Golf course lease on tap

Editor's note: This corrects the length of the lease terms.

Golfers could keep hitting balls under the bellies of flying jets for another decade if the County Board of Supervisors signs a new lease with the Newport Beach Golf Course on Tuesday.

Four years ago, the county scrapped John Wayne Airport's controversial plan to pave a parking lot over the public course and decided to renew its land lease. But the lease was on a month-to-month basis, and the course's owners and some golfers were left in uncertainty.

Now, if the board approves the new lease, the 35-year-old golf course would have a year to make some repairs, and then the county would extend the lease for another nine years. It would quell fears that the only public golf course in Newport Beach could soon be lost to an expanding airport.

"It has been a long, hard road, and we're all in agreement," said Steve Lane, who opened the course in 1976 and is one of its owners. "It's good for the community."

One of the only lighted courses in the county, Newport Beach Golf Course provides a nice after-work break for many. With green fees as low as $19 for 18-holes, it's a dramatically more affordable option than somewhere like Pelican Hill Golf Club, which has a $250 daily fee.

The new lease terms aren't cheap for the course owners — based on an independent appraisal, the county raised the minimum annual rent from $91,000, which it has been paying since 1995, to $180,000.

The county also calculates a share of revenues from the golf operations, and if it exceeds the minimum annual amount, then the course pays more. For instance, in the 2009-10 fiscal year the course paid $136,000.

Business has been good in recent years, said Lane. It's popular with golfers of all ages, he said.

Course regulars and local officials were outraged when the airport floated a plan to build an off-site rental car parking lot there in 2007, when the golf course's lease expired.

"The community very loudly and clearly said that they support the golf course," said Courtney Wiercioch, director of public affairs at JWA.

As a provision of the new lease, the course must replace damaged fences, replace old golf benches and even replace the brushes on the ball and shoe cleaners, among other repairs and maintenance.

"If the facilities are to be used for golf, we want them to be first class," said Wiercioch.

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