The Pellucid Perspective - March 2014 - (Page 9)

course closures Historic course going back to nature By Jim Dunlap W ith U.S. golf courses closing at a rate of nearly 16 times the number of new course openings in 2013, the word that another is likely to close is hardly news. What sets apart the apparent demise of San Luis Rey Downs in the horse country of northern San Diego County are the historic elements of the 53 year-old course and the escape clause its owners found to get out from under the money-losing property. Designed by Billy Bell Jr. in 1961 shortly after he crafted 2008 (and recently announced 2021) U.S. Open site Torrey Pines, San Luis Rey Downs is the subject of hearings currently being held by local agencies and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate a bid by the Conservation Land Group to buy some or all of the property on which the course sits and revert it to its original wetlands habitat for the purpose of creating wetlands mitigation banking credits for sale. While most of the increasingly common golf course closures in the U.S. result in some form of repurposing of the land, either for new commercial or residential development or merely conversion to open space or parkland, recreation of wetlands habitat is relatively rare. Other forms of conservation or habitat credits for sale to developers or governmental agencies in need of them are more common, and have been utilized by golf courses which continue to operate, generally by tweaking the design and use of course property to return a portion of the acreage to its natural state. Credits based on the amount and type of land involved may then be sold to parties who require them in order to mitigate or compensate for similar areas that their development projects may compromise. "The overall concept [of wetlands restoration] is to restore historic aquatic functions," said Tim DeGraff, a senior vice president for WRA Environmental, which will oversee the repurposing of the property. "If you look at aerials of the site, you see the San Luis Rey River, Moosa Creek and the flood plain, which make it a wetland/flood plain site. Based on those things, it's a pre-approved [wetlands] mitigation area, and there are not very many sites like that which are suitable. This one has particularly good potential because of the historical nature of the property. It was formerly a wetlands area, and there is also an ongoing liability because of flooding along the roads surrounding the property." The San Luis Rey Downs course was developed by the Vessels family, headed by Frank and Millie Vessels, who were some of the country's leading breeders of thoroughbred and quarterhorse racing stock, and founders of the Vessels Stallion Farm, designed by their son Frank 'Scoop' Vessels. Father and son operated the golf course as a labor of love primarily, but the senior Vessels died in the early 70's and 'Scoop' died in a plane crash in 2010. The surviving members of the family are apparently less attached to the course, or at least not attached enough to continue what a family representative told a February public meeting has been nine straight years of losing money. That money drain, combined with a looming enforcement order to correct an area on the property where a fatal car crash occurred during a heavy rain period, as well as the virtual certainty that the Conservation Land Group offer for the property would be substantially higher than any golf course buyer would offer, has likely sealed the fate of the course, pending local agency and Army Corps of Engineers approvals. If approved, the deal figures to be a profitable one for both the Vessels family and Conservation Land Group, a Bay Areabased mitigation banker. The Highway 76 East-West corridor which runs past the course property is being widened, and the state transportation agency, Caltrans, and a local governmental development agency, SANDAG, will need the hard to find wetlands mitigation credits. Not unexpectedly, there is a fair amount of local opposition to the proposed course closure from homeowners adjoining the course, whose complaints will receive some consideration, as well as from local golfers, whose probably will not, to any great extent. Homeowners contend that their property values will decline if the course goes away, but in the end, if all the regulatory agencies approve the plan, it appears the end may be in sight. Given the nature of the bureaucratic beast, any closure is probably not imminent, however. San Luis Rey Downs Head Pro Greg Milligan, who said the course did around 50,000 rounds last year, said he has been told that the course would remain open for business as usual at least through the end of this year. There are no guarantees after that point, however, and the course where CBS golf commentator Gary McCord used to while away the hours matching strokes (and undoubtedly bar tabs) with regulars like Fairway Louie and Unemployed Lloyd, as chronicled in his hilarious book "Just a Range Ball in a Box of Titleists," will be no more. n While most of the increasingly common golf course closures in the u.s. result in some form of repurposing of the land, either for new commercial or residential development or merely conversion to open space or parkland, recreation of wetlands habitat is relatively rare. www.PellucidCorp.com The Pellucid PersPecTive 9 http://WWW.PELLUCIDCORP.COM

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Pellucid Perspective - March 2014

TOC
Where is golf pricing headed in 2014?
The feminine touch
Colorado Section PGA enters tee time fray
Historic course going back to nature
February '14 golf weather impact: Tough sledding for golf
Overdevelopment storm still blankets Minneapolis
ClubCorp acquires Prestonwood CC and its two courses
The crime of the century

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