Plans to change the use of Mile Square Park golf course draw supporters and opponents

Matthew Hall of EPT Design takes notes as a fan of radio-controlled airplanes suggests that Orange County designate flying space where a golf course now sits at Mile Square Regional Park. The operator of the Players Course has agreed to relinquish the 93 acres to the county.
(Photo by Hillary Davis)

Mile Square Regional Park users gave Orange County the feedback it was looking for Wednesday night as it plans to repurpose a 93-acre swath of the Fountain Valley park that is currently a golf course.

Radio-controlled aircraft, baseball and lawn bowling made the list. As did golf.

At least 100 people filled Freedom Hall at Mile Square during a community outreach session. County parks staff members and design consultants gave a basic outline of what the county might do with the land — performance space, sports fields, picnic spots, open space — while asking the audience to help them fill in the details.

Matthew Hall, principal of EPT Design, a Laguna Beach landscape architecture firm and county parks consultant, said the county has four broad goals: reconnect with nature, create a cultural hub, improve circulation for cars, bicycles and pedestrians, and promote education and engagement. He described the proposed cultural space as a potential regional destination for performances or markets.

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The county will take input over the next three to six months before starting planning in earnest in the fall. It could break ground on new features in early 2021 and open them by 2022.

New plans would replace the 18-hole Players Course, one of two public courses in the Mile Square Golf Course complex and one of three courses in the 640-acre park (an executive course is in the park’s northwest corner).

Mile Square Golf Course LP, the operator of the two-course complex — which also includes the 18-hole Classic Course — told the county it wanted to scale back its operations after it fell behind $3.6 million on its rent in the face of a cooling golf industry. The county renegotiated its lease with Mile Square Golf Course LP last year, dropping the base rent to $850,000 a year from $3.1 million and cutting the county’s share of greens, driving range and rental revenue roughly in half.

The county also agreed to cancel the rent debt by taking back the 93 acres occupied by the Players Course. The course is still open, and the operator has until January 2021 to return the land.

Hall took notes Wednesday as people approached him beside an illustration of a possible layout for the next phase of the park.

“People [are] wanting Japanese gardens, remote-control airplanes,” Hall said. “A gentleman here is from the Audubon Society.”

An illustration shows possible uses for the space currently occupied by the Players Course at Mile Square Regional Park. Ball fields at the Fountain Valley Sports Park are just west of the potential picnic space. The asterisk suggests a new entry driveway along Euclid Street.
(Photo by Hillary Davis)

A group of men toting a model aviation magazine and a homemade blue glider explained how they’d like open space to fly.

Pickleball players brought their gear in backpacks designed to hold the paddles and perforated balls used in the game.

Charlyn Moltane and Adriana Sandoval were there to promote lawn bowling.

Lawn bowling requires a smooth grass surface measuring 120 square feet for players to roll notched balls at a target. In a three-page proposal, Moltane, president of the Santa Ana Lawn Bowling Club, made her pitch for two greens.

Sandoval, an Irvine resident who is marketing director for Bowls USA, said Southern California is the organization’s most active area, with 28 clubs in the Southwest division reaching from Cambria to San Diego. Seven clubs are in Orange County, including Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach.

The clubs are so successful that they’re “busting at the seams,” Sandoval said. Another facility in the region would be a welcome addition, she added.

Golfers, however, were vocal in their opposition to losing the course. After loudly announcing their disappointment that the meeting was not town hall-style — one rallied the crowd with “Yeah, keep the park the same!” — they crowded around Dylan Wright, director of Orange County Community Resources, which includes the parks division.

He said he would consider any uses, as long as user studies support them.

“It is truly a blank slate,” he said.

Steve Crider, who plays golf at Mile Square several times a week, said the Players and Classic courses are equally popular and are booked most days.

He said golfers were surprised by the county’s plans and had not been given a chance to weigh in before the county and the course operator agreed to the relinquishment.

“I’m not sure this speeding train can be stopped, but the golf community will do anything possible to do so,” he said.

Gary Bennett, a member of the Costa Mesa Senior Golf Assn., said many of his club’s members visit Mile Square.

“Not only is it a well-kept facility, it is one of only very few venues that is reasonably priced for senior golfers in O.C.,” he said. “I believe that none of the O.C. Board of Supervisors are avid golfers or have any understanding of what golf means or does for anyone that plays.”