I've written extensively about the gloom and doom of golf course closures since 2015.
Thankfully, not all of them have returned to nature or become housing developments. A handful of public courses in America have made miraculous comebacks to reopen for business after closures.
These grand re-openings are happening for all sorts of reasons: New owners, lawsuits, government intervention, etc. You may be thinking what I'm thinking: Why would someone spend millions of dollars to revive a course that has already proven it will fail?
In one case in southern California, Danuel Stanger believes these types of courses can succeed with the right business model. Stanger, the vice chairman of the Bridge Investment Group in Salt Lake City, Utah, said his investment firm bought Moreno Valley Ranch, a 27-hole Pete Dye design in Moreno Valley, Calif., 85 miles east of Los Angeles, to ultimately expand its 177-unit apartment complex nearby. Reviving 18 holes of a course shuttered since August 2015 -- plus transforming the other nine into a community space with a five-kilometer walking and jogging path, a combined Footgolf/disc golf course and outdoor exercise equipment -- is a big part of what will help attract new tenants to the 417-unit, $80-million apartment complex it hopes to build. Stanger said the course should reopen in October with construction on the high-rise apartment buildings along holes 1 and 9 starting next year.
"My belief is there are more courses that need to go to the golf graveyard or be repurposed into what we’ve done here," Stanger said. "The nature of the world today and the younger population, they are not as focused on owning a home and second homes. They are more into community lifestyle, into amenities and that type of energy. Repurposing in that type of vein in association with golf can make them (the courses) viable again. Adding the additional amenities, it creates a tremendous lifestyle choice that has only been available to retirees or resort areas. It can be done inside any municipality as long as land use is looked at creatively. Once this opens up, it will not only be wonderful for Moreno Valley, but an exciting look at what can be done for golf in general."
The rebirth of Moreno Valley Ranch is just one of the remarkable public golf course comebacks in America showcased in my latest Deegan's Dozen. All of these courses have been closed at least 2-3 years before getting another chance. Where they rank reflects how likely/unlikely is its comeback and how good is the course that has emerged.
In doing the research, I especially loved finding the stories of shuttered and then revived nine-hole courses. These courses are arguably more important to their communities than the higher-profile courses featured in the list below. The nine-hole River Valley Community Golf Course in Canton, Mo., and the Apple Grove Golf Course, a 2,077-yard nine-hole course in Minot, N.D., spent a combined 11 years closed before opening for business in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Often, these stories involve hard-working, dedicated locals who love the game too much to give up on it. They don't want to see their golf courses, and greenspace, disappear. Read about River Valley here and Apple Grove here.
High-end private clubs have sprung back to life in recent years as well, showing off the power of big money. Clear Creek in Carson City, Nev., near Lake Tahoe closed briefly from 2011-13 before the private community centered around a dynamic Coore & Crenshaw design began taking shape with more home lot sales. Now Clear Creek, with its beach club along the lake and mountain golf campus of real estate, hiking trails, pools and sport courts, is one of the most impressive private clubs I've seen. The Cornerstone Club in Montrose, Colo., closed in 2014 amid a spat of lawsuits and problems under various owners but will reopen its Greg Norman course this summer after a renovation by architect Matthew Dusenberry, according to Golf Course Architecture. The Snake River Sporting Club in Jackson Hole, Wy., opened its Tom Weiskopf course in 2006 and then closed it during the recession. New owners rescued Snake River for a grand return in 2013.
In a slightly different vein, Tiger Woods celebrated the opening of his first U.S. course, the private Bluejack National, in 2016, a design built on top of Blaketree National, a public course in Montgomery, Texas, that closed four years earlier in 2012. It also should be noted that Kohanaiki has also made incredible strides, considering the stunning Rees Jones design on Hawaii Island was ready for play as early as 2008 but sat fallow for five years until officially opening in 2013. This exclusive club and community has grown exponentially since, becoming one of the most luxurious second-home destinations in the Hawaiian Islands.
Other comebacks are still in the works. The Wingpointe Golf Course, a links-style city municipal course adjacent to the Salt Lake City International Airport in Utah, closed in late 2015, but is reportedly getting a lifeline to open within a few years, thanks to a public-private partnership willing to spend an estimated $7 million to rejuvenate the course, according to The Deseret News. Consider me a skeptic until it happens. The Prince Course at Princeville might end up being the greatest golf course comeback of all time should it ever reopen on Kauai. For now, let's celebrate the best public courses that have risen from the dead or are in the middle of a resurrection.
Do you have a course in your community that has made a miracle comeback? Do you believe these courses should reopen or be used for something different? Share your thoughts in the comments below:
South course at Bayou Oaks at City Park, New Orleans, La.
