There are several ways to take this news: end of a lifestyle/way of life, beginning of development/alternative use. There are striking similarities to the golf course struggle here at ArrowCreek. However, on the current ArrowCreek path, only one life style wins. The opposite one gets forced to change or leave. We need a compromise. We need to find a way where both lifestyles can co-exist. Where is a win-win solution? Perhaps the club stays a private, separate enterprise from the HOA funded by its own means while the rest of the community continues as was.
Here is the video and original article: Sadness Over Lost Country Club
Larry Bohannan, The Desert Sun 2:38 p.m. PST February 6, 2015
There is a combination of sadness and resignation in Walter Altofer’s voice when he talks about his home golf course.
“I tell you, this place is a jewel,” Altofer says about Santa Rosa Golf Club in Palm Desert. “And nobody knows about it.”
As president of the board of directors at Santa Rosa, Altofer is part of a group that finds itself overseeing the final days of the club. Members know that by the end of May their course, opened in 1978, will shut down, sold to a developer with visions of residential units on the 79 acres at the corner of Portola Avenue and Frank Sinatra Drive.
“It’s just strictly too many members have died or moved on,” said Rick Barnes of Palm Desert, a 10-year member at Santa Rosa.
“Just a loss of membership is what it boils down to.”
The story of golf courses closures outpacing openings across the country is nothing new as recreational golf struggles with dwindling play and dwindling interest in the country club lifestyle. But the golf-crazed Coachella Valley has been immune to course closures, at least until now. Private courses in the desert have opened their gates to the public, and one course, Cathedral Canyon Country Club in Cathedral City, downsized from 27 to 18 holes. But Santa Rosa will be the first desert course to close its doors for good during the current national downturn.
The harsh economic reality that Santa Rosa is no longer viable as a private club or even as a club that accepts outside play doesn’t erase the disappointment of the 118 remaining members.
“It’s more sadness than anything,” said Arthur Perchaliuk, a snowbird living in Bermuda Dunes and a 10-year Santa Rosa member. “How do you say it? I am losing a bunch of friends here. Once I leave, some of them I might not ever see again.”
How did a club that seemed so healthy 10 years ago find itself planning to close by no later than May this year? Economics is at the heart of the issue, said Altofer, an investment advisor who moved to the desert from Connecticut 10 years ago.
“As the membership was diminishing, cash flow was diminishing,” he said.
The club was paying off a 15-year, $700,000 bank note, but the bank had the right to call in the note at various times. That’s just what the bank did, even though Altofer said the club was paying the loan like clockwork.
“They were getting a good rate on it, particularly in this environment,” Altofer said. “And they said we are not lending to golf anymore. We are not going to renew it. They were very firm on that.”
The course also faced repayment of what Altofer described as a $400,000 member loan. In the end, club members knew they weren’t going to be able to come up with the cash as membership continued to drop. The decision was made to sell the property two years ago. The natural buyer was RJT Development, which owns 17 undeveloped acres adjoining the Santa Rosa property. Combined, the property will feature about 96 acres for residential development in a prime Palm Desert location.
“I don’t know that it was inevitable, but it is a very sad situation in that we had at one time, when I joined, we had 300-plus members,” said Ken Sakai, who has also served as the course’s acting general manager for the last three years. “So we had a very active membership, I thought. But I guess the board failed, and I was on the board, too. But that common goal wasn’t there.”
Sakai’s work as general manager has helped save the club money over the last three years, Altofer said, something that helped keep the club going perhaps longer than it would have otherwise. Also helping was the decision to open the course to outside play.
“It has really kept us going. We are profitable in January, February and March. They are great months for us,” Altofer said. “We also contacted the Westin timeshare across the street so if they get people who don’t want to pay $175 at Desert Willow and want to pay $50, we bring them over here. We have also set up something with Club Intrawest (at Desert Willow Golf Resort). If they bring people down, part of the package is a free round of golf at Santa Rosa.”
The course even eliminated initiation fees, which were previously reduced from $5000 to $1500, a common practice at private clubs in the last few years, letting members join by simply starting to pay monthly dues.
But the efforts didn’t produce an influx of members. Altofer said in three years the club has added maybe three members. The par-70 course, considered short at just 5,568 yards from the back tees, somehow didn’t appeal to potential members as a playable alternative to longer, tougher courses at more famous clubs.
“It is funny, because I have almost thought of (Santa Rosa) as the prototype for the golf courses going forward,” Altofer said. “It’s a par-70, it is shorter, you can play it in 3½ hours if it moves along at a good pace.”
Kevin Heaney, the executive director of the Southern California Golf Association, said that given the national trend and the 123 golf courses in the Coachella Valley, it’s a little surprising that a desert course hasn’t already been shuttered in the last few years. In Southern California, four courses have closed just since the end of 2013, Claremont Golf Course, Sycamore Canyon Golf Course outside of Bakersfield, San Luis Rey Downs in Bonsall and The Ranch at Lake Elizabeth outside of Lancaster.
“We are seeing this around the country. No one has really escaped it,” said Heaney in a phone interview from New York, where he was attending the United States Golf Association annual meetings. “In some areas where the economy is better, like Texas maybe, they haven’t seen as much of it. But what it really is is a market correction. Maybe a lot of courses that were built were built by people who might not have known where the market is going.”
According to the National Golf Foundation, 2014 was expected to be the ninth consecutive year of more closures than openings. In 2013, the last year for which figures are available 157.5 18-hole equivalent courses closed compared to just 14 courses opening.
Heaney said that part of the focus of the USGA meetings is trying to reverse the trends of fewer golf courses and fewer players from the last decade. Each closed course is a concern, he said, but the SCGA and the USGA are particularly worried when they see a public or municipal course close, since that’s where many young people first learn to play. There is still long-term hope for the health of golf, Heaney said.
“It’s not going to happen overnight. But I look at some of the junior programs and some of them are doing quite well,” he said. “Some of this is market correction, but the truth is golf courses go as the economy goes. Ten years ago or so, we didn’t have to think about it, but now we do.”
Generational differences in golf certainly also play a part in the pending demise of Santa Rosa. Walk through the clubhouse at Santa Rosa and you’ll see faces mostly in their 60s and 70s.
“And their 80s and even a few in their 90s,” Altfoer said with a smile.
The older generation of golfers may see the country club experience as a community for more than just golf. On a recent day in the clubhouse some men played a a spirited card game at one table, nearby a group of eight women played a form of dominoes at another table. A member pointed over to what he called “the Minnesota table,” while two tables had been pushed together and were occupied mostly by snowbirds from Canada.
“Once it started happening, it’s kind of sad,” said Jenny Hart, the assistant general manager of the club for the last four years who is one of about 20 staff members who will lose their jobs when the course closes. “Because everyone realizes they have to find someplace to go. There are too many different directions. The whole group is not going to be together anymore.”
It’s an easy course to play and there are a lot of walkers, Barnes said about the club. But the sense of community is the aspect he has come to treasure the most.
“Camaraderie is what I like more than anything, and we are going to miss that,” he said.
“It is such a nice little club,” said Jennifer Perchaliuk, who first convinced her husband to try Santa Rosa. “I don’t know, people just don’t realize it, what a little gem it is in the middle of the desert. Reasonably prices, nice course, nice people. But it will never been the same, no.”
While Santa Rosa as a club might not exist in a few months, most of the remaining members want to keep playing golf. At the club’s invitation, about a dozen clubs within close proximity to Santa Rosa made presentations, hoping to entice new members to their club this fall with special offers and the lure of their golf courses and facilities. That may feel like vultures circling over the dying club, but as Santa Rosa shows, every course in the desert has to keep hustling for members in tough times.
“You have to start over,” Arthur Perchaliuk said. “We went over to Desert Falls, and it seems like a lot of nice people over there, too. Nice atmosphere, affordable, so we are probably going to do that.”
But perhaps it is Altofer’s plans that should have the powers in the game of golf concerned the most.
“I don’t know. I don’t have the passion for golf that I used to have,” Altofer said. “So I may do nothing.”
Golf course closures have far outpaced openings in the United States in recent years.
GOLF COURSE STATISTICS
Based on 18-hole equivalent courses.
Source: National Golf Foundation