RANCHO SANTA FE — Four golf courses have been proposed or approved for the Rancho Santa Fe area, raising the likelihood that the sylvan tranquility of "the Ranch" will soon be broken by the clatter of earth-moving equipment.
The golf course proposals, two of which have been approved by county planners, have put an end to a three-year period during which the county received no such development proposals for unincorporated San Diego County, county senior planner Lee Vance said.
The golf courses are to be the centerpieces of four large residential development proposals that together total 1,174 new homes on 3,700 acres, all within a three-mile radius of the Rancho Santa Fe covenant's boundaries. None of the developments falls within the covenant area.
The golf course projects are being fine-tuned as Rancho Santa Fe residents approach a June 2 ballot issue on whether to incorporate their community. But the slew of golf course proposals has less to do with politics than with the desire of high-income housing developers to offer golf as an amenity to home buyers, developers say.
"Given the high lot costs, developers have to offer something extra to buyers. And private (golf) clubs attract the kind of person with that kind of upper income," said Phil Hinshaw, president of A.D. Hinshaw & Associates, a San Diego planning firm.
Seen as economically unfeasible a few years ago because of high land and financing costs, golf courses now make sense to developers of exclusive residential communities because they "enhance lot values and house values," said Michael Gay, vice president of Sunroad Investment Corp., a San Diego firm that has proposed building one of the four Rancho Santa Fe area courses.
"People who never thought they would want to join a club now find it necessary or desirable to join so they can play at a convenient time and associate with the people they want to associate with," Gay said.
In agreement was David Walters, a loan officer with California First Bank, which is working on a $28-million construction loan to developers of Rancho Santa Fe Farms golf course just south of Rancho Santa Fe. "San Diego has one of the lowest golf holes-per-capita ratio of the 50 largest U.S. cities," Walters said.
The newest golf course proposal is Sunroad's Rancho La Zanja, part of a 260-acre golf-oriented community by the same name that would include 110 housing units. The project, which started working its way through county planning channels last month, lies in the La Zanja canyon area south of Rancho Santa Fe and east of San Dieguito Road. To date, Sunroad has built mainly office buildings.
The La Zanja project faces environmental obstacles. La Zanja canyon is the site of rare plants, including the coastal barrel cactus and native dichondra, county planning official Michael Evans said.
Of the four courses, Rancho Santa Fe Farms, a development of Redtail Golf Associates, is probably the nearest to reality. The development partnership, which includes Cubic Corp. President Walter Zable and golf professional Tommy Jacobs, will begin construction as soon as the $28-million loan from California First Bank closes. The 213-acre site will include 91 estate-size residential lots.
Rancho Santa Fe Farms has hired golf course architect Pete Dye to design the course, and Jacobs will be club pro.
In December, developers of the 450-acre Canyon Creek community, planned for a site northeast of the covenant area, received approval to build an 18-hole golf course surrounded by lots for 198 housing units. The developer is New Horizons of Rancho Santa Fe.
The largest residential development in the area, the 2,815-acre Rancho Cielo, is also getting into the act. The developers, who have already received approval to build 775 housing units, recently applied for an amendment to their development plan to enable them to build an 18-hole golf course, said Russell Hunt of Mooney-LeVine & Associates planning firm.