I begin today's scribbling with a confession: I do root from time to time.
For starters, I'm relentlessly passionate about this column. I cheer its successes and regret its failures, because it's my conduit to you. In that regard, some cheering is allowed -- though it's unheard -- in the press box.
Which leads to another mea culpa: I love Diablo Grande, the financially troubled golf course, resort and community tucked into the scenic foothills southwest of Patterson. The Big Devil wasn't just another real estate development propped up by 7-irons and decorated by argyle sweaters. It was a vision, an idea dripping with optimism.
I live on property in Ripon where almond growers harvested their crops for decades. Yes, I must be held partly accountable for a sad reality -- the melting away of our most precious commodity, the rich agricultural soil that makes our valley the breadbasket of the world, all to squeeze in more people.
Diablo Grande was a response to that dilemma. Located 1,000 feet above the valley floor, it promised a forward-leaning community that took nothing, not a single acre, from our ag base. A portion of Stanislaus County's image hung on DG's future: Could we adjust to the new normals of the 21st century, or were we reduced to memories of George Lucas movies?
From that perspective, the Diablo Grande crisis has become a setback for all valley interests. The recent slowdown of the economy hit the project like a 2-by-4 to the jaw. Its two nationally-recognized golf courses, the Ranch and the Legends West, reopened this week after two sobering months of closures as employees were laid off. Diablo Grande, mired in overdue bills, lawsuits and water-related problems, was put up for sale last year. Since then, company vice president Dwain Sanders says two suitors nearly signed on the dotted line.
That tells us something very important: Though a major financial reorganization looms, Diablo Grande is not going to seed. People still are attracted to the vision. Goodness, an estimated 800 residents in 360 dwellings -- along with 84 golf club members -- invested their lifestyle and future in the vision. They deserve attention.
I'm pulling for Diablo Grande's rehab because of those people. Another thing: I'm a big fan of Donald Panoz, 73, the man behind the dream.
Panoz, the son of immigrants, turned two drugstores and the nicotine patch into a pharmaceutical empire. The son of a featherweight boxing champion, he's built race cars, lived large and thought big. There are reasons why Jack Nicklaus, Mario Andretti and the late Gene Sarazen have been drawn to him like bees to blossoms.
By the way, Panoz does not like to lose, whether it's Le Mans or the Central Valley. That said, imagine how he felt when he and his partners paid a reported $15 million out of their respective pockets in 2007 just to keep Diablo Grande close to solvent.
"We are working our way through this. We still have a good opportunity at Diablo Grande and we know what it can still mean to Stanislaus County," Panoz said during a visit to the resort Saturday as he and other officials planned the resort's next step.
"We've been blessed that Diablo Grande has two great courses and we've managed to keep them in shape so at least our members will have a place to play," Panoz continued. "We're going to move forward. We're looking for partners. We need to find some new money in a tough market. We had to make some decisions because the market has been dead."
Will Panoz bail out on Diablo Grande? The businessman in him probably screams, "See ya later, DG." I hope the fighter in him rubs the blood off his nose and says, "It's only Round 2."
To be honest, it's actually Round 12. Diablo Grande has labored through nonstop water issues and bouts with environmentalists. When the courses closed, wild pigs damaged the fairways. Men more squeamish than Panoz would have walked from this venture years ago.
"The reorganization doesn't mean we won't have some involvement," he said. "People forget this has been a 20-year project. We didn't sell our first house until 2003."
Still, dramatic changes are ahead at Diablo Grande. Twain Harte's Jeff Christensen, owner of Sierra Golf, already has assumed the resort's golf operation. The next owners, strong types who can withstand more red ink, eventually will arrive.
"It (his involvement) will depend on the market and how the reorganization goes. It will depend on the terms," Panoz said. "I really don't know how we wouldn't be involved."
I root for Diablo Grande because its idea is still as good as the man who hatched it.
Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2302.