Revived California Assembly Bill threatens municipal golf, but in a watered-down form

The state bill proposes unspecified funding for repurposing publicly owned golf courses into housing developments.

A California Assembly bill that potentially could fund the repurposing of municipal golf courses into land for housing is moving forward again after dying in committee in 2021.

The gist of Assembly Bill 672 is that California faces huge homelessness problems and soaring housing costs, so municipal golf courses could be shut down and the land developed into housing, including at least 25 percent occupancy by low-income households.

Since being revived in early 2022, AB 672 has been significantly modified and passed two Assembly committees this week. It likely will reach an appropriations committee next week, and if approved there, it eventually would move to the full Assembly and then the California Senate for a vote.

The bill has caused outcry from many golfers and organizations, especially in the form in which it was written in 2021 that would have mandated that municipal golf courses be converted into housing.

In the bill’s current form, there is no such mandate. Instead, local governments and authorities would be allowed to make choices about closing municipal courses, and state funding would be made available to subsidize development into housing. Basically, it’s a much softer bill now than in its original form. And it faces huge obstacles in ever passing into law, not the least of which is that its current form does not specify any funds for development subsidies. In its original form, AB 672 provided $50 million for subsidies, but that funding line has been stricken from the current bill.

Craig Kessler, the director of public affairs for the Southern California Golf Association, on Thursday told Golfweek that the bill has gone from having a devastating impact in its 2021 form, to having significant impact, to now having much less impact if it were to pass. He also predicts many hurdles for the bill from supporters of public-access golf in the state.

“While I was never optimistic about this bill dying early in the 2022 process, I remain optimistic that it will not get signed into law in 2022,” Kessler said, “but only if the golf community continues to be as engaged in the next few months as it has in the past few months.”

There are more than 200 municipal courses in California, making up 22 percent of all courses in the state, including such highly ranked facilities as Torrey Pines, site of the 2021 U.S. Open in San Diego. AB 672 does not address privately owned public-access courses, such as most daily-fee courses, or privately owned country clubs.

The bill in its current form would:

  • Provide incentives in the form of grants to local agencies that enter into a development agreement to convert a publicly owned golf course into housing and publicly accessible open space.
  • Mandate that at least 25 percent of all new dwelling units would be occupied by lower-income households for a period of no less than 55 years.
  • Garcia describes the proposed law officially as the “Conversion of Publicly Owned Golf Courses to Affordable Housing” in the bill, but the bill does not specify or cap what type of housing might constitute the remaining 75 percent of dwelling units.
  • At least 15 percent of any such development must be open space, but golf courses would not be considered open space.
  • No more than a third of any such development could be used for non-residential purposes, including parking.
Rancho Park Golf Course
The municipal Rancho Park Golf Course used to host the PGA Tour’s Los Angeles Open. (Todd Kelly/Golfweek)

Larry Bohannan of the Palm Springs Desert Sun reported last April that the proposed law would remove municipal golf courses from protections of the Public Park Preservation Act, provide an exemption to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and make it easier to rezone public open-space land for housing.

Proponents of the bill have said thousands of dwellings could be built on converted golf courses to ease housing problems. Garcia’s bill states that “Existing law establishes the Department of Housing and Community Development and requires it to, among other things, administer various programs intended to fund the acquisition of property to develop or preserve affordable housing.”

Supporters of golf – including the Southern California Golf Association and the California Alliance for Golf – have countered that golf courses serve as necessary green spaces in otherwise crowded cities, and that municipal golf courses typically serve lower-income players of diverse backgrounds, frequently with programs designed to introduce the game to such players.

“Removing golf and only golf from the 50-year-old protections of CEQA and the Public Park Preservation Act amounts to a determination by legislative fiat that golf is no longer part of the greater family of publicly accessible recreational activities,” James Ferrin, president of the California Alliance for Golf, a non-profit trade organization, said in a letter to the Housing and Community Development Committee and other assembly members in 2021, as reported by Bohannon. “The State of California should not be favoring or disfavoring specific recreational activities nor picking winners and losers among them.”

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Jack Nicklaus to design second course at Quivira Los Cabos in Mexico

The new layout will join Jack Nicklaus’ original course at the property that offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.

Jack Nicklaus will return to Mexico to build a second course at Quivira Los Cabos, where he designed Quivira Golf Club that opened in 2014.

The routing is in progress, and ground is expected to be broken by the end of 2022 for the as-yet-to-be-named new Jack Nicklaus Signature course. It will be laid out in the northwest portion of the 1,850-acre development in rolling desert foothills and valleys interlaced with arroyos, and the southern portion of the course will offer panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.

