Muni remains open, but what will future hold?

Modesto's Muni Golf Course might close. Unknown golfer walks through the course on Wednesday. November 18, 2009.)
Modesto's Muni Golf Course might close. Unknown golfer walks through the course on Wednesday. November 18, 2009.) Modesto Bee

Local golfers exhaled in relief last week. Modesto Municipal, the city’s venerable nine-hole course, apparently has staved off another closure.

About four dozen golfers, including members of the nine-hole Muni-Niners and officials from The First Tee of Central Valley – which uses Muni as its golf headquarters – packed a City Council Finance Committee venue last week.

The result: The city anticipates that Muni will remain open for the next two years. Meanwhile, the committee recommended that the City Council hold a community workshop within a few months to come up with potential solutions.

Golfers understand the issues at hand: The game’s nationwide dropoff in popularity (fewer rounds played), the punishing drought in California and Modesto’s need to reduce the general subsidy to the golf fund. It’s expected to be nearly $783,000 in the current budget year. Closing Muni, while maintaining 18-hole Dryden and Creekside, appears to be the most feasible option if the city so chooses.

Muni has been targeted for closure several times over the years. Closing Muni would cut the subsidy to an annual average of about $326,000 over five years, according to city documents.

That said, the tree-lined course adjacent to Thurman Field holds sentimental value. Many golfers learned how to play at Muni, which opened in the 1930s. It’s also the site of Coffee Field, the city’s first airport.

Muni has been energized over the past decade by the local chapter of The First Tee, the nationwide organization that teaches life skills through golf. Cathy Mendoza, the First Tee executive director, is expected to sign a two-year contract with three one-year options to continue operation at Muni.

“I was worried but not panicked. We were assured we would have a home no matter what happens,” Mendoza said about the recent scare at Muni. “Five years would have been better, but we’ll work with it. It helps that our donors know that Muni will be there. This also gives us some wiggle room while we consider our options in the future.”

Muni continues to be a city asset, both to seniors and youngsters through The First Tee. It’s an easy and peaceful walk, and the par-35 remains a strong challenge. But the financial realities, much less the drought, aren’t disappearing overnight.

The First Tee, a nonprofit organization that manages Muni for the city in lieu of paying rent, could hold Muni’s future in its hand.

The Shag Bag – Escalon Golf Course is re-turfing all its greens. The first four greens, plus the practice surface, will be completed in about two weeks, followed by work on greens five through nine. … Most golf observers expect Clovis’ Bryson DeChambeau, the NCAA and U.S. Amateur champion, to turn pro rather than return to Southern Methodist. DeChambeau, who took some of his first swings at Ripon’s Spring Creek CC, told Golfweek that he’ll make a decision next week. He’s expected to finish school in December and use his Masters exemption from winning the U.S. Amateur before turning pro. His decision no doubt was influenced by the NCAA’s leveling of a one-year post-season ban on SMU for recruiting violations and unethical conduct by former coach Josh Gregory. That bars DeChambeau from defending his NCAA title. …

Karen Garcia, a counselor at Placer High of Auburn, won the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur last week at Hillwood Country Club in Tennessee. Garcia, 53, defeated Pamela Kuong of Massachusetts 1-up, winning both the 17th and the 18th with pars, in the final. Not only was it Garcia’s USGA championships debut, but she also became the first Northern Californian to win the event since Loma Smith of Pebble Beach in 1964 and ’65. This year marked the 25th anniversary of Anne Sander’s Senior Women’s Amateur victory at Del Rio CC.

Holes-In-One – Frank Gomes, Modesto, 150-yard 15th at Creekside, 7-iron. … Dick Estes, Oakdale, 166-yard third at Aurora Hills (Colo.), driver. … Mike Treece, Sonora, 160-yard fifth at Mountain Springs, Sonora, 5-hybrid. … Keith Brummer, Escalon, 71-yard third at Escalon, sand wedge. … Freddie Matthews, Ripon, 90-yard fourth at Jack Tone Golf, Ripon, pitching wedge … Junior Millanes, Riverbank, 132-yard 11th at Jack Tone, 7-iron. … Santos Sabado, Lathrop, 86-yard 17th at Jack Tone, pitching wedge.