Golf Drought: Rash of course closures plague California

It's not a surprise that golf courses in California are closing.

What's surprising is the quality of the facilities going under.

The ongoing drought -- I can't remember the last time I felt a drop of rain at my house in San Jose -- has pushed many once-proud golf facilities to extinction. Water costs are high. Competition is higher. Participation is lower than before the recession a decade ago. That equation doesn't add up for golf course owners and operators.

This summer alone, California has lost two Pete Dye designs at Lost Canyons Golf Club in Simi Valley north of Los Angeles; the nearby Mountain Course at Robinson Ranch Golf Club in Santa Clarita; Empire Lakes Golf Club, an Arnold Palmer-designed course in Rancho Cucamonga east of L.A. that hosted the Web.com Tour; and Roddy Ranch Golf Club in Antioch, a popular value play in the Bay Area.

A recording left for anyone who calls Lost Canyons indicates the club has ceased operations until it gets permitting for a "planned" redesign of its 36 holes, possibly into a more sustainable 18-hole routing by Gil Hanse. It could be years, if ever, that tee times resume. "Thank you for your patronage in the past and your patience moving forward," the recording says.

Meanwhile, Robinson Ranch plans to reopen a completely renovated Valley Course in September following significant damage from the highly publicized Salt fire. The Mountain Course has been closed for several months due to the drought.

San Diego has lost four area stalwarts since 2013: the private-turned-public Escondido Country Club, San Luis Rey Downs in Bonsall (2014), the course at the former Carmel Highland Golf Resort in San Diego (2015), and the most recent victim, Fallbrook Golf Club in Fallbrook. The browned-out Fallbrook closed July 26, 2016, and is actively seeking a buyer, according to its Web site. Locals have launched a website, www.savefallbrookgolfcourse.com, in an attempt to bring the course back to life.

The sweltering Central Valley has shuttered three layouts at prominent facilities since 2014. Diablo Grande Golf & Country Club in Patterson and Ridgemark Golf & Country Club have each gone from 36 holes to just 18. Stevinson Ranch Golf Club, once a top-20 public course in California, closed in a blaze of glory in mid-July of 2015, getting its final day immortalized in a feature by Golf Magazine.

That same year, the Bay Area lost a handful of nine-holers -- Grayson Woods in Pleasant Hill, Springtown in Livermore and Pine Meadow in Martinez -- and the 36-hole Sunol Valley Golf Club near Sunol. Interestingly, Shadow Lakes Golf Club in Brentwood remains open, but only on weekends and random weekdays to save on costs. It continues to receive decent reviews on Golf Advisor. User leespalace gave it three stars, writing: "All things considered it was in better condition than expected."

Even swanky places aren't immune to the state's golf problems.

The once-exclusive Malibu Golf Club closed in 2015 after its owners filed for bankruptcy, and the 36-hole Rancho Canada Golf Club in Carmel, a rare affordable place to play on the pricey Monterey Peninsula, will close its two courses in December after its land lease expires.

Meanwhile, the Coachella Valley, which includes Palm Springs, La Quinta and other popular snowbird getaways in the SoCal desert, has fared well through the drought because its water supply from a deep aquifer is stable, which keeps costs manageable. The area did say goodbye in 2015 to Santa Rosa Golf Club in Palm Desert, and to Rancho Mirage Country Club, but there are still more than 100 courses staying green in the region.

Editor's Note: It has been reported that the Marshallia Ranch Golf Course, a public course on the Vandenberg Air Force Base along the central coast, has closed as well.

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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Golf Drought: Rash of course closures plague California
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