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Diablo Grande’s Legends golf course falls victim to the drought

The water is being turned off, effective immediately, at the Legends Course at Diablo Grande, but play could continue until sometime in April.
The water is being turned off, effective immediately, at the Legends Course at Diablo Grande, but play could continue until sometime in April.

The drought will force Diablo Grande to close its famed Legends golf course, one of the area’s most prestigious.

Its less-esteemed Ranch Course is more visible at the luxury community’s gateway and will continue to welcome golfers.

Restrictions on water use such as designated lawn-watering days recently were slapped on the resort community’s 437 homes. Residents face the prospect of steeper bills as Diablo Grande’s water district scrambles to buy relatively small amounts of water at an astronomical price.

Diablo Grande on Friday notified neighbors that watering has stopped at the Legends course, although some tournaments and booked rounds will continue for a few weeks. Some were not surprised at the bad news about the Legends course.

“We all need to suck it up,” said Bill Lindley. “I’d much rather they cut off water to a golf course and give it to a farmer.”

The 18-hole Legends course was designed by golf luminaries Jack Nicklaus and Gene Sarazen. It opened in 1998 and has been one of the big draws for the community in dramatic hills west of Patterson, earning high praise from Golf Digest and discriminating golfers.

“Each course has great qualities,” said Philip Cybert, chief executive officer of Laurus Corp., which owns the project. “The Ranch course is the gateway. The first thing you see is the Ranch course,” and neighbors urged Laurus to keep it open, he said.

Diablo Grande will allow tournaments and golf rounds already booked at the Legends course to continue until its links degrade and are no longer playable, probably by April or May. After that, booked tournaments can move to the Ranch course, which could get congested on weekends, but greens fees are not expected to rise.

Thousands of farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta have been told to expect no irrigation water this year from the two government-run networks of reservoirs and canals: the State Water Project and the federal government’s Central Valley Project. The former is a source for the Kern County Water Agency, which sells water to Diablo Grande’s public utility, the Western Hills Water District.

Diablo Grande’s homes, vineyard and golf courses typically use 1,200 acre-feet of water each year, but will try to get by with one-third that amount in 2014 – and some feel fortunate to get that much.

Scared by limited availability in 2008 and 2009, Western Hills negotiated for the right to bank up to 500 acre-feet for use in dry years, and has set aside 2,000 acre-feet since. Faced with no water from its usual source this year, the Western Hills board last month decided to purchase 400 of the 2,000 banked acre-feet, at a premium price.

The board might not know the exact cost for a few weeks, but expects to pay from $1,300 to $2,500 per acre-foot. By comparison, the city of Modesto last year paid about $10 an acre-foot for surface water treated by the Modesto Irrigation District.

David Hobbs, Western Hills’ assistant general counsel, said once the price is known, the board will initiate a rate hike. Under California law, such proposals go through if less than half of a utility’s customers protest.

Western Hills’ contract obligates it to pay Kern County Water Agency the same amount whether it receives water or not, and has been hit with a bill for $875,000. The undetermined price for the banked 400 acre-feet will come on top of that.

While all nine cities in Stanislaus County rely to some degree on pumped well water, Diablo Grande has no access to groundwater. Terms of a lawsuit settlement say Western Hills can only use the nearby Marshall Davis well if a catastrophe disables canals and pumps from its California Aqueduct source, such as an earthquake.

In a typical year, Diablo Grande’s vineyard and two golf courses use 78 percent of the community’s water. This year, about 200 acre-feet will go to homes, and the Ranch course – which normally uses 500 acre-feet – will have to make do with 200 acre-feet.

“We’re trying to have a balanced approach and make sure the community is taken care of,” Cybert said.

“The good news is we’ve gone through a massive recession and Diablo Grande is a very viable community,” he continued. “Diablo Grande is a great place to live.”

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