With phones ringing nonstop at the new Black Gold Golf Club in Yorba Linda this week, golf operations director Eric Lohman reveled in his selling pitch to curious callers.
"It's a subtle but traditional Arthur Hills layout. . . . The hills give it character, but they don't overwhelm you. . . . You'll love the risk-reward opportunities. . . . Catalina is visible on a clear day. . . . Come see us."
After nine years of planning, land-swapping and displacing 2 million cubic yards of dirt, the $23-million Black Gold course will finally open to the public today, the first new full-length municipal golf course in Orange County since Anaheim Hills' in 1972.
The 18-hole, 6,756-yard layout is Yorba Linda's contribution to the public-private partnership that will transform 1,000 acres of undeveloped hills into a golf course community of luxury homes. Vista del Verde, as it is called, will eventually have 2,100 townhouses and single-family homes. With the first phase completed, prices range from $400,000 to $850,000, with a few running more than $1 million.
City officials are convinced that in a few years, the golf course--named in honor of the oil field on which it is located--will pay off its cost, which took the form of about $6 million in redevelopment funds and the rest in revenue bonds. Future profits will go toward other city parks and recreational facilities.
Though some residents have complained at City Council meetings that they won't be able to afford to play at Black Gold, course managers consider the prices reasonable for its caliber of design.
Greens fees range from $50 to $95, depending on the day and time, and include a motorized golf cart. That's considerably less than at most private courses. In addition, there are discounts for Yorba Linda residents, senior citizens and youngsters.
The back part of the course juts into the open hills facing Chino Hills State Park. Cactus and wild blooms sprout from the terrain--but so do dozens of black oil wells, pumping around the clock for Shell Oil Co. and Exxon/Mobil Oil Co. Over the next few years, the oil wells will be shut down.
Nine years ago, when the fields belonged to just Shell Oil, the city asked for the company's cooperation in extending Bastanchury Road through its property. That led to discussions between the city and Shell's land control company, Brea-based Aera Energy, about the future of those nearly depleted oil fields.
"I brought up a golf course," said Roy Stephenson, the city's longtime public works director, who retired last year but remains a consultant on the golf course project. "I don't think they quite pictured how you could stick a golf course up there in those hills. But they agreed to explore the idea."
Oil Company Donated 219 Acres for Course
What did interest the oil company people was the city's cooperation in developing the rest of their acreage. The city annexed the property, helped with planning and provided all the permits. In exchange, the company donated the 219 acres for the golf course.
"That's the only way a city can build a golf course these days," Stephenson said. "By getting the land for free, we could afford to build a really quality golf course."
Noted Ohio-based golf course architect Arthur Hills was hired to design it; the $4-million clubhouse on the grounds will host banquets and weddings and fund-raisers.
As part of the agreement, the developers will build an elementary school and an adjacent five-acre park in the area.
Golf magazines currently portray a soft market, with so many golf courses being built. (Orange County has 39 public courses.) But Lohman said Black Gold projects 48,000 tee times sold the first year, with an even higher number after it can get some promotions lined up.
Some groups have had preview rounds on the course this week. But the inaugural 6 a.m. tee-off time today belongs to Matt Meiners of Yorba Linda and three friends. Meiners, an avid golfer, got in his bid for an early tee time months ago.