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Escondido Country Club has closed, and neighbors fret that real estate values will plummet. Join the — er, uh — club. Similar woes have afflicted courses in San Diego and all over the world. Course owners have taken a financial beating, as former San Diegan Jeff Silverstein can attest. Employees have been laid off by the score.

San Diego County has more than 90 golf courses, according to the tourism authority, and seemingly perfect weather all year, but that’s not enough. In recent years, Ramona’s Mt. Woodson Golf Club has been foreclosed upon and sold to a new owner. Chula Vista’s Salt Creek Golf Club was sold out of bankruptcy to a new operator. Rancho San Diego’s Cottonwood Golf Club went into bankruptcy but is operating. In Borrego Springs, one course is closed, another has been converted to a research facility, and a third has cut back from 36 holes to 18.

Escondido Country Club, along with Mt. Woodson, Salt Creek, and Cottonwood golf courses are among the local courses that have fallen on hard financial times.

Escondido Country Club, along with Mt. Woodson, Salt Creek, and Cottonwood golf courses are among the local courses that have fallen on hard financial times.

In anticipation of baby boomers retiring, golf courses got vastly overbuilt. But baby boomers aren’t retiring as fast as expected and may not have the attention spans required to play golf. According to National Golf Foundation statistics, there were 30 million golfers in the United States seven years ago. In 2011, there were 25.7 million. In that span, rounds of golf declined from 500 million to 463 million. Last year, there were 13.5 golf course openings and 154.5 closings.

The median sales price of a course last year was about $1.8 million, down sharply from $2.875 million in 2011. Meanwhile, the average price fell by around 45 percent from almost $4 million to $2.16 million, excluding posh courses going for $30 million or more. The number of sales above $3 million was only 27.2 percent of total sales, down from 47.8 percent in 2011.

No wonder golf course investors and their financiers are increasingly shouting the palindrome “Flog golf!” Indeed, one reason course sales have dried up is that primary lenders pulled out.

Former San Diegan Alan Fisher, consultant for golf expert Pellucid Corp., keeps track of inventory in pro shops — clubs, gloves, shoes, shirts, and the like. “I don’t see anything encouraging, although the weather this year has been pretty terrible. I’m not a naysayer, but the golf industry once had 30 million players, and it has lost 6 million. The best thing that could happen would be if 400 golf courses were plowed under. We’re way overbuilt.” Fisher points to demographics: younger generations are “more interested in instant gratification.” It takes an average golfer a minimum of four hours to play a round on a standard course. The game is difficult, cerebral, expensive, and frustrating. “You can play all your life and not be good.” These factors may not appeal to baby boomers headed into retirement.

“There is always a chance of [the industry] hitting bottom, but the real question will be, ‘Will it bounce back up and at what velocity?’” says Harvey Silverman, who is also with Pellucid. The apparent housing recovery has stimulated developments on golf courses, “but only 25 percent of people buying homes on a golf course play golf. We closed 150 courses last year, but that leaves us about 8 percent overbuilt.” He fears this year’s late spring “could affect some courses sitting on the edge.”

Chris Karamitsos, cofounder of the National Golf & Resort Properties Group within Marcus & Millichap, says, “The transaction market [in golf courses] is not in the free fall it was [in] some years ago. I think we are going to hit some stabilization. But when a market is at the bottom, you never know until six months past the time.”

As golf-course prices spiraled downward, onetime San Diegan Jeff Silverstein got a black eye, suffering deep financial reverses. He headed a limited liability company named IRI Golf Group that owned and managed courses. In 2010, 2011, and 2012, newspapers in Tucson and North Carolina, in particular, reported gross mismanagement at courses part owned by IRI. Three courses that IRI owned jointly with other investors went bankrupt. The city of Rockwall, Texas, acting on complaints about upkeep of a golf course there, filed a notification of instances of contract breach prior to the course’s bankruptcy.

Former San Diegan Jeff Silverstein’s golf-management company has taken a beating as the golf market has receded.

Former San Diegan Jeff Silverstein’s golf-management company has taken a beating as the golf market has receded.

Last year, the Arizona Daily Star reported that of four Tucson-area IRI-owned golf courses, two had closed because their water got shut off, a third had its water shut off because of $90,000 in unpaid bills, and employees at a fourth course complained they were not being paid. Other media latched on to the story, and Silverstein kept saying he was working to sell courses and restructure IRI’s debt. One water district’s president complained that his dealings with Silverstein had been “long and irksome.”

In North Carolina, employees of courses owned by IRI or Silverstein said they were not being paid. At several IRI courses, golfers complained of poor maintenance. Meanwhile, members expressed their beefs to Ripoffreport.com, which exposes alleged frauds. Among many things, writers complained of bunker drainage, dangerous cart paths, employees not being paid, and employees’ checks bouncing.

Silverstein says all IRI assets were sold last year and the company is no longer in business, but he personally owns ten courses. He says the most courses IRI ever owned was 23, although some media reported it owned more. He has been in course ownership for several decades. He made money in the early years but concedes that he has lost “a lot of money” in recent years. He won’t comment on a report that he lost $30 million in the last few years. He now bases his golf business in Charlotte, North Carolina, and La Quinta, in Riverside County.

“The crash, as painful as it has been, has let everything reset,” says Silverstein. A course built or purchased for $10 million, and that is now worth $4 million, “has a completely different pricing structure. Stability at a lower level is what we all are hoping for.”

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joemamma42 June 5, 2013 @ 8:12 a.m.

