George Kelley, the club’s owner, is citing the state’s drought as well as a downturn in rounds as reasons for the closure. Kelley plans to focus on his family’s almond business instead.
Stevinson (Calif.) Ranch Golf Club will close July 18, with the owner citing a downturn in rounds as well as serious water concerns as reasons for the closure, the Merced (Calif.) Sun-Star reported.
Owner George Kelley, who co-designed the Merced County course with John Harbottle III on family-owned wetlands property, informed his staff the afternoon of May 19, the Sun-Star reported.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Kelley said. “We were just getting hammered to the point where our water situation was awful. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We had to make a business decision—our family almond business had to come first over the golf business.”
The closure marks the valley golf community’s second major hit within the last year. Diablo Grande’s Legends course, the only golf design in the world bearing the design signatures of Jack Nicklaus and the late Gene Sarazen, closed due to water shortages last spring. It was opened in 1998. The slightly older Ranch course at Diablo Grande, surrounded by more than 400 homes tucked into the hills near Patterson, remains open, the Sun-Star reported.
Stevinson Ranch was praised world-wide since the day it opened. The throwback design echoed the character and traditions of the great Scottish links courses. The smooth and fast greens, dramatic bunkering, ideal condition and overall playability made Stevinson Ranch an immediate favorite, the Sun-Star reported.
The property’s first-class practice facilities and pace-setter reputation—it has been 100 percent solar powered for several years—also were praised, along with its trademark sensitivity to the environment. The course and wetlands provided habitat for more than 120 species of birds, including the great blue heron. Nesting boxes for owls, bats, wood ducks and birds were a common sight near the fairways, the Sun-Star reported.
“I can’t believe it. I’m in shock,” said Cal State Stanislaus golf coach John Cook, whose team has practiced at Stevinson Ranch for many years. “The finishing holes were just unbelievable. It’s like a Palm Springs course in the valley. It’s awesome.”
But problems plagued Stevinson Ranch in recent years. The course, reflecting a nationwide dropoff in golf participation, has seen a decrease from about 44,000 played per year down to about 30,000, the Sun-Star reported.
A fire destroyed the kitchen, pro shop and restaurant in 2013. Also during that year, nematodes—microscopic worms that feed on plants—nearly wrecked Stevinson Ranch’s putting surfaces. Though it recovered from those setbacks, the course couldn’t bounce back from the drought, the Sun-Star reported.
The Stevinson Corporation, which features its dairy business along with about 1,000 acres of almonds, owns the golf course. Kelley said the decrease in golf revenue along with the company’s need to redeploy their limited water supplies forced the closure, the Sun-Star reported.
“I feel just terrible about it,” Kelley said. “I regret that California is going to lose a course that has become so well-known and highly regarded.”