Ron Agostini

Agostini on Golf: Are Muni golf’s days again numbered?

Modesto Municipal Golf Course in 2007
Modesto Municipal Golf Course in 2007 Modesto Bee

The city of Modesto once again is considering the closure of Modesto Municipal.

Or, could Dryden Park or Creekside be on the chopping block?

One of those options is in play, said Modesto’s interim deputy city manager, Brent Sinclair.

“It’s too early to tell. We’re really not close to making a decision,” Sinclair said Tuesday. “It’s a public process.”

The finance committee directed the city in May to prepare a report, an exploration targeting the potential closing of one of the city golf courses. That report will be presented for discussion on Sept. 28.

The golf advisory committee was briefed on the subject earlier this month.

“It was a shock to the board,” said Cathy Mendoza, executive director of The First Tee of Central Valley, which has adopted Muni as its home since the local chapter’s inception a decade ago. “We have been assured that the city will work with us on how Muni is repurposed.”

Muni, the nine-hole course routed on the site of the city’s first airport during the 1930s, has not exactly been a moneymaker in recent years. It’s been further hurt by the drought, though it’s still the home of The First Tee, three leagues, high school competition and other golf groups.

The First Tee assumed operation of the pro shop and management of Muni in 2011. Two months ago, it opened its irons-only practice range to complement the golf operation.

Here is our guess on the closure chances, via percentage, on the three courses:

▪ Creekside: Zero percent. Opened only for 20-plus years, Creekside arguably is in the best condition of the trio.

▪ Dryden: 10 percent. Dryden, built in large part by volunteers more than a half-century ago, is the other local 18-hole option. Its contract reportedly stipulates that the land reverts back to the Dryden family if it’s no longer used for golf.

Muni: 65 percent. There’s much sentimental value at Muni, where many local golfers learned the game. It affords the easiest walk of the city layouts, and its old-growth trees lend timeless appeal. The par 35 remains a better-than-decent challenge.

Trouble is, the drought has hurt those trees. Most of the water is saved for the greens and tee boxes, and it’s not uncommon to see another aging tree hit the brown turf.

One option surely to be discussed is to keep the three holes near the clubhouse for First Tee instruction and to convert the rest of the course to a park or facilities for volleyball, soccer, softball, etc. Another possibility is moving The First Tee to Creekside or Dryden.

“If we have to move, we hope that the city will be open to our needs,” Mendoza said. “We know the city sees the value in our program. I think it’s important for us to hold onto the nine-hole course.”

Local golfers no doubt will discuss the pros and cons of the city’s future action.

“(The First Tee) is a program we want to continue and thrive,” Sinclair said. “Golf is not as popular as it’s been in the past. It’s reflected locally. And the drought has been a whopper.”

The Shag Bag – Ryan Thornberry’s golf experience took him around the world as a mini-tour player for eight years. Eventually, it led him back to his golf roots – River Oaks in Ceres. The Thornberry family finally purchased the 18-hole course and practice center from the Phipps family, the original owner, after months of negotiations. Robert and Gloria Hall of Ceres also are partners with the Thornberrys.

“It’s going to take a ton of work and a lot of time and sacrifice to bring it back to the condition it deserves,” Thornberry said. “We are going to be accountable for its needs.”

Besides golf, the Thornberrys hope to make the property more dual-purpose. There are plans to build a large amphitheater with lawn seating as well as the conversion of a warehouse into a venue for activities and weddings. Car shows on the driving range also are envisioned.

“River Oaks has a slightly different niche than say Del Rio or other high-end clubs, but it’s still relevant,” Thornberry said. “I think we’ll be holding it to a high standard.”

Repairs are underway. Even the charming rope tow, which assists golfers from the 18th green to the clubhouse, has been fixed. ...

Southern Methodist’s Bryson DeChambeau made history last weekend by winning the 115th U.S. Amateur. DeChambeau, a Clovis East High School graduate who scored his first par as a kid at Ripon’s Spring Creek CC, became the fifth player to win the NCAA individual title and U.S. Amateur in the same season. The list is impressive: Jack Nicklaus (1961), Phil Mickelson (1990), Tiger Woods (1996) and Ryan Moore (2004). DeChambeau, 21, overwhelmed Virginia’s Derek Bard 7 and 6 in the final at Olympia Fields (Ill). Remarkably, none of DeChambeau’s matches reached the 17th hole. ...

Coming up: The Love Modesto Tournament, a charity fundraiser, Saturday at Diablo Grande. ... St. Stanislaus Golf, the nine-hole course and practice center on Crows Landing Road, soon will become a program site for The First Tee of Central Valley. Instruction is set to begin Oct. 3, to be led by First Tee coach and program director John Griston. An open house will be held at St. Stanislaus on Sept. 19 at 9 a.m. Visit or call Angel Padilla at 209-538-2828. ... Ben Johannes of Ceres (83-77 – 160) lost a playoff to Oakland’s Alexander Lin in the boys first flight of a Junior Tour of Northern California event last week at Cypress Lakes in Vacaville.