A wealthy San Diego developer wants to construct what appears to be a first in American history: a private family cemetery on a public golf course, specifically designed as the final resting place for a golf fanatic.
On July 8, Manchester Resorts applied to the City of San Diego for permission to build a private five-plot cemetery on the company's super-upscale Meadows Del Mar Golf Club, just off the 15th tee, on the highest spot on the property, so that company owner and golf lover Doug Manchester and his family members can R.I.P. above a V.I.P. course.
I spent two days pinning down the uniqueness of this project. I called golf experts: the U.S. Golf Association, National Golf Foundation, Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, Golf Business magazine. I asked if any had heard of a golf lover being buried on a public course. None had.
They knew of golf courses being built around pre-existing, very old cemeteries. They knew of golfers' ashes being spread on golf courses.
But then I found a veritable fount of information on golf esoterica: the Golf Nuts Society. It can't be reached by phone, but I submitted my inquiry by e-mail. The golfer who proudly calls himself "The Head Nut" sent my query to his membership. Back came a flood of replies.
Members of Copper Hill Country Club in Ringoes, New Jersey, have to play over a cemetery on the par three 15th hole. "I have seen numerous balls laid to rest," says David Mason. But the cemetery dates to the early 1700s and is home to no golf nuts. The 12th hole at a course near Utica, New York, is built around a circa 1700s cemetery, too. After hooking his ball into a pond, George Shemo requested immediate burial, but his partner talked him out of it.
There was once a headstone near the first tee of Coos Country Club in Oregon. But it belonged to an Indian chief, not a golfer, and has long since been removed.
Similarly, the former Thunderbirds Golf Club in Phoenix had old grave sites near the tee box. Ironically, the course itself almost died of financial distress. But it has been redesigned, renamed Vistal Golf Club, and the graves are gone.
There are some foreign examples. A cemetery is adjacent to Ireland's famed Ballybunion Golf Club. At least one golf nut arranged to be buried there. There is a headstone on a course in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. A man had wanted to be buried there. After he died on the course, his wishes were granted.
According to legend, C.V. Starr, founder of an insurance company, couldn't get into a country club in Brewster, New York, because he was married to a Chinese woman. So he built his own course, which is now owned by the insurance giant that bought his company. Starr is buried behind the seventh green.
My favorite story dates to 1913. Lake Zurich Country Club, north of Chicago, was so exclusive it had only 40 members -- the most influential people in town. A railroad wanted to extend a spur to Lake Zurich. Invoking eminent domain, the town council accommodated the railroad by condemning part of the land on the third hole. So the physician members had four cadavers brought to the club. The lawyer members drew up papers having the course declared a cemetery. The cadavers were buried in an elaborate ceremony, accompanied by a Chicago jazz band. The railroad relented.
The gravestone had this inscription: "Stranger pause and bare thy head, here lie buried four men in this bucolic spot interred to foil the vile machinations of a huge and heartless railroad corporation who, through the iniquitous law of eminent domain, had thought to seize this beautiful spot for its own fell purposes. May these four rest in peace."
The city planning department will ultimately rule on Manchester's application, although it could be appealed to city council. If it is approved, the Manchester grave site looks like a first.
The city's project manager on the proposal, Farah Mahzari, has fielded many calls from Del Mar Mesa residents. They aren't necessarily opposed; they want more information, she says.
The Del Mar Mesa Community Planning Board, which has an advisory vote, will take up the matter in September. Homeowners at the posh development, who also have an advisory vote, heard preliminary plans a week ago.
The reaction thus far runs between puzzlement and amusement. "We have two houses on five acres with a three-acre field in the middle," says Jim Besemer, a member of the Del Mar Mesa Community Planning Board. "If he gets to be buried in his little field, we should be able to be buried in ours. It is bizarre. I would be surprised if the city listens."
Remington Jackson, also a member of the Del Mar Mesa planning board, says of Manchester, "His lackey started out passing the word that he wanted to be buried on the 15th hole, but in true Manchester fashion, it is now a 70-foot by 70-foot plot [4923 square feet]." Jackson notes that Manchester has already erected a chain-link fence and an arching stone wall.
Many Del Mar Mesa residents suspect that Manchester has the clout to get the project built. But maybe not. Manchester has crossed swords with various branches of the San Diego government before. For just one example, several political groups now want to raise the transient occupancy tax. But Manchester, an opponent of such an increase, was the power behind the so-called "Manchester Initiative" of last year that mandated a two-thirds vote to raise the hotel tax. That has ruffled some feathers, as have some of his past dealings with agencies and politicians.
One possible stumbling block is that the memorial site will sit right next to a planned upscale housing development to be built by Pardee Homes. Residents of the Pardee development would look down on the cemetery, says Bernard Turgeon, senior planner, San Diego Planning Department.
"I have no objections to the concept," says Chuck Corum, assistant vice president of Pardee Homes. "My only concern is what it would look like. Before I make a final determination, I would want to see exactly what they plan."