The city-owned Los Robles Greens driving range should not have been open Thursday, but it was.
However, due to a preliminary injunction issued by a Ventura County Superior Court judge, the popular range will certainly close today for about four months while safety improvements are made, according to city officials and the golf course's private operator.
Landowner Al Dickens, who sued the city alleging that errant golf balls were flying around his neighboring office building, had the power to close down the range since last month.
That was when Judge Barbara Lane declined the city's request to modify her injunction, which called for the driving range to close immediately until zero balls rained down on Dickens' property.
Dickens acted on his power Tuesday, posting the $76,000 bond required for the judge's order to kick in.
But the driving range stayed open Wednesday and Thursday--a violation of the injunction, according to Dickens' attorney, Jack Sweeney.
"I don't know what [Thousand Oaks'] intention is," Sweeney said Thursday. "They have expressed a desire to redesign the entire course. But at this point, they are in violation by continuing to use the driving range."
Dickens recently finished construction on the office building and is now prepared to begin leasing it. He is concerned that runaway golf balls would scare away and possibly harm potential tenants, Sweeney said.
City Atty. Mark Sellers said Thursday that he had just received written notice earlier in the day that Dickens had paid his deposit. Therefore, Sellers said, he could not have advised the golf course's private operator, Angelo Ruggiero Inc., to close the driving range any sooner than today.
"We just sent notice to the operator," Sellers said. "I assume that it will be closed [today]."
Dickens--who claims that a stray golf ball from the driving range struck him in the head and knocked him unconscious--filed his lawsuit last year.
In response, Lane issued the preliminary injunction, saying the runaway golf balls were an obvious safety concern.
Because the injunction calls for the range to stay closed until Thousand Oaks can ensure that not a single ball strays onto Dickens' property, Sellers has deemed it excessive and unrealistic. Even if the city built a full dome around the driving range, it could not guarantee that a ball would not somehow get out, he said. The trial is scheduled to begin in August.
The 18-hole Los Robles Greens is one of the most popular golf courses in Southern California, and the closure of its driving range is expected to hit Thousand Oaks in the pocketbook. The range alone brings in about $200,000 a year, and although Angelo Ruggiero Inc. keeps the majority of the money, the city receives about $40,000.
Robert Meyer, owner of Angelo Ruggiero Inc. and Los Robles' resident golf pro, said the closure of the driving range will drastically hurt business at the course because most golfers like to warm up on a driving range before playing the links.
"It's been hectic, not knowing what was going on the past few days," Meyer said, adding that he will have to lay off six employees. "The driving range is an integral part of our business."
Los Robles Greens, parts of which are more than 30 years old, was already scheduled to undergo a major renovation and redesign. The driving range will now be reconfigured as part of that project, according to city officials.
The range's tee-off sites may be moved to the opposite end of the current location so that balls fly away from adjoining property. Other precautions, such as higher safety nets, will also be put into place, according to city officials.
The work is expected to take about four months, Meyer said.