“The first golf course at Quivira is a spectacular layout playing across a remarkable piece of property,” Nicklaus said in a media release announcing the news Tuesday. “Now, I am excited that design is well underway on the second course at Quivira, which should be stunning and equally as spectacular. I hope golfers who play the second course will enjoy the views, the quality of golf, and the challenge.”

The original course at the property, Quivira Golf Club, tied for No. 25 on Golfweek’s Best 2021 list of courses in Mexico, the Caribbean, the Atlantic islands, and Central America.

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Which golf course is best at Streamsong in Florida: Red, Blue or Black?

Streamsong celebrates its 10th anniversary with three highly ranked courses in Florida, but how do you choose the best of the lot?

The question comes all the time from players who have frequented top golf resorts in the U.S. and want to verify their opinions, as well as from golfers who have never played a certain top destination but dream of a trip. 

“Which course at the resort is your favorite?” 

Normally there’s a simple response, based on the evaluation of Golfweek’s Best Resort Courses list. 

Going to Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina? There are several courses available, but you must experience the Ocean Course. Destination Kohler in Wisconsin? Sure, Blackwolf Run offers two strong layouts, but Whistling Straits is the clear favorite among the resort’s four full-size tracks. Pinehurst in North Carolina? As much admiration as the recently renovated No. 4 has received among an impressive roster that includes four of the top 200 resort courses in the U.S., Donald Ross’s No. 2 is a classic masterpiece and repeat U.S. Open site that clearly shines brightest among the resort’s offerings in the rankings. Pebble Beach Golf Links is part of a larger California resort that stuns, but the classic seaside track is a can’t-miss for golfers. 

But the answer to which is best isn’t always so cut-and-dried. 

Which is your favorite of the five 18-hole courses at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon? There’s plenty of debate around the fireplace outside McKee’s Pub, and all five courses rank in the top 11 on the 2022 Golfweek’s Best Resort Courses list. There really isn’t a wrong answer when all the options are that strong. 

How about the best of the two current courses at Sand Valley in Wisconsin? The resort is operated by Michael and Chris Keiser, sons of Bandon Dunes founder Mike Keiser, and as at Bandon Dunes the Golfweek’s Best list doesn’t necessarily establish a definitive winner between the eponymous Sand Valley layout and the resort’s Mammoth Dunes, both top-15 resort courses. Grab an Adirondack chair behind the clubhouse and let the “Which is better?” discussions begin. 

Streamsong Red and Blue are intertwined. (Courtesy of Streamsong)

It’s the same story at Streamsong in Bowling Green, Florida, home to three courses ranked inside the top 20 on the 2022 Golfweek’s Best Resort Courses List. Red? Blue? Black? “If you had to play just one,” I am frequently asked, “which would it be?”

My stock answer: The next one. And I’ll defend that simplified response on the basis that I’ll gladly take a day at any of the three courses built by Gil Hanse, Tom Doak or the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. There are noticeable differences between the layouts, but they are so tightly packed in the Golfweek’s Best rankings as to inevitably invite debate – that’s a big part of the fun. Ask me which you should play, and I’ll tell you to sample all three and get back to me. 

Bandon Dunes, Sand Valley and Streamsong combine to include 10 of the top 20 resort courses in the country. Apologies in advance for my dalliance into cliché, but asking to choose the best layout at any of them is like being asked which of your kids is your favorite. Only in this case, golfers often are more than willing to loudly announce their personal preferences. 

Me? Not so much. Returning to Streamsong as a case study, there’s nuance to be considered. And the skill of the golfer. Putting prowess. The wind on any given day. Dozens of considerations, many of which change in time and with repeat rounds. Feel free to pick a favorite, but don’t be surprised to change your mind on another visit. 

The Lodge at Streamsong in Florida (Courtesy of Streamsong)

Streamsong celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, inviting reinspection of its leap into the course rankings. Much has changed since the two original courses, the Red and the Blue, opened in 2012 on a former phosphate mining site that offered plenty of sand and a raw, rollicking landscape unlike anything else in Florida. A luxurious 228-room hotel and spa opened in 2014, auxiliary sports such as shooting and bass fishing were introduced, and most importantly the Black course came online in 2017. 

The resort and courses continue to evolve, recently with the introduction of new putting surfaces on the Red and Blue and with new restaurant themes and names that include the rebranding of the Black course’s Bone Valley Tavern into a seafood restaurant – the staff might suggest the salt and pepper fritto misto, and you can’t go wrong with the lobster mac and cheese. 

Despite the changes, the focus remains on the golf, perhaps more sharply than ever. 

The three layouts share many similarities: strikingly open vistas and easy walks with few trees in play, mostly firm and bouncy turf, beautiful bunkers that appear as simple sand scrapes and great mixes of memorable holes routed in natural fashions upon what in actuality are completely unnatural sites left over from mining operations. A common refrain is that Streamsong, full of jagged dunes and rugged boundaries in middle-of-nowhere inner Florida, feels like playing golf on the surface of the moon – in the case of these three courses, that is a compliment.

