The days appear to be numbered for one of the three public golf courses at Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley.
Orange County plans to repurpose 93 centrally located acres known as the Players Course for general recreational use, though the timeline and other details are to be determined.
The county — which owns the 640-acre park and contracts out operations for its three golf courses — will hold a public forum Wednesday to gather input on what to do with the Players Course space.
The land take-back would cancel $3.6 million in unpaid rent the county is owed by Mile Square Golf Course LP, the operator of the 36-hole Mile Square Golf Course complex, which includes the 18-hole Players Course and the 18-hole Classic Course.
In addition to clearing the rent debt, the county sees value in adding the acreage to its general recreation inventory, according to a staff report prepared when the county and the operator negotiated the relinquishment in March. The operator has until January 2021 to return the land.
The renegotiated lease immediately dropped the base rent to $850,000 a year (from $3.1 million) and cut the county’s share of greens, driving range and rental revenue roughly in half.
Mile Square regular Mike Blash says he knows what to do with the space — golf.
Blash, president of the Mile Square Men’s Golf Club, said he’s among about 30 to 40 golfers who hit the links on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The group has to reserve its tee times about a month out, even for weekday play, he said.
The club, which has about 250 members, also holds monthly tournaments at the Mile Square complex, using both courses.
“It’s always crowded over there no matter what day you go over to play,” Blash said.
Craig Kessler, director of governmental affairs for the Southern California Golf Assn., said Mile Square “has a very good reputation. It’s very popular.”
“My impression of this is no one asked the golf community,” he said.
The Players Course is one of six Orange County golf courses on county-owned land. In addition to the Players/Classic complex, the county has the 18-hole David Baker Golf Course at the northwest corner of Mile Square Regional Park and courses in Irvine, Newport Beach and Santa Ana. The latter four are operated under separate lease agreements.
The Classic Course, in the park’s southwest quadrant, opened in 1969. The Players Course, north of the Classic Course and east of the Fountain Valley Recreation Center and Sports Park, opened in 1999. Around that time, the county and Mile Square Golf Course LP agreed to a 40-year lease that the county believes is no longer sustainable given what it calls the declining state of the golf industry. The minimum annual rent before the 2018 renegotiation was about $3.1 million for the 36-hole complex — about $1.5 million per course.
The operator didn’t pay the entire amount owed in 2009 and 2014, according to a county audit in 2017.
Though the industry has cooled since the 1990s, Orange County still has more demand than supply for accessible urban golf courses like Mile Square’s “very, very popular and successful public golf,” Kessler said.
Kessler said renegotiated municipal golf leases are common in Los Angeles County and there are provisions to maintain golf facilities, not repurpose them.
For now, the Players Course remains open, with green fees going for $39 per player Monday through Thursday.
Blash said he’s afraid that losing one course will drive up rates for the remaining course, potentially putting Mile Square out of reach for golfers on fixed incomes. On Thursdays, Blash and his group — made up mostly of retirees like him — play the Players Course, with its wider fairways and abundant water hazards.