It's not that younger generations don't have the patience for golf, it's just that any decent course costs SO much to play. Not many young people can fork out $100+ for golf on any given day. Most of the cheaper courses are in pretty bad condition and you still pay $40-60 dollars. If Golf doesn't want to die with all of the baby boomers it needs to adjust it's image. It's no fun being a younger person going to a golf course and being browbeat by a bunch of stuffy old people. Even if you are respectful and following the rules it can feel very unwelcoming if you don't look like a 50's prep kid with a flat top.

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Don Bauder June 5, 2013 @ 8:25 a.m.

joemamma42: Yours is a point worth considering. Are golf courses pricing themselves out of the market in this tight economy? Maybe the persons who can afford to play are the old folks who, generally, are better off than the younger generations. Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh June 5, 2013 @ 10:25 a.m.

While I know little about the game and have no desire to ever play, the reports of the cost of a round of golf make me think it is now for those who have a compulsion to play, or the very affluent. Why it should cost upward of $100 to take a walk around a course--more likely a cart ride--to swat at a ball amazes me, as does the fact that many actually feel privileged to do so. So, if more courses fail, and the remaining courses can get enough players, the price might come down, and the game could stabilize.

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Don Bauder June 5, 2013 @ 9 p.m.

Visduh: Mark Twain defined golf as a good walk spoiled. I used to play a little on pitch and putt courses. When my father-in-law was in his 70s and I was in my 40s, he would beat me 4 times out of 5. Best, Don Bauder

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SanDiegoForward June 29, 2013 @ 8:02 p.m.

True on the activities related to golf for the said price. However, I know that many more people will drop in excess of $100 at those nightclubs in the Gaslamp district. After a history of myself participating in both activities, I think the after effects of golf outweigh the hangovers and disappointment of alcohol consumption. To each their own. :)

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Don Bauder June 29, 2013 @ 8:45 p.m.

SandIegoForward. Hitting the sweet spot in golf produces the same euphoria as boozing it up. Best, Don Bauder

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tstruble June 5, 2013 @ 1:24 p.m.

alot of good comments here. i think the industry maybe has lost touch. start with attitude.

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Don Bauder June 5, 2013 @ 9:04 p.m.

tstruble: Golf has too many rules and is too prissy about players enforcing them. Now the long putters have been banned, at least for the pros. What's next? I find the trouble with golf to be the practice it requires. You have to play regularly, like a pianist or violinist, to stay sharp. Some just don't have time for that. Me included. Best, Don Bauder

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tstruble June 6, 2013 @ 5:37 p.m.

truth there. i took a year off and played/practiced every day. some days i would just hit the 7 all day long. got pretty good. (i don't mention handicap nor do i tell fish stories). it is fun with friends when you have the time and money. time, really. thanks

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Don Bauder June 6, 2013 @ 5:45 p.m.

tstruble: Yes, it's fun when you have the time and money. How many people have both these days? Best, Don Bauder

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Woodchuck June 5, 2013 @ 4:39 p.m.

You can count me as one who started, spent a lot of money, lost interest and quit. The municipals are crowded, take forever and not as well kept up. The Country Clubs are intimidating. One thing is true- when you hit the sweet spot it feels GOOD! Glad to see you back, Don, I worry a little when you have no essays to read.

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Don Bauder June 5, 2013 @ 9:07 p.m.

Woodchuck: Yes, it is hitting that sweet spot that keeps one coming back. But for me, that happened so seldom that I gave up the game a couple of decades ago. And for the most part, I only played pitch and putt courses. On regulation courses, I never broke 100. Best, Don Bauder

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monaghan June 5, 2013 @ 5:57 p.m.

It's funny to imagine i-phone-fixated boomers without the attention span to play a round of golf. I have forwarded this story to one in the Midwest who is adept at both.

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Don Bauder June 5, 2013 @ 9:08 p.m.

monaghan: The guy in the Midwest is lucky. He can't play all year -- saves wear and tear on the ego, not to mention the heart. Best, Don Bauder

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tstruble June 6, 2013 @ 5:42 p.m.

no joke about the midwest. a mid-westerner, it would be a nice day out here and he would play, and then the next, and then the next. pretty soon he figured he needed to get to work.

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Don Bauder June 6, 2013 @ 5:48 p.m.

tstruble: It's expensive to play many courses. So one has to go to work at some point and make some money. I have had some calls from people who talk about sharp discounts at some golf courses, though. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister June 6, 2013 @ 7:53 a.m.

Some of the best news I've heard in years. Restore them to the ecosystems that were destroyed to put in these infantile playgrounds for men and women old enough to get out of the sandbox and contribute something to the community beyond the "donations" they make of their excesses to pump up their images.

See: http://www.willrogers.com/writers/stories/golf/golf.html

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Don Bauder June 6, 2013 @ 8:13 a.m.

Twister: What a wonderful piece by Will Rogers. Everyone should read it. Best, Don Bauder

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Psycholizard June 7, 2013 @ 12:37 p.m.

Golf courses defend open spaces from over development. Those who wish to plow them under should realize that they will likely be replaced by buildings, not parks.

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Don Bauder June 7, 2013 @ 1:16 p.m.

Psycholizard: You are right. Abandoned golf courses will probably be replaced by housing tracts. The one person quoted in the story who wanted courses plowed under said it would be better for the golf industry -- not society generally. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder June 9, 2013 @ 10:01 a.m.

viewer: Water conservation would be a good reason to close marginal golf courses and change them into public parks. Best, Don Bauder

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laplayaheritage June 9, 2013 @ 4:50 p.m.

In order to allow for low density residential subdivisions, with rural characters, and active recreation like golf, our Municipal Code includes Agricultural-Residential (AR) Zones. Including Zone AR-1-1 for minimum 10 acre lots, and Zone AR-1-2 for minimum 1 acre lots. Low density