres into the Wynn Paradise Park. The $1.5-billion Paradise Park's 20-plus-acre lagoon with a beach, possibly another hotel tower and casino and extensive dining and nightlife attractions will be inclusive for all tourists instead of exclusive as a country club for golfers only.

Did a golf course near you that you loved to play close this year? Let us know in the comments below.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Bye, Bye Birdie: 2017 brought more notable golf course closures
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