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    Winchester Country Club, a golf community in rural Placer County, bankrupted its original developer, but its new owners are ready to test the housing market.


    Chairs made from wine barrels are perched on the 15th tee at Winchester Country Club. Many Winchester homeowners are avid golfers who play the club's course, designed by famous course architects, three to five times a week.

  • Jay Mather / Bee file, 2000

    Winchester Country Club has been open to the public during selected hours since its foreclosure in 2008.

Making the Rounds: Winchester Country Club looks for greener days after chemical misapplication

Published: Tuesday, Mar. 11, 2014 - 10:57 pm
Last Modified: Wednesday, Mar. 12, 2014 - 6:17 am

When a golfer finds trouble, it’s best to avoid the temptation to try something silly that will likely make a bad situation worse.

Take your lumps, get the ball back in play and move forward. It’s one of golf’s golden rules.

Winchester Country Club in Meadow Vista has been in a nightmare situation the past two weeks, with all 18 of its greens suffering severe damage because of a faulty chemical application.

The club’s owner, Real Capital Solutions, has accepted its course will be closed for at least three months while the greens are reseeded and that conditions won’t be fully back up to par for months after that. Its goal is to do right by its members and make the best of a bad situation.

“We’re going to take this opportunity to do a lot of the work we were going to be pushing out over the next year and condensing the time frame,” said David Bennett, managing director of club operations.

“It’s an unfortunate situation that has a silver lining. I think most of the members see it that way, too. It’s a bummer, for sure, but at no expense to them, they get a practically brand-new facility with brand new-putting surfaces.”

Problems started Feb. 24, Bennett said, when a spray technician with ValleyCrest Golf Course Maintenance mistakenly applied a harmful chemical to the greens instead of a substance to restrict the growth of poa annua in favor of bent grass.

Bennett said he investigated whether the damage was done intentionally and found no such evidence.

The course, its greens rapidly deteriorating, was closed March 5 and dues were suspended for the club’s 284 members.

Bennett said ValleyCrest has taken full responsibility for the error, which he estimates will cost between $300,000 and $400,000, taking into account the loss of dues and outside revenue and the cost to redo the greens. ValleyCrest, insured for such a scenario, will continue to do course maintenance, Bennett said.

Most of the grass on Teal Bend’s back-nine fairways was killed in a 2002 chemical mix-up that prompted a costly resodding, and Woodcreek lost its front-nine greens in 2011 in a likely chemical misapplication. Teal Bend did not close, and Woodcreek’s front nine was closed for several months after those greens were re-sodded.

John and Cheryl DeWildt have been Winchester members since 2002, and it’s been a wild ride. The club, which opened in 2000, was private and arguably the most exclusive in the area when the couple joined. It was foreclosed upon in 2008, after which it became bank-owned and semiprivate. The course lost much of its fairway grass in 2010, a case of deferred maintenance gone awry.

Real Capital Solutions, a Colorado-based real estate investor of distressed assets, bought Winchester in January 2013. The new owners renovated the clubhouse, adding a fitness center, and upgraded the course’s drainage and cart fleet. The club’s membership increased by 75 in the past 13 months.

And now the loss of 18 greens.

“They’ve handled it very well,” John DeWildt said of course ownership. “Better than you could hope for in this situation. They’ve assisted us getting onto other private courses at pretty good rates.

“We’ve had our share of inconveniences and setbacks over the years. We’re very fortunate to have them.”

While the club’s driving range and clubhouse remain open, the course is expected to remain closed until late June, when a focused relaunch will be aimed at selling the remaining 136 home sites and attracting enough new members to return the course to private.

“Our goal is to have the best greens in Northern California again,” Bennett said.

Call The Bee’s Steve Pajak, (916) 326-5526.

Read more articles by Steve Pajak

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