Virginia M. Martin woke up one morning in early September, peered out her window overlooking the El Niguel Golf Course in Laguna Niguel, and saw what appeared to be several telephone poles along the 18th fairway.
"I was livid," Martin recalled bitterly. "I said, 'What in God's name are they trying to do out there!' "
What El Niguel Country Club officials were planning to do was put green mesh netting along 54-feet-high poles, 21 of them, to separate the 18th fairway from the driving range.
For the country club, it's a matter of safety. The netting is necessary to keep golfers from getting beaned by stray golf balls.
But for the homeowners, it's mostly a matter of aesthetics. They paid up to $500,000 for homes with a view of the golf course, which they say is blighted by the poles. Their lush green views, they say, would be completely wiped out by the mesh netting.
Did Not Have a Permit
But residents were especially angry when they complained to the county and learned the club did not have a permit to erect the fence.
Club manager Fred Richter said the club needs the fence to ensure itself against claims from golfers hit by stray golf balls. He also said club officials--not anticipating any problems--had the poles installed while they were in the process of getting a permit.
"We were asked to stop (by the county), so we did," Richter said, noting that the poles are there but that the mesh has not yet been installed.
As far as club officials are concerned, the matter is out of their hands right now, Richter said. They are just waiting to see if they get the permit.
45 Signed Petition
But residents are angry because they were never informed of the plans to construct the fence before the poles appeared in September. Forty-five people representing 24 homes signed a petition opposing the fence, homeowner Pat Kraft said.
The residents took their complaint to the Laguna Niguel Community Council, which voted Sept. 28 to oppose the project. The decision now lies with the Orange County Planning Commission, which is expected this month to review the golf club's application for a permit.
Papers filed with the county indicate that an application for a permit to build the fence was filed Oct. 23, more than a month after the poles were installed.
The golf club should not have installed the poles without a permit, according to inspectors with the county's code regulation office. But the residents said they are awaiting the Planning Commission's decision before considering legal action.
In addition to the permit, the golf club also must obtain a variance to build the fence because the county regulations limit fence heights to 35 feet.
In the meantime, residents say they still must look at the unsightly brown poles, which stand in a row amid the pine and eucalyptus trees.
Kraft lives on Greens East Drive and also is a country club member. She has begun circulating a petition to her fellow golfers calling for a natural barrier of trees, rather than the fence. She said 75 country club members have signed the petition.
Residents say they understand the club's need for the barrier to prevent golfers from getting hit by stray balls, but they are upset because they bought their homes for the view.
"When we bought the house, we were told: 'Look at this beautiful vista. It's an asset to your investment,' " Martin said, gesturing to foliage on the 18th fairway and the hills on the other side of Crown Valley Parkway.
"We're saying let's work amicably," Martin said. "Let's work with the club and put up full-grown trees and stagger them, then put shrubbery in. Then at least we retain the pastoral scenery."
Richter said the club officials are willing to negotiate with the homeowners to find a solution.
But he said: "Trees went in, in lieu of a fence, but the trees aren't doing their job. I'm not going to say there are some bad golfers out there . . . but people have been hit."
In 1986, four golfers were injured by balls that went through the trees between the fairway and the driving range. Two people also were injured this year, including the club's board president, Richter said.
One resident, he said, suggested placing a clear mesh between the poles. But for now, he would like to keep peace until the Planning Commission makes a decision.
"If we're going to have to take them down, then we'll take them down," Richter said.