It took 12 years of battling government red tape to give City Park the bucket-list golf locals and tourists deserve. Hurricane Katrina wiped out 72 holes at City Park in 2005 with only the shorter, par-67 North course at Bayou Oaks emerging in the immediate aftermath. Our Brandon Tucker reviewed the South course at Bayou Oaks during its grand reopening week in April 2017, celebrating the playability of the new design by Rees Jones. Tucker writes:
"There are only 46 bunkers and most holes have only have one -- if any -- bunkers to worry about off the tee. These traps seem to be places more for directional purposes than to gobble golf balls. The greens are large and are generally very receptive in front for low-running shots and there are very few forced carries. Many holes have doglegs, oftentimes framed by marvelous oaks."Course closures coverage
Ocean Links at Omni Amelia Island Plantation, Amelia Island, Florida
Ocean Links, a short but scenic Pete Dye design right on the Atlantic Ocean, is being saved in the most unlikely way - a judge's ruling - leading to this high ranking. Without warning, the course closed November of 2017 when the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort began bulldozing some of its holes with plans to create a park instead. The Amelia Island Equity Club responded with a lawsuit against the resort. Our Mike Bailey reported that Nassau County Judge Steven Fahlgren ruled that the resort violated an agreement with the members club and must restore the course to "the condition that existed on November 12, 2017, by no later than October 31, 2019."
An appeal by the resort is still in progress, so stay tuned if Ocean Links actually opens by the deadline this fall. How will the resort treat a course it was forced to reopen? It's a question that needs answering. I always enjoyed my rounds on the 6,100-yard Ocean Links because target golf is my strong suit. I captured a few good photos during a 2014 visit to promote the Golf Channel's Big Break show held at the resort. Our Matt Ginella should be pleased with the comeback, since it's the site of his only hole in one.
Wynn Country Club, Las Vegas, Nevada
My jaw literally dropped when I first heard that the Wynn was bringing back its Tom Fazio course later this year and scaling back its plans for Paradise Park, a giant lake/entertainment venue. I covered the Wynn's course closure in December of 2017 extensively and the message was clear: The land along the Strip was too valuable to be used by a handful of high-rollers as their own country club for a day. Only when the course was gone did the Wynn realize its value. Suddenly, the affluent golfers who would stay and gamble at the hotel quit coming, causing a significant hit to the bottom line. The Wynn has brought the old gang back together again, hiring its long-time Director of Golf Brian Hawthorne to oversee operations. Fazio will redesign the course to fit what land remains. I can't wait to see what emerges, what the green fees might be and if golfers embrace one of the game's most polarizing courses.
Reflection Bay Golf Club, Henderson, Nevada
It took five years for Reflection Bay to emerge from its 2009 closure, but there were still lingering casualties. Only the Nicklaus course reopened in 2014 after a renovation tweaked a few holes and removed or changed the location of a number of bunkers. The greens were resodded with T1 bentgrass. The Weiskopf course stayed fallow, although four holes, practice greens and a 30,000-square-foot practice tee are being used for a golf school run by Craig Barlow and Jeff Gallagher. Unfortunately, there's no range for the public, only a makeshift hitting net with artificial mats. It's not the best way to prepare playing a former host course of the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge. Beyond that, the whole experience easily ranks among my favorites surrounding Sin City. Five really good holes skirt Lake Las Vegas.
Rams Hill Golf Club, Borrego Springs, California
It took some real vision to revive a course with no water supply in the middle of a desert and a somewhat checkered past.
Rams Hill opened in 1983 as a 27-hole Ted Robinson design 90 miles northeast of San Diego near the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. In the 2000s, Tom Fazio was hired to transform the routing into 18 holes called the Montesoro Golf & Social Club. Montesoro had a short-lived run from 2007 to 2010 before closing at the height of the recession, leaving property owners who bought homes in the neighborhood high and dry.
The lack of water, especially during California's prolonged drought, would have doomed lesser courses, but Rams Hill reopened in 2014 and has been embraced by SoCal golfers as a high-end, scenic escape. Excellent service, good conditions and interesting design elements (shapely bunkers, kick points near greens, water hazards, etc.) are the reasons Rams Hill continues to be ranked by Golf Advisor users among the best public courses nationally - No. 1 in 2016, No. 4 in 2017, No. 13 in 2018.
Kananaskis Country Golf Course, Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada
Following the devastating floods of the Kananaskis River and surrounding waterways in June 2013, the Canadian government didn't appear ready to support rebuilding the silt-covered Mount Kidd and Mount Lorette courses at the Kananaskis Country Golf Course. Fortunately for golfers, the courses were deemed too important to the local economy to simply disappear. Five years later, it cost more than $23 million, according to the Calgary Herald, to bring the original Robert Trent Jones Sr. courses back to life in 2018. The slightly tweaked modern versions by local architect Gary Brownlee are supposed to be easier for the tourists who come for the scenery as much as a game of golf.
Moreno Valley Ranch, Moreno Valley, California
Vandalism in 2018 and torrential rains this winter have wreaked havoc at Moreno Valley Ranch. Architect Jon Garner is working to soften the Dye course. Stanger estimates the cost to rebuild the course at $5 million-$6 million and another $1 million for the clubhouse. "I would argue it still will be a strong championship course," he added. "The views are spectacular."
