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Wild Shots Leave Driving Range With Bad Lie

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The city-owned Los Robles Greens driving range may be closed indefinitely next week because of a problem peeving a neighbor: dangerous, runaway golf balls.

Al Dickens, who is constructing an office building on Moorpark Road next to the popular range, said he has been pelted and knocked unconscious by a golfer’s errant slice.

Dickens sued Thousand Oaks last year, charging that wild golf balls are constantly flying around his property, hitting construction workers and frightening everyone.

In a move city leaders have labeled unfair, Ventura County Superior Court Judge Barbara Lane issued a preliminary injunction last October forcing Thousand Oaks to either prevent all golf balls from landing on Dickens’ land or shut the driving range.

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Dickens’ attorney originally agreed to give the city until today to increase the range’s existing 40-foot screen next to his office building. But city officials said no changes would be enough to satisfy Lane’s order.

Even if Thousand Oaks were to build a 100-foot-tall safety net or take other extreme safety precautions, the city could never provide a 100% guarantee that a ball or two would not somehow end up on Dickens’ property, said City Atty. Mark Sellers.

“I guess we could build a geodesic dome to keep balls from flying around,” Sellers joked. “But I don’t think that would be financially or otherwise feasible.”

The attorneys reached a standstill, and workers even posted signs around the course earlier this week warning golfers that the driving range would close down after today. But Sellers has filed a motion asking Lane to reduce the restrictiveness of her order, which he believes to be unreasonable, and the two sides have agreed to wait until Monday, when the motion is scheduled for a hearing. The 18-hole Los Robles golf course, however, would remain open.

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Nevertheless, the city and Dickens remain divided. There is still a strong possibility that the driving range at Los Robles Greens will be closed, forcing Thousand Oaks golf enthusiasts to travel to the Simi Hills or Westlake Village golf courses to practice.

And many local golfers are unhappy.

“That’s the animal that’s going to shut us down,” growled Tom McAlonis, pointing his club toward the two-story office building Tuesday morning. “I’ve been coming here for 15 years. I enjoy this range.”

The 55-year-old Thousand Oaks resident said he smacks balls at the range twice a week. Now he may have to take his money to driving ranges in other cities, he said.

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“They make a lot of money on this range,” McAlonis said. “I know, just judging from what I’ve paid over the years. This is going to hurt the city.”

Indeed, the closure of the driving range would hit Thousand Oaks in the pocketbook. The range brings in about $200,000 a year, and although the operator, Angelo Ruggiero Inc., keeps the majority of the money, the city receives about $40,000, Sellers said.

When Dickens decided to sue the city, about 20 to 30 golf balls were flying over the safety net onto his property on weekdays, and twice as many on weekends, said his attorney, Jack Sweeney.

The number of flying balls has decreased now that the city has changed the angle at which golfers strike the balls, he said, but an incident earlier this month certainly proved to Dickens that the situation was still dangerous, Sweeney said.

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“My client got hit in the head with a ball three weeks ago,” Sweeney said. “It cut him, knocked him unconscious, and he had to go to the emergency room. It was a serious incident.”

Now, Sweeney argues, how is Dickens going to lease the 18,000-square-foot building to someone when he himself has been knocked silly by a golf ball?

“We can’t have people walking around there with their bare heads,” Sweeney said. “The [city’s] argument that Dickens is not allowed to safely enjoy property he paid a lot for is just silly. Their only argument is that they have had this dangerous situation there for a long time.”

Some avid users of the driving range said they believe the city should do more to prevent stray balls from hitting people.

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“It’s like having a bullet go through your property,” said Raymond Rodriguez of Thousand Oaks, who said he sometimes visits the driving range up to four times a week. “It’s a projectile, you know? They ought to take the precautions.”

But Councilman Mike Markey said that although the city is prepared to contribute to fixing the problem as much as possible, Dickens should realize that buying land next to an existing driving range has its downfalls.

“This man built a building next to a driving range,” Markey said. “He should have known there would be errant balls. I’m surprised he’s taken things this far.”


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