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GOLF / DAN HAFNER : Walnut Close to Completing Plans for Public Course

September 12, 1993|DAN HAFNER

The increasing interest in their sport is creating problems for golfers. Finding a place to play is getting more difficult. And the problem figures to get much worse.

A survey last year by the National Golf Foundation showed that 300,000 in-demand rounds a year are going unfulfilled for golfers in Southern California. With an average 75,000 rounds per course, if four new courses were built immediately. it would barely answer the needs. Although the cost to play public courses has soared in recent years, it will go even higher next month. The courses are overcrowded.

Building a golf course is not merely a matter of finding 100 or so acres of land. There also are government groups and agencies involved in the process, and in some cases they present almost insurmountable obstacles.

One group, which has been trying for 15 years to get permission to build in Canyon Oaks near Topanga in unincorporated L.A. County, says there hasn't been a private golf course built in the unincorporated areas of the county in 25 years.

Two major problems stand in the way of building courses. Most important is the environmental-impact report. Unless the plans meet all the requirements, forget it. Another difficulty is that some people just don't want golf courses in their community and fight their construction.

The city of Walnut may be about to overcome opposition and permit the building of a public course on what was once a cattle ranch on a hill overlooking the San Gabriel Valley, The land, about 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles, hasn't been used for two decades.

After nearly five years' worth of reports and studies it appears that by early next year, on 162 of the 446 acres, the building of an 18-hole championship course will start. The course has been designed by golf architect Ted Robinson, whose Sahalee Country Club near Seattle has been chosen as the site of the 1998 PGA Championship.

The new course, a project of the Walnut Land Company of Torrance, will be called the Walnut Village Golf and Country Club. As a separate part of the project there will be 284 homes built around the course. The environmental study allows for more than 300.

"This land has not been used since the '70s, when people living in the new homes in the area kept complaining of cows in their yard," said Alan J. Tuntland, in charge of the project. "The place has a breathtaking view in every direction.

"We knew that environmental safeguards and enhancements would have to be the key considerations. In the first place, we will use reclaimed water from nearby City of Industry. Also, except for cutting off a bit of the hill for the clubhouse and building the golf course, the land will be left mostly in its natural state.

"Extensive use of trees and water features will add to the area's native wildlife habitat. Already I have seen a couple of deer and other animals in the area. There will be 284.3 acres surrounding the golf course left to natural open space.

"An extension of the county's Pete Schabarum (Skyline) equestrian trail will transverse the project. There will be four miles of wilderness trail included."

The economic impact will be considerable. It will cost $17 million to $18 million to build the course, which will employ about 40 people full time and another 20 or 30 part-time. Revenue from the operation is expected to exceed $5 million annually.

Approval of Walnut's mayor, William Choctaw, the 20,000 members of the Southern California Public Links Golf Assn., USGA agronomist Patrick J. Gross and labor groups bodes well for the Walnut course.

The same cannot be said for the group trying to build a 257-acre golf course community in Canyon Oaks, near Topanga. The group, which contends that the project is environmentally correct and in keeping with the rural, exclusive area of Topanga, has tried for 15 years to get a permit.

Opponents cite the three E's--environment, economy and elitism--in delaying approval.

"The plan has met all existing government regulations and the structure of the membership will allow for a great deal of community input and participation," said David Smith, head of Golf Projects International, a Calabasas-based firm. "It would be a shame if Canyon Oaks is not approved and built. The plan for the course came from a response to what the community wanted."

The problems are many, but the good part is that unlike in Japan, where there is no room to build courses, there is still space available here.

Golf Notes

Riviera Country Club will be the scene Tuesday of part of an unusual made-for-TV golf event. Four of the best golfers on the PGA Tour--Tom Kite, John Daly, Fuzzy Zoeller and Davis Love III--will play the 10th hole, one of 18 holes nationwide that they will play. Among others are the 16th at PGA West, the fourth at Spyglass Hill and the 18th at Pebble Beach. The show will be carried by ABC on Oct. 17 and 24.

Monday, Magic's Golf Classic will be held for the benefit of the American Heart Assn. at Riviera. Besides Magic Johnson, sports figures on hand will include Jerry West, Bill Russell, George Gervin and Mitch Kupchak.

Qualifying for the Bakersfield Open, a scheduled Nike event, will be held at Valencia Country Club Sept. 27. Eligible golfers will compete for 14 spots in the event, scheduled Oct. 8-10.

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