Stanger admitted that his investment firm will be selling the course eventually because it is not in the golf business. CSC Golf Management is spearheading construction and will oversee operations when it opens. Part of the agreement with the city includes the course hosting a Boys & Girls Club event once a year that could become an annual fundraiser.
"What I love about what is happening, it is a win-win-win for everybody," Stanger said. "It will work out well for us for the development and the apartment community and bringing golf back to the community. It will be a better golf course than what was there."
The Monster Golf Course, Kiamesha Lake, New York
Its scary name and sheer length were both a blessing and a curse for the original Monster Golf Course built in 1963 adjacent to the old Concord Hotel Resort in the Catskill Mountains 95 miles northwest of New York City. Architect Joe Finger stretched the course to more than 7,600 yards long, making it the world's longest before the building boom of the 1990s made 8,000-yard courses an unfortunate fad. Legendary pros like Jimmy Demaret, Gene Sarazen and Jackie Burke Jr. came to tame the beast in its heyday before it eventually closed in 2015. Enter Rees Jones, who has built an entirely new front nine and repurposed the land of the old front nine into a back nine with plenty of new personal touches. Overall, the goal was to make the new 7,325-yard routing more enjoyable for guests of the Resort World Catskills, a new casino project spearheaded by Empire Resorts, and the new Kartrite Resort & Indoor Waterpark, a family-friendly accommodation opening later this month. Nine holes are scheduled to debut this fall with the other nine set for summer 2020.
Black Jack's Crossing, Lajitas, Texas
The original Roy Bechtel- and Randy Russell-designed golf course at Lajitas Golf Resort & Spa in the Big Bend Country of south Texas had a short life. Just a couple of years after the Ambush at Lajitas opened, the layout -- which had a novelty par-3 that actually played over the Rio Grande into Mexico (no golf ball retrieval possible) – was wiped out by a flood in 2008.
So a few years later, under new ownership, a new course was built, not in the flood plains, but among the buttes and mesas of the Chisos Mountains. The new Black Jack's Crossing Course, designed by World Golf Hall of Fame member Lanny Wadkins, has elevated tees, winding holes, plenty of bunkers and paspalum greens and fairways. Opened in 2011, this is a course that has enjoyed lofty rankings in the state (perennial rated as the best public course in Texas by the Dallas Morning News) despite its remote location. The vistas are almost Grand Canyon-like and a stay there includes much more than golf. Lajitas Golf Resort not only has comfortable accommodations but also horseback riding, zip-lining, hunting, hiking, river tours and jeep tours. - Mike Bailey
LochenHeath Golf Club, Williamsburg, Michigan
For the first half of its life, LochenHeath struggled to find its niche. The Steve Smyers course, which opened in 2001, was designed to be difficult and cater to a membership as a private club. Unfortunately, Michigan's "Lost Decade" - where it shed hundreds of thousands of jobs from 2000-2010 - never allowed it to gain traction, especially in an area already saturated with plenty of golf. The 54-hole Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Acme, home of The Bear, is literally right across the street.
LochenHeath closed in 2008 and seemed destined to follow the same fate as the nearby High Pointe Golf Club, which ultimately closed, despite being one of Tom Doak's first courses. A dedicated crew of a dozen homeowners looking to protect their investment kept the grounds at LochenHeath somewhat manicured before a new owner eventually reopened the course in 2011. The club continues to build toward a fully private membership, although it still allows limited public access. According to a recent article in clubandresortbusiness.com, LochenHeath plans to invest $1.8 million in luxury cottages to attract more members in its push toward becoming a sustainable private club.
Royal New Kent and the Tradition at Stonehouse, Virginia
It made sense to lump these two embattled Mike Strantz courses together because they were owned by the same company before shuttering at the end of 2017. Both will make similar comebacks with new owners later this year. Our Tim Gavrich has been on top of this story, reporting that Royal New Kent in Providence Forge will open March 29 and Stonehouse in Toano by July. It's great that the artistry of Strantz will endure but the question still remains: Can the new staff dial in conditioning on courses that are traditionally hard and expensive to maintain? Finding a happy medium will ultimately determine if these comebacks are successful long term.
The Club at Sunrise, Las Vegas, Nevada
A 2012 flood ravaged the old Desert Rose Golf Course, and after a brief, but failed attempt to reopen the following year, the course closed in 2013 with an uncertain future ahead. The Regional Flood Control District stepped up to give the course a $150-million mulligan, moving up plans to enlarge a flood channel, according to the Las Vegas Journal-Review, that allowed the layout to be redesigned. The Club at Sunrise emerged in 2016 with some new holes and a new clubhouse. The 6,502-yard municipal course, owned by Clark County but managed by KemperSports, gets mostly good reviews on Golf Advisor, although sometimes players are put off by the size of the flood channel.