Proposed Golf Course Called Safe by County, EPA

Times Staff Writer

The proposed golf course on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, mired in red tape and opposition from residents for nearly five years, took a step closer to construction last month when two government agencies deemed the land safe for its planned purpose.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Los Angeles County released separate reports stating that a course built according to submitted plans on the former landfill poses little threat to the environment.

After a public-comment period that ends in late January, the project will go to the county Recreation and Parks Department for certification. If certified, it will then go to the county Board of Supervisors for approval in the spring. If approved, construction could begin by next fall.

"It's far more likely than not that the board will approve the project," said Craig Kessler, executive director of the Public Links of Southern California Golf Assn. and a leading proponent of the new course.

The proposed 6,640-yard, par-72 Johnny Miller design would be owned by the county and have green fees in the $40-$65 range.

"I'm pretty confident that this is good use of land," Kessler said.

"Los Angeles County is the most golf-starved region in the country, especially that area. The need for a course is acute."

Opposition has come from residents and environmentalists who say that building a course on a former landfill is dangerous because the water needed to maintain a golf course could cause harm. But those arguments were challenged by the new reports.

Course developers plan to use state-of-the-art technology to prevent water from mixing with the underground waste. There are at least four heavily played courses in Southern California that are built on landfills: Industry Hills in Industry, Victoria in Carson, River Ridge in Oxnard and Scholl Canyon in Glendale. None has had environmental issues.

"The reports basically say that the area will be safer when the project is done than it is now," Kessler said. "All the arguments against it have been rejected by the science that has been performed on it."

A public-comment meeting will be held Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. at the South Coast Botanic Garden in Palos Verdes.

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Plans to close half of Hidden Valley Golf Course and use the land for homes are on hold after the Norco City Council expressed concern about adding more housing to an already crowded area.

Hidden Valley is now in escrow. New owner D.R. Horton, a Riverside real estate developer, has proposed turning it into a nine-hole course and using the rest of the land for more than 200 homes.

The course has struggled financially since opening in 1997, especially after the late-1990s golf course boom that saw a proliferation of new courses in the western Riverside County area.

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Lost Canyons Golf Course in Simi Valley remains closed because of damage from the wildfires late last month.

Course operators hope to open the Shadow Course within the next week, but the Sky Course will stay closed indefinitely because the fire knocked out five bridges, making several holes inaccessible.

Power and phones at the course were not restored until Nov. 6 -- nearly two weeks after the fires began. Heavy smoke damaged the clubhouse, and the walls had to be repainted and the carpets cleaned.

Several other courses in the area were threatened by the fires, including Tierra Rejada, Moorpark Country Club and Rustic Canyon, all in Moorpark. Those courses lost much of the natural vegetation surrounding them, but there was no significant damage to the fairways or greens. All were fully operational within days of the fires.

"The course actually slowed the fire down," said Mark Wipf, head professional at Rustic Canyon. "Our position here probably saved some homes, so we're thankful we were here to serve a purpose other than just a place to play golf."

At Tierra Rejada, firefighters used the lake on the 13th hole to fill water-dropping helicopters. Most of the brush surrounding the course burned. Head professional Tom Szwedzinski said it looks like "the moon," but that the course was in good shape.

There was more good news: Golfers can now recover balls they lost before the fires. Szwedzinski said his crew found nearly 7,500 balls in the burn areas.

"They're all melted and singed, but we've got them."

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The fires in San Bernardino County burned in areas mostly golf-course-free. Lake Arrowhead Country Club was the closest. It closed for two weeks because of the power outage but did not sustain any damage.

"The fire was close, but not that close," head professional Tim Miskell said.

Heavy smoke had a greater effect on area courses. The play at Empire Lakes Golf Course in Rancho Cucamonga declined significantly during the weekend of Oct. 25-26.

"I think we had one player on that Sunday," General Manager Randy Shannon said. "And maybe 15 the day before. There are some golf fanatics."

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For the first time, UCLA has an on-campus practice facility. Officially opened on Saturday, the facility includes a 3,000-square-foot tee box to accommodate 10 golfers, a 3,000 square-foot putting green with a sand bunker and a chipping area.

It is on the north end of the intramural field, between Drake Stadium and the John Wooden Center. The facility is about 150 yards from end to end; players must use limited-flight balls for full shots.

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UCLA freshman Chris Heintz qualified for the PGA Tour Buick Invitational by shooting one-under-par 71 and finishing second in an amateur qualifier at Torrey Pines Golf Course.

The Buick Invitational is one of only a few PGA Tour events that holds an amateurs-only qualifying tournament. David Schnider, who is in charge of global sales at Fujikura shaft company, won the 100-player qualifier with a 70.

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Garrett Sapp of Cerritos and Jennie Lee of Huntington Beach have been selected Southern California PGA Junior Golfers of the Year. Sapp, a senior at Gahr High, won four events, and Lee, a junior at Edison, won the SCPGA Junior Tour's Toyota Tour Cup Championship.

Current LPGA star Candie Kung was inducted into the SCPGA junior Golf Hall of Fame. The SCPGA junior player of the year in 1997, '98 and '99, Kung has won three times on the LPGA Tour this season.

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Hoag Hospital of Newport Beach has set up a memorial fund for Chris Premer, the late media and communications director of the Champions Tour Toshiba Senior Classic. Premer, 30, died Oct. 1 when the small plane he was traveling in crashed in Mira Loma en route to a Boston Red Sox-Oakland A's playoff game. Pilot Paul Mumford, a race car driver and close friend of Premer, also died in the crash. Details: Hoag Hospital at (949) 574-7200.

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