Editorials

As fate of Diablo Grande course wavers, so too does one of Modesto’s public courses

The demise of Diablo Grande’s golf course, although perhaps temporary, is particularly sobering to local golfers who have watched Modesto’s three city courses roll toward the out-of-bounds stakes for many years, wondering if and when our beloved trio of money losers might finally shut as well.

Unfortunately, for golfers, city leaders have been talking about it off and on for many years, because the courses require a yearly subsidy from taxpayers of about $1 million. The latest recommendation from a consultant, still under review, is to close Dryden Park, give up all control of Muni and keep Creekside.

The nationwide trend is not good.

According to the National Golf Foundation:

  • Each and every year since 2006, more courses have closed than have opened
  • In 2008, for example, the equivalent of 198.5 18-hole courses closed, while only 12.5 opened

Joe Beditz, the foundation’s president and CEO, says the trend will continue. “We reached saturation” in 2006, he said in a recent Golf Advisor report, after continuous yearly growth dating to 1947. “We had to give back some of the supply.”

Opinion

Those figures were released only three days after Tiger Woods roared back with his first major win in 11 years at the Masters, in April. Much of the enthusiasm that drove the pre-2006 overbuilding of courses is credited to him. But he’s no longer a young and rising star. Most fans who rejoiced in his Masters triumph are old enough to remember his glory days; Woods isn’t likely to inspire a new generation to hit the links, not like before.

It’s true that the National Golf Foundation reported a tiny upward blip in 2018 participation in terms of people who actually played that year. But the total number of rounds continued slipping — by 4.8 percent last year.

Diablo Grande’s Ranch course, of course, wasn’t the first to succumb in this area. Remember Lake Don Pedro, Merced Hills, Mountain House, and Meadowmont in Arnold? Perhaps most painful, to hard-core golfers, was saying goodbye 2015 to Stevinson Ranch, praised by Golf Digest magazine as one of America’s best public courses.

Diablo Grande represents a double-whammy — not just one punch to the gut, but two.

Nestled in the dramatic hills of the coastal range southwest of Patterson, Diable Grande was supposed to become a 29,500-acre resort anchored by two golf courses. Jack Nicklaus and Gene Sarazen brought panache to the 1998 grand opening of Diablo Grande’s Legends course, which they helped design, but it was losing money too when it closed in 2014.

Now both are gone, and housing construction appears stuck at less than 800 homes. Many cling to hope that an investment group will rescue the Ranch course. Just in case, development owner World International will continue watering it.

It’s a wonder that Modesto’s three courses have survived this long. Every time the golf subsidy comes up — every two or three years, it seems — golfers mobilize and persuade city leaders to keep them open while tinkering with management and maintenance, and the subsidy continues.

The city’s latest report in January, by consultant Pro Forma Advisors, concluded that Dryden should go the way of the world. It said, “Dryden Park is the weakest performing golf course, is in relatively poor condition, needs extensive capital improvements, and is the most vulnerable of the three courses to major flooding damage.”

That was presented earlier this year at various city meetings, without direction yet from the City Council.

A miracle cure is not likely. Raising rates would make the city courses less than competitive, driving golfers elsewhere. Shutting a course is a terribly unpopular notion, akin to losing an old friend.

People who live in or play Diablo Grande know the feeling.

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Garth Stapley is The Modesto Bee’s Opinions page editor. Before this assignment, he worked 25 years as a Bee reporter, covering local government agencies and the high-profile murder case of Scott and Laci Peterson.
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