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In the Rough : Golfers Are Just a Little Teed Off Over Closure, Relocation of El Segundo Course

August 09, 1987|SEBASTIAN ROTELLA | Times Staff Writer

Like many institutions in El Segundo, the local golf course has character. And characters.

There are the members of the British Commonwealth and Friends club, for example. A few have been playing since the 1930s. Many have played the course since it opened 18 years ago.

"Everyone's dying to join us," club President Tom Reoch said at last Sunday's weekly outing. He spoke in the unmistakable cadences of his native Scotland, where golf is king. "They've heard about how well-bred the Scots are."

"Come off it," said Adam Watson, the club's golf chairman. "Without us Canadians this organization would disintegrate."

The banter was typical of Sunday mornings at the nine-hole course on Sepulveda Boulevard. Regulars describe it as a haven for players who value each other's company as much as the competition. Its comfortable size and senior-citizen discounts make it a favorite of elderly players from all over the South Bay. About 3,000 people use the greens and driving range each week, according to course officials.

Last Sunday was not as cheerful as usual. Conversation centered on the fact that Chevron USA, which owns the land, plans to shut down the course Monday except the driving range and a practice area. The land is part of 36 acres Chevron will subdivide and sell to developers for light manufacturing and warehouses.

Plans for New Course

The news is not entirely bad: Next month, Chevron plans to give the city 25 acres for a new course, in exchange for Planning Commission approval of the subdivision.

"Chevron founded this town," said Planning Director Lynn Harris, who said the donation was initiated by Chevron. "They've been very attentive to the needs of this city, especially with growth of building and development in town. They came in the door with plans for a new course."

The City Council voted last week to ask American Golf Corp., which leases the present course from Chevron and manages it, to present plans for development of a new course that city officials say could open by early 1989.

That's insufficient consolation to many elderly golfers for whom the course is "a way of life," according to Don Russell of the Senior Men's Club. The retirees are religious about their Monday and Friday morning outings, which provide exercise, fresh air and a chance to socialize, Russell said.

"It's a friendly little course," he said. "You can't beat the price, $5. These people are on fixed incomes, they can't afford $20 for a game and a cart at the bigger courses, which are too much for them to walk. They sit around here with a cup of coffee and exaggerate about their shot."

The booming popularity of golf has made it hard to find small and reasonably priced greens, course manager Dan Yenny said. Many courses are too busy to accept groups, he added.

"It's mainly for beginners, older players and workers from the area," Yenny said. "From 11:30 to 1:30 is one of our busiest times. We get a lot of people who come over from Hughes on their lunch hour."

Yenny is having trouble making distraught regulars understand that the facilities are not shutting down completely.

"We're going to lose a lot more people than we need to," Yenny said. "I'm trying to make them aware that we're not closing." He estimated that up to half the regulars will continue using the driving range, practice holes and clubhouse, which officials hope to keep open until the new course is ready.

The new course will occupy a triangular site bordering Sepulveda and encompassing the northern part of the present course. American Golf Corp. officials estimated it will cost their company $1.5 million.

Retired City Councilman Marvin Johnson, who plays golf several times a week, said the city will ultimately get a better course with several lakes and improved landscaping.

"But it's difficult for the people who have been coming for many years," Johnson said. "You go to other courses and hardly anyone says hello to anyone. Here people enjoy each other. There are some tougher holes, so you get a chance to use all your clubs."

Johnson said some of his golfing cronies will probably "end up hanging around the house too much".

Members of the British Commonwealth club, which includes immigrants from England, Scotland, New Zealand and Canada and their American friends, said they are pleased about the plan for a new course. But they grumble about bureaucracy and an onslaught of development that has El Segundo struggling to maintain the small-town feel of its downtown area and neighborhoods.

"I can remember when this area wasn't even a cow pasture," said Bob Knight, one of the oldest members of the British Commonwealth group.

Knight said he grew up during the Depression in Monifith, Scotland, where he used to sneak on courses and shoot a few holes.

"If they keep on building and eliminating recreation areas, kids won't know what trees are," said William Pickering. "In the year 2050 they'll be walking around with oxygen masks on."

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