Business & Real Estate

Rocklin reaches agreement to buy former Sunset Whitney Country Club

The city of Rocklin and Rocklin Golf Club’s ownership group have tentatively agreed to a $5.8 million deal to turn the 54-year-old course into a public space, potentially ending more than two years of halted negotiations, differing visions and allegations of broken promises.

The deal must be approved by the Rocklin City Council, which meets Tuesday. It would require to the city to deposit a $2.7 million escrow payment before giving $531,015.96 to PGA professional Charlie Gibson and absentee co-owner Joseph Syufy annually for the next six years. The city would then review title documents and conduct a 90-day feasibility study before the agreement can be finalized.

An agreement reached in March was ultimately rejected by the City Council, which took umbrage with plans to develop 281 homes. The city of Rocklin would have paid $1.5 million for 27 acres and received the rest of the land as a gift.

Gibson bought Rocklin Golf Club, formerly known as Sunset Whitney Country Club, for $2.5 million in 2011 following a bank foreclosure, but said he lost money in each of the four years he operated it. He sold 165-acre Wildhorse Country Club in Davis earlier this year for $3.25 million and owns Morgan Creek Golf Club in Roseville.

An appraiser placed the Rocklin golf course’s value above the $5.8 million it went for, said Michael Young, city spokesman. The city will divide the 184-acre club into recreational parks, trails and open space areas, per the agreement, and most structures are likely to be razed. Significant upkeep needs to be done before the property can be opened to the public, Young said.

“Since the golf course closed in August 2015, the land has really had some issues related to reduced maintenance, trespassing and vandalism on buildings there,” Young said. “That led to residents asking the city to help.”

Nearly $2.4 million will come from the city of Rocklin’s Oak Tree Preservation Fund, which developers and residents pay into every time they remove a tree. A park development fund and bond proceeds will provide another $1.9 million and $1.2 million respectively, and a 1-acre surplus land parcel will be sold to make up the remaining $480,000.

Gibson sought permission from the city to build 38 homes alongside the course in 2015, saying half the club would be shut down if he was not granted the building permits. When the Rocklin City Council unanimously rejected his application, Gibson closed down all 18 holes and declared he would let Sunset Whitney become overrun with thistle.

The city of Rocklin and Gibson signed a letter of intent days after the course was shut down that August, which allowed public workers to maintain the grounds. But Gibson, who declined to comment Thursday, rejected the city’s proposed contract two weeks later and immediately terminated the groundskeeping agreement, saying the city’s offer was significantly less than what had been agreed to in the nonbinding letter of intent.

Residents, city leaders and Gibson all expressed an initial desire to keep golf in the neighborhood, though the city never appeared interested in paying for its operation. By the time the two sides agreed to a deal this week, most people living on Sunset Whitney said they had given up hope and just wanted something visually appealing.

Carla Deaver has 21 years of memories from living on the course. High school students used to gather for prom pictures surrounded by trees and lush greenery. Over the past few years, though, weeds and fences have turned the backdrop into an eyesore.

“I just feel like a part of our community has been taken from us,” said Deaver, 53. “It’s not ever going to be what it was again, (so) any plan where we have more natural space is better.”

Benjy Egel: 916-321-1052, @BenjyEgel