Duffers delight. With decades having passed since L.A. got a new golf course, a rash of luxury or "high-end daily fee" links are streaming onto the local landscape.
No fewer than seven such courses are currently under construction in L.A. County and another nine are in various stages of planning, according to the National Golf Foundation.
Another sizable project is underway just over the L.A./Ventura County border the $25 million Lost Canyons Golf Club, being built among the rolling hills, meandering streams and towering oaks in Simi Valley.
The project, being done by developer Landmark National, will consist of two 18-hole courses designed by famed architect Pete Dye and a clubhouse. In addition to the $25 million first phase, there are also plans for a future phase with a 150-room hotel and 120 home lots ranging from a half acre to more than 100 acres.
In Los Angeles, the recent wave of golf course building started with the Cascades Golf Club in Sylmar, which opened in December 1999. It was the first Los Angeles County course to open in 35 years, according to Bob Thomas, director of communications for the Southern California Golf Association in North Hollywood.
"It's very clear that Los Angeles County is an under-served area of golf," Thomas said. "The lack of land has been a major delay in course development. But, as people move to the northern (San Fernando) Valley, there's now enough people in that area to justify golf courses out there."
Although Los Angeles County has 123 courses, the fourth-highest total of any county in the nation, it ranks nearly last on the basis of courses per capita. The national average for holes per 100,000 people is 80, and Los Angeles has 20 placing it 316th out of 317 major metropolitan areas in the United States.
Other new courses that have opened in the past seven months include Sterling Hills Golf Club in Camarillo, Tierra Rejada in Moorpark and Robinson Ranch in Santa Clarita.
These are not inexpensive, municipal courses, which typically host more than 100,000 rounds a year and charge modest green fees of around $20. The new projects plan for around 60,000 rounds per year and will charge from $60 on weekdays to $135 on weekends. That means golfers have a better chance of getting on a course and finishing in a timely fashion than they do on city-owned courses.
"It's hard for the munis to maintain a course when they have so many rounds coming through," Thomas said. "If a course has less rounds and charges higher prices, that course has the potential to maintain a high quality of excellence."
In addition, golfers can bask in amenity-rich surroundings. For instance, aside from the plush clubhouse and magnificent vistas, Lost Canyons will include a "forecaddie" in every round to assist with strategy, direction and club selection. The first Lost Canyons course is scheduled to open in October and the second in December.
At Tierra Rejada in Moorpark, the staff provides curbside service, cleaning clubs after a round and even carrying them to patrons' cars.
Such service justifies the price, say industry experts, though initially the high green fees can be a tough sell.
"They flinch at the price at the beginning, but once they see this isn't your daily $20 course, they appreciate it. We're like a country club without charging the $150,000 membership fee," said Dan Donovan, director of operations for Tierra Rejada.
Overcoming L.A.'s hurdles
Not to say that getting these courses built has been easy.
Lost Canyons was on the drawing board for two decades after Hirasawa Inc., a Japanese development company, purchased the site, but encountered delays in obtaining approvals and permits. Originally, plans called for 400 residential units, which would have involved moving 10 million cubic yards of dirt and upsetting the area's ecological balance.
Marlboro, Md.-based Landmark National came aboard and took a 50 percent stake in the project in 1996, scaling back the development to 100 units to help propel it forward. Landmark was originally affiliated with the Landmark Land Co., which built a slew of courses in the 1980s, including La Quinta Hotel Golf and Tennis Resort and PGA West in La Quinta.
Another local course jammed in the pipeline was Red Tail in the Tujunga Wash, which was originally proposed 15 years ago. Issues that have held up development included maintaining the sensitive habitat of the Slender Horn Spine Flower, as well as determining who has regulatory jurisdiction over the wash. After receiving clearance five months ago, the developer, Orlando-Fla.-based Foothills Golf Development is moving forward with the course, which could be finished in the next year.
Even natural calamities can occur. The 9-year-old Ocean Trails site in Rancho Palos Verdes has experienced a string of woes including the bluff-top 18th hole sliding into the Pacific, as well as resident complaints about the project. It is currently still under development.
Such delays are to be expected, say experts.
"California, including Los Angeles, is a leader in development hurdles and it can take six months to 20 years to get a golf project completed," said Mike Dingman, president of Environmental Golf, a golf development and management firm in Calabasas. "Often, these courses are on sites, such as landfills or pristine landscapes, that involve intense negotiations."
Mike Kerney director of construction for Landmark National, thinks the longstanding dearth of new golf course developments has created a pent-up demand for golf in the region.
"The beauty of what we're doing is that it's another golf segment. There's enough to offer a little something for everybody," Kerney said. "There's plenty of golf to support these facilities."
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