Entertainer Bob Hope has agreed to sell 338 acres of choice open space next to Corral State Beach in Malibu for a private, 18-hole golf club designed by golf champion Jack Nicklaus.
Payson Wolff, Hope's lawyer, said four business partners have "obtained an option from Mr. Hope to see if they can put the deal together."
Ken George, a West Los Angeles golf course developer, confirmed Tuesday that he and three partners obtained the purchase option about four months ago and have had several meetings with county officials. George said the partners plan to begin soliciting 400 memberships to the club, which would be near Pacific Coast Highway and Corral Canyon Road.
The partners are "the fourth or fifth group" to explore building a golf course on the site, said Robert Hoie, a county planner supervising the formation of a Malibu land-use plan. "It's kind of a perennial thing."
The site would be difficult to develop because it is part of a significant watershed area--meaning that bulldozing and leveling of ridges would be limited to protect Corral Creek, Hoie said.
Departure From Past
However, this partnership's plans for the Hope property differ sharply from most of the earlier concepts in one major respect: George said the club, known as the Golf Club at Malibu, would be strictly a golf course, without swimming pools, tennis courts or homes lining the fairways.
"It's strictly a haven for those who enjoy golf and not a country club," George contended.
The PL Malibu Golf Course, owned by California Fuji International and founded by the Japan-based Church of Perfect Liberty, is now the only one in the Malibu coastal zone, Hoie said. California Fuji has expressed interest in building 420 large homes on winding streets around the fairway.
More than a decade ago, an attempt to build a golf course and housing in Malibu's Zuma Canyon fell through because of opposition from environmental activists. That property has since been acquired for open space by the state Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.
Another golf course proposal, just outside the coastal zone in northern Topanga Canyon, is in bureaucratic limbo. The neighborhood has been strongly divided over the proposed Montevideo Country Club, which would include more than 200 luxury homes.
"When you get a number of requests for the same thing, it's obvious they've all somehow determined that there's a market for it," Hoie said.
In hopes of speeding the permit process through county agencies and the California Coastal Commission, George said only 160 of the 338 acres would be used for the golf course, with the remainder probably remaining open space.
"The property we're using is east of Corral Canyon and is not environmentally sensitive," George contended.
Tom Celorie of Malibu, another partner, said "we're not going to do anything to hurt the environment, we're going to enhance it."
George said Nicklaus' plans "make sure that Corral Canyon and Corral Creek are totally untouched" because they are "environmentally sensitive."
The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy set aside $2.7 million to purchase the land two years ago. However, Joseph Edmiston, the conservancy's executive director, said talks did not progress beyond the preliminary stage because Hope indicated he thought the property was worth $7 million.
Neither Hope's lawyer nor the buyers would disclose the land's current price tag. George said the option was for 30 months but would not divulge any other aspects of the transaction.
Hope, who has owned the land for a number of years, was on vacation in Alaska and unavailable for comment. George speculated that Hope, an avid golfer, liked the idea of turning the land into a top-flight golf course.
George said the course would be one of only a few built along the California coast in the past 30 years. While it would be a championship-level course, George said that the developers have no plans to bring professional golf matches to Malibu.
George said the partnership, called CGSM, was formed to build the golf club and includes George, president of Pacific Golf Marketing in Marina del Rey, which develops golf courses; Don MacKay, a West Los Angeles real estate developer; Celorie, formerly a program director at Summa Corp.'s Playa Vista development in Playa del Rey, and David Sherman, senior vice president of Golden Bear Inc., the umbrella company for Nicklaus' numerous enterprises.
Celorie said that Nicklaus has sketched a preliminary design for the course.
The planners hope to use treated sewage water to irrigate the course. The water would come from a sewage plant that may be built in Corral Canyon, George said.
County sewer maintenance superintendent Brian Scanlon said golf course irrigation would be a possible use for the treated water, but that the Department of Fish and Game has also indicated that discharge of the water into Corral Creek could help attract more fish, including steelhead trout, prized by anglers.
Times staff writer Judy Pasternak contributed to this story.