Whichever side they were on, everyone with an opinion on a proposal to build 38 new homes on 5 acres of Rocklin Golf Club property agreed on one thing: They wanted the golf course to remain open.
Yet Rocklin Golf Club closed Monday. Staff was busy cleaning out the pro shop and restaurant. Driving range mats had been pulled up, tee blocks were gone and each green sported a hole in what turned out to be the final location but no flagstick.
The water was turned off with the intention of letting the grass areas of the 187-acre parcel return to their natural state.
The closure comes after the Rocklin City Council voted 5-0 in June to deny the development and puts an abrupt end to a contentious year-long campaign.
“There’s been turmoil for so long, everybody thought this was just another bump in the road,” said Charlie Gibson, the managing partner of the course’s ownership group. “They thought another bank or another Charlie would come along.”
Gibson said the 52-year-old course has lost money each year since he bought the bank-owned property for $2.5 million in 2011. The difference from Morgan Creek and Wildhorse, two newer Gibson-owned courses in the area, is Rocklin’s infrastructure is falling apart.
Profits from the development would have funded repairs on the aging course and its facilities, Gibson said. Without that infusion, there’s no sense in continuing, he added.
But Frank Geremia, leader of the Friends of Rocklin Open Space, which opposed the new homes, said development was the intention all along. Monday’s closure and threat to have the grass turn to thistle are the most recent steps, he wrote in an email to the community.
“This recent action appears to confirm that their ownership has been all about development and very little about golf,” Geremia wrote. “I would expect them to now begin with a property nuisance campaign ... to gain favor for allowing rezoning.”
The course, which opened amid much fanfare in 1963, was initially named Sunset Oaks. The name was soon changed to Sunset Whitney and for decades was synonymous with difficulty for its long par 4s, dogleg par 5s, hilliness and sloping greens. It’s signature hole, a short over-water par 3, is a dandy as No. 18.
The course hosted numerous professional events and golf’s biggest names in its early years when it was a regular hangout for the area’s best players and their high-stakes skins games.
Hal Steinback, a club member for 36 years, has seen ups and downs as the economy fluctuated and the course waffled between public and private. As a homeowner along the 15th fairway for nine years and part of a group of about 25 core members who remained steadfast, he figures to suffer a double whammy in declining property value and altered social habits.
“This is a non-win situation for everybody,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate. It’s very sad.”
The regulars met Sunday for a final round and shared memories.
“It was very nostalgic,” Steinback said.
Rocklin City Manager Rick Horst said the city worked hard to facilitate a community solution to the proposal. Failing that, the city prefers there be a golf course on the property, he said, and will continue to try to find a buyer who would like to maintain and operate it.
Horst, however, cited research that found 400 courses have closed nationally in the past 20 years. Golf isn’t a booming business these days, he said, and the construction of 38 new homes wouldn’t change that.
As for Gibson insisting he’s going to let the property turn to thistle, the standards for maintenance of open space are minimal, Horst said. Fire safety is the primary concern, but there is no requirement to keep the property green or cut regularly.
Gibson said he’s had inquiries about buying the property, but not from anyone intent on maintaining it as a golf course, so he has no plans to sell.
“I’m not going to let anybody profit at my expense,” he said. “Whatever goes down here, I’m going to be part of it.”