The 36-hole complex was routinely a site for large tournaments because of its capacity. The addition of several new golf courses over the last 15-20 years (Poppy Ridge with 27 holes in Livermore, the Course at Wente Vineyards, Dublin Ranch, the Bridges and Callippe Preserve in Pleasanton) has broaden the options for players.
Sunol remained a good value, but you can play Dublin Ranch during the week for the same amount of money and get a course that generally is in excellent condition. It’s similar at Callippe, while Poppy, Wente and the Bridges all are designed for higher green fees with service and conditions to match.
The competition for all courses stiffened during the recession when country clubs, seeing membership drop, sharpened their pencils significantly when bidding for the tournament business.
To compete, Sunol needed to be redesigned and updated, but that would be a huge capital expense for a complex that has seen its rounds plummeted from 130,000 in the late 1990s to less than 68,000 (about what Callippe is doing annually with 18 holes. Throw in, according to a Bay Area Newspaper Group Report, that the costs of water have soared 500 percent in the last four years.
The land is leased from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and is irrigated with Hetch Hetchy system water. It is about halfway through a 25-year lease.
The challenge for the PUC, should no new operator emerge, is what to do with the land other than let it become open space surrounding a large clubhouse building that likely could continue to operate as an event center.
It’s not the only older Tri-Valley course with an uncertain future.
Last week, the Livermore City Council delayed a final decision on what to do with the now-closed Springtown nine-hole course. The previous operator ceased operations this fall telling the city it cannot continue to run the course with the mounting losses. The operator was a landscaping company, not a golf course firm. Springtown has never been close to the caliber of city’s municipal complex at Las Positas, but it fit a niche for older golfers who wanted to play a leisurely round and those learning the game.
Public Works Director Darren Greenwood has been telling concerned Springtown residents since the summer that he would recommend the course be closed and it would become brown space that would be mowed four times a year.
The council decided to pursue two paths: a privately-funded redevelopment of the homeowners’ association’s clubhouse and facilities that could produce enough money to possibly allow the golf course to continue operations; or make it open space that is available to the public.
For homeowners with backyards made up of the golf course, golfers are much preferable. Any open space, particularly the brown space that the city originally was planning, would mean an immediate plunge in housing values.
The golf course suffered financially because the drought took away its normal source of water from winter runoff and the city charged full retail for water from a fire hydrant. If the city had done what Pleasanton did—rent a water truck to provide recycled water—the finances would look a lot better. That was about 40 percent of the loss—paying retail for potable water used for irrigation.
Having attended a couple of meetings with the Springtown association folks, I think there is a middle ground that includes an assessment district for residents bordering the golf course with better management coming from the city or a private operator. The operator is going to need lots more cooperation from the city—such as help with the water and, perhaps, a modest subsidy.
One additional note: nobody wanted the 85 acres used even partially for housing. So, Councilman Stu Gary proposed a citywide vote that would lock that up in perpetuity unless the citizens voted to change it.
This is unnecessary and ties the hands of future city councils. At one level, it is a neighborhood issue—not a citywide concern. The golfers can come from anywhere, but those affected live in Springtown. Secondly, there’s no need to submit items like this to voters—it is a City Council matter and voters can change council members every two years.