But there are differences. 

Your 2021 picks: Our top 10 golf course architecture/travel stories (No. 1 is a famous track reincarnated)

There are some really beautiful courses featured on this list of the top golf travel stories.

As you’re relaxing during the holiday break, taking stock of your year in golf and thinking about where you might play in 2022, we figured this would be a good time to run through the numbers and tally up which travel stories drew your attention.

For the final days of 2021, we’re offering up a snapshot of the top 10 stories from each of Golfweek’s most popular sections, including travel, the PGA and LPGA tours, instruction and amateur golf. Here’s what we’ve already counted down.

Here’s a look at the top 10 golf travel stories, as clicked on by you (we should note, this doesn’t include lists, which will be featured on Friday):

Report: Smoky renovation of picturesque Donald Ross track in North Carolina has residents concerned

The original nine holes were designed by famed architect Donald Ross and opened in 1926.

An extensive redesign and renovation of a Donald Ross-designed course in western North Carolina is drawing the ire of local residents who say thick smoke has been the result of piles of debris being burned.

Bobby Weed Golf Design said in June that renovation of Waynesville Inn & Golf Club included plans to reduce the facility from 27 holes to a better 18.

The original nine holes at Waynesville, which is near Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, were designed by famed architect Ross and opened in 1926. Another 18 were added later.

Residents in the area told WLOS-TV that a pair of burn pits have created a thick layer of smoke in the mountainous region less than an hour west of Asheville.

But a fire marshal insisted the company is handling everything correctly.

“Folks are calling and complaining about the smoke and the ash,” Waynesville Fire Marshal Darrell Calhoun told the TV station. “They have a burn permit. They have a burn pit with berms on each side with an excavator. They’re doing everything to a T.”

According to earlier reporting by Golfweek, the resort’s master plans include a study on possibly adding a short course and Himalayan-style putting green. Other master plan highlights include addressing infrastructure and capital improvement needs, a hole-by-hole analysis, a full course restoration, introducing agronomic best practices and efficient budgeting.

The facility is owned by Raines Company, a hotel ownership group with multiple locations in the southeastern United States.

Bobby Weed will renovate the course at Waynesville Inn & Golf Club in western North Carolina. (Courtesy of Waynesville Inn & Golf Club)

The work was expected to last 16 to 24 months as the 111-room inn and accompanying mountainous course joins Raines’ boutique hotel division, Woven by Raines.

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Lusk: Five new golf courses I can’t wait to see in 2022, from Nebraska to New Zealand

Landmand, Te Arai, among others have golf architecture fans champing at the bit for 2022 to arrive.

After a decade of course closings dominating the headlines starting with the economic downturn in 2008, architects have been busier moving earth over the past several years. Coast to coast as well as abroad, several top-tier layouts have come online from noted architects – think Tom Doak, Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, even Tiger Woods.

This new year promises more of the same, with the following five new courses being among those I can’t wait to see in 2022.

In keeping with recent development trends, these courses aren’t necessarily close to major population centers. Only one of them – the East Course at PGA Frisco – is near a big city, situated as it is on the northern outskirts of Dallas. The other four on this list? You’ll need planes, trains, automobiles or maybe a boat, and definitely a passport.

Doesn’t matter. Great golf is worth any travel. So in no particular order, here are five new courses I want to sink my nubby spikes into during 2022.

10 questions: Course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. on golf trees, Chambers Bay and more

The golf course designer has thoughts about trees, Chambers Bay, distance and changing fashions.

Robert Trent Jones Jr., designer of more than 250 golf courses around the world, has plenty of strong views on architecture and the state of the game. The 82-year-old is the son of famed architect Robert Trent Jones Sr., and he’s seen many changes and trends in design over his six decades in the business – some he loves, others he would love to see discarded.

Jones Jr., a past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, recently spent several days with Golfweek’s course raters at the Golfweek’s Best Architecture Summit at Ross Bridge near Birmingham, Alabama. Ross Bridge is part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, an ambitious project largely designed by the senior Jones that now includes 26 courses at 11 sites. Jones Jr. attended the summit to speak about his father’s legacy on the Trail and beyond.

Jones Jr. graciously answered many questions after playing one round of golf at Ross Bridge and another at nearby Alpine Bay Golf Club – which is not part of the Trail but which was designed by Jones Sr. and reopened in 2016 after having been shuttered for nearly two years. Following are selections of his replies. Editor’s note: These responses are not shown in their entirety and have been edited for brevity.

Check the yardage book: Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Orlando, Grande Lakes for the PNC Championship

Tiger Woods and 19 other pros will play with family members at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club.

The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Orlando, Grande Lakes – site of this week’s PNC Championship – was designed by Greg Norman and opened in 2003 less than 10 miles from Walt Disney World.

After pro-ams Thursday and Friday, 20 teams will compete in the tournament proper Saturday and Sunday. Originally named the Father-Son Challenge, the current format includes pro golfers partnered with either a parent or child. The main attraction will be the return of Tiger Woods to competitive golf as he pairs with son Charlie less than a year after a single-car crash in California left the 15-time major champion with significant injuries.

Grande Lakes will play at 7,122 yards with a par of 72 for the pros. Thanks to yardage books provided by Puttview – the maker of detailed yardage books for more than 30,000 courses around the world – we can see exactly the challenges the pros face this week. Check out the maps of each hole below.

Wynn Golf Club: How much does it cost, how to book a tee time

Wynn has one of the highest costs of a daily-fee course in the United States.

Wynn Golf Club, right behind the Wynn Las Vegas hotel and casino, fits perfectly into its brash surroundings on the Strip. It’s as Vegas as Vegas can be when it comes to golf course architecture.

Much of the course is brand new, despite golf having been played on the site since 1952 when it became the Desert Inn Golf Club. 

Steve Wynn purchased the resort in 2000, and the Tom Fazio-designed Wynn Golf Club opened in 2005. But that layout was shuttered in 2017 as the operators of the adjacent Wynn Las Vegas hotel and casino considered other uses for the ridiculously valuable land on which the course sits, and the resort lost millions of dollars in revenue from green fees and other golf-attributable casino earnings. 

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After scrapping plans to build a lagoon on the site with new hotel rooms and restaurants, Fazio and his son, Logan, were called to breathe fresh life into the abandoned track. Wynn Golf Club reopened in October 2019 with eight new and 10 refurbished holes, playing to a par of 70 at 6,722 yards. 

As far as playing Wynn Golf Club, you don’t have to know someone who knows someone. You just have to have some disposable income.

Tee times can be made by resort guests 90 days in advance, and general public play is open with 30-day advanced bookings. But be ready to fork over the cash: green fees are $550.

Wynn has one of the highest costs of a daily-fee course in the U.S. and while that sounds prohibitively expensive for many players, there are plenty of guests at the Wynn hotel and casino who spin through a lot more on the slot machines in less time than it takes to play a round of golf.

Brian Hawthorne, the resort’s executive director of golf operations, said there’s a lot of value baked into that fee when considering the location on the Strip as well as an all-inclusive experience that includes forecaddie and rental clubs if needed.

“And if you keep somebody from gambling for four and a half hours, we might be saving people money,” he said with a laugh.

So while that kind of green fee is not for every golfer, Hawthorne is right. As he said, “There’s different price points for every type of customer,” and many of the luxury resort’s guests simply aren’t worried about price. This is, after all, a Forbes Five-Star property that uses Rolls-Royce limos to whisk preferred guests back and forth to the airport.

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Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player form course design alliance as Black Knight seeks to start building again

The Golden Bear and Black Knight have been friends for decades, with this design alliance further proof of that.

The course design firms of Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player announced Wednesday they have formed a strategic alliance to help Player relaunch his business building golf courses.

Player has designed more than 135 courses worldwide since starting in the 1980s, but his design business was on hold for several years during a legal dispute with his son Marc Player that was resolved in 2020. Now his marketing firm, Gary Player Enterprises, is ready to start building again.

A page announcing the two Hall of Fame players’ partnership on said the alliance will allow Player to draw on the talents and infrastructure developed by Nicklaus Design, which has built more than 425 course in 46 countries.

“When I approached Jack, my goal was to create a relationship that would elevate my design business, and I am thrilled to have my design work supported by the most talented and thorough design firm in the world,” Player said in the release on the Nicklaus site. “… I love working with the land to develop a truly memorable, challenging and enjoyable golf experience, and working with the support of Nicklaus Design will allow me to concentrate on the unique, creative opportunities that each site presents to me.”

Nicklaus and Player were rivals on the course for decades starting in the 1960s. Nicklaus went on to win 18 professional majors among his 73 PGA tour titles, while Player won nine majors among 24 titles on the PGA Tour and more than a hundred more around the world. The Golden Bear and the Black Knight have been friends for decades, with this design alliance further example.

“When I partnered with Howard Milstein (executive chairman of the Nicklaus Companies) in June 2007, one of the goals was to institutionalize and strengthen the Nicklaus Companies to continue my personal legacy in the golf business and ensure the expertise and resources needed to develop and support the people who will design the golf courses of the future,” Nicklaus said in the announcement on his site. “Now, we’re happy to be in a position to facilitate the next phase of my dear friend Gary’s career.”

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