Photo by Kyle Szymanski.

The nationwide decline of interest in golf has struck Brentwood, and local residents are upset about plans for potential new development on nearby courses.

SunCoast Golf Inc. owners and managers of Deer Ridge and Shadow Lakes Golf Clubs since 2005, revealed the courses are struggling, and dramatic steps are needed if golfing is to continue on the two properties.

“The current operation of the golf courses is unsustainable,” said consultant Joe Dahlstrom, who noted the two courses owe close to $10 million in loans and $400,000 in accrued and delinquent real-estate tax and are losing a total of $893,781 a year.

 According to Dahlstrom, the most suitable option is to consolidate the courses – currently a combined 36 holes – into one 18-hole course. Management would explore the construction of senior housing complexes at one location on each course to alleviate the outstanding debt, using the remaining consolidated land for open space, walking trails, bike paths, vineyards or play areas. 

Under such a plan, the potential future senior housing residents would pay an assessment to subsidize the golf operation and the landscaping and maintenance of the open-space areas.

That proposal, however, is not sitting well with the close to 2,000 homeowners in the Shadow Lakes and Deer Ridge communities, some of whom have backyards that front the golf course. The residents, who were invited to a series of meetings with golf-course officials, expressed a wide range of concerns, including loss of the unobstructed view of the golf course some had paid a premium for and fear other development beyond senior housing would follow. They also expressed reservations about the success of senior housing and a wide variety of other concerns.

A petition to stop the rezoning has garnered 250 signatures in seven days.

“This rezoning change will greatly impact our community with reduced property values, aesthetic issues, strain on already limited EMS services and road infrastructure due to increased traffic,” said resident Ramin Mirshah, who launched the petition. 

Fellow resident Wayne Francis said he paid a premium for an unobstructed view of the golf course, not a vineyard, public access or high-density area.

“Two of the holes that are closed we own properties on, so I am not happy, and I am not supporting converting, because we get impacted to a greater extent than anybody else in the surrounding areas,” Francis said.

Another resident, who declined to give his name, added, “What’s the guarantee it’s (senior housing), not just another epic failure?”

Dahlstrom noted that there has never been a connection between private residents who paid premiums for unobstructed views of the course and the courses themselves, and the addition of senior homes would require zoning amendments that must be approved by the city’s planning commission and city council.

Senior housing is considered ideal, because of its minimal effect on traffic, the provision of more educational dollars for schools without adding students and maintaining a healthy balance of home types in the city, Dahlstrom said. It’s also in high demand, with the percentage of California residents over 65 at 13 percent and expected to rise to 19 percent by 2030.

“We feel we can make that successful for the residents and the ownership group,” said Dahlstrom, who indicated officials want to move forward with a plan approved by nearby neighbors. 

Other less ideal options include closing one or both courses or selling the land to a nuclear buyer, who would likely lock the course gates, fence them off, liquidate everything in the locations and ‘torture’ homeowners until they give in to selling as much of the land as possible, Dahlstrom said. 

The result of closing both courses would be a $10 million loss for the investment group, a dramatic impact on residents’ property values and lifestyles, the loss of several jobs and decreased property taxes for the city, Dahlstrom added.

“I think your home value will be protected by something that goes into your area, whether it’s a vineyard or something the community likes, more than a golf course that is no longer in existence,” he said. 

If the senior housing option moves forward, it’s likely the units would be placed at the current location of the Deer Ridge clubhouse, as well as one of two locations on the Shadow Lakes course. Those options are right behind the Shadow Lakes Clubhouse or on the north side of the Shadow Lakes driving range area, where the current maintenance yard is located.

“Part of the reason we chose those opportunity areas for the senior home sites is that they have comparatively little impact on the immediately surrounding residents,” Dahlstrom said.

The proposed changes come roughly 12 years after SunCoast Golf Inc. purchased Shadow Lakes and Deer Ridge from the struggling Troon and SunCal companies for less than $5 million combined.

Since then, the courses have continued to falter, largely due to a decline in the demand for golf, Dahlstrom said. The nationwide demand for golf is down 20 percent from 2003, according to the National Golf Foundation. To make matters worse, Brentwood has three and a half golf courses – one course per 17,430 residents, compared to the California average of one course per 40,470 people and the national average of one course per 20,746 residents.

Dahlstrom went on to say both courses were put up for sale in 2012, but the asking price was far less than what was owed and the properties garnered zero interest.

“One of the major challenges that courses face is the challenge from too few rounds,” Dahlstrom said. “Also, with lower revenue with less demand and too much inventory, it drives the price down and creates lower revenue, which has led to challenges. The basic fact is Brentwood just has too much inventory as far as golf is concerned.”

As golf-course officials inch forward with the plan, it’s expected an environmental impact review will be completed, examining the proposed project’s biological and environmental impact, as well as its effect on things such as traffic and emergency services, said Dahlstrom, who noted the residents will be completely involved in the process. Another round of neighborhood meetings is also expected to request input on the potential uses of open land.

The earliest golf-course officials could go before city officials for certification of the environmental impact report and approval of a development plan agreement is early 2018, Dahlstrom said.

“People who live on open golf-course holes have lives that aren’t going to be any different than they are today, and people who live on holes that are closed are going to have an opportunity to have those open spaces reused in a way they’d like to see,” Dahlstrom said. “We are looking for their input and putting in what people would like to see.”

The assurances are a small consolation to impacted residents. 

“We do not want the land re-zoned. Period.” said resident Natasha Plunkett.