ESCONDIDO, Calif. -- While many golf course architects are lengthening courses during renovation work, David Fleming shrank the new Boulder Oaks Golf Club as part of a $6.2 million redesign.
Will a 5,726-yard course be long enough to attract a wide range of golfers?
That's the key question surrounding the former 6,524-yard Meadow Lakes Golf Club, which had worn out its welcome in its community 40 miles north of San Diego due to deteriorating conditions. Now renamed Boulder Oaks, the course reopened nine holes Feb. 19 after being closed since last July. The remaining holes will open by the end of March, according to General Manager Rex Choe.
"I think shorter is better," Choe said. "We will set it up with five tee boxes. Championship courses are 7,200 yards. Nobody wants to play there. Sometimes I visit different executive courses. They make a lot of money."
Fleming, the founder of Golf Properties Design in El Cajon, Calif., spearheaded Boulder Oaks' transformation. He has carved a niche for himself by reducing turf on golf courses in California and Mexico that are struggling with the rising costs of maintaining and watering so much grass in a prolonged drought. He removed 71 acres of turf, leaving roughly 30 acres of fairways at Boulder Oaks. A turf reduction reimbursement program from the Metropolitan Water District essentially paid for the redesign.
Fleming says the new length better caters to the aging crowd that lives nearby and plays regularly at Boulder Oaks.
"We were pretty careful not to take out playable turf," Fleming said. "One percent of the golfers want long. The rest of us want to get a par once in a while."
Fleming changed virtually every hole. He eliminated several old holes from the back nine. He replaced turf with native plants that don't require watering, manufactured sand and mulch called 'gorilla hair, i.e. shaved Redwood trees. Planted Cork Oak trees will eventually grow large enough to become barriers to protect roads and houses, he said.
The tee system is particularly forward-thinking, so to speak. He calls the front tees 'B' and 'E' tees, meaning "beginners" and "elders."
"They are way up front," Fleming said. "They (golfers) only have to carry 20 yards over decomposed granite (sand) to get to the fairway. The guys from the back tees have to carry it about 150 yards. If they can't do that, they better move up or take a lesson."
Choe indicated the course could have rack rates of $45 on weekdays and $65 on weekends once the course conditions mature.
"Everybody really likes it," he said. "The course is not 100 percent ready. We need time. The turf will take time. In two to three months, it will be a five-star rating."
Boulder Oaks: Two key solutions for golf industry
Is Boulder Oaks the future of golf in California?
Fleming believes the course provides two key solutions for the industry: Lower maintenance costs for owners, and shorter rounds for players.
"You can have fun on a short course, and it doesn't take all day," he said. "You should be able to play this in two and a half to three hours.