Golf course restored

Forecasts of rain haven't dampened plans for the reopening Sunday of Aliso Creek Golf Course, closed since December when flooding inundated the fairways.

Aliso Creek Inn General Manager Kurt Bjorkman said Tuesday that no decision will be made until Saturday to delay the Sunday re-opening, which will be a benefit for the survivors of the disastrous winter rainstorms. All golf proceeds on Sunday will be donated to the Laguna Relief and Resource Center, which is coordinating assistance to the flood survivors.

"We are selling Tee Box sponsorships for $100 a hole," said insurance broker John Campbell, who is spearheading the benefit reopening with his wife, Lu.

"As of [Monday], we have sold 23 sponsorships. We will be selling closest-to-the-pin tickets at the course on Sunday. It will cost $5 to enter, and the winner will get $50 and a free round of golf at Aliso."

Donations will also be accepted.

"Yes, the rain and floods caused extreme devastation to our course," Bjorkman said. "However, while it hurt our business, it does not compare to the impact that the storm has had on many of our Laguna Beach neighbors.

"We have an opportunity through the Laguna Relief and Resource Center to help our community and make a difference."

The nonprofit center has come to the aid of the survivors of the storm, just as it did in 1993 when a fire storm swept through Laguna, and in 2005, when a landslide devastated Bluebird Canyon. Its mission is to bring together those in need with the network of resources and agencies available in the community that can address their needs without duplicating the work of federal or other local agencies.

Like residents and other businesses afflicted by the flood, golf course officials had a massive cleanup job. Golf course superintendent Greg Jones and his team immediately began clearing debris, rebuilding bunkers, replanting trees and reseeding the entire course.

"It was heartbreaking to see the damage, but we are excited to reveal the progress we have made to the course," Jones said. "The restored course is incredible with pristine greens and immaculate tee boxes."

It has taken almost two months to repair the damage.

This is not the first time the creek that gives the nine-hole golf course its name and divides the fairways has wreaked havoc on the resort.

In 1983, flooding due to El Niño conditions sluiced water through the creek at a rate of 5,400 feet per second, overflowing its banks and flooding up to 10 feet in places.

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Greens with deep roots

Aliso Creek Inn and Golf Course has deep roots in Laguna. It sits on 83 acres first settled in 1871 by George and Sarah Thurston, great-grandparents of Councilman Kelly Boyd.

William "Bill" Bryant bought the property in the late 1940s and began construction of the "Laguna Beach Country Club" golf course, which opened in 1950, according to the official history.

Ben and Violet Brown bought the property in 1956 and embarked on an ambitious expansion plan that included a 10-story unit, 80 guest lodges, a special event pavilion, a larger clubhouse, a restaurant, swimming pools, tennis courts and other recreational space.

The economic decline in the 1960s forced the Browns to settle for a 64-unit complex, eventually reduced to 62, including a penthouse suite that was their home, now down to 60 units.

Construction began on Ben Brown's restaurant, a new golf shop and locker rooms in 1967.

Brown died in 1970 and Violet took control, renaming the facility the Ben Brown Motel and Golf Course.

The name was again changed in 1978 to Aliso Creek Inn & Golf Course. The restaurant continued to be called Ben Brown's.

Many still call the whole place Ben Brown's, although even the restaurant was renamed the Canyon Lodge American Grill when the property was bought by Aliso Creek Properties in 2003.

Last year, the grill was converted to a special events venue with full catering and conference services.

The inn has long been the site of special local events. Local U.S. Marines, active and retired, hold the Marine Corps annual birthday celebration there. The Rotary Club and Laguna Beach Taxpayers Assn. meet there and many locals got their first look there at the various proposals from preserve to reserve for all or some for Laguna's coastline. Bluegrass lovers got a treat when Laguna Beach Live! brought the Bearfoot Band to the course to play music not golf.

The hotel also caters to tourists, corporate retreats and social events.

"We are thrilled to be reopening the course and to be raising money for the Laguna Relief and Resource Center," said J.D. Blashaw, golf operations manager. "The entire team is ready to welcome back our players and introduce our course to new guests."

To become a Tee Box Sponsor, call John or Lu Campbell at (949) 494-1008. To reserve a Sunday tee time, visit http://www.alisocreekinn.com or call the pro shop at (949) 499-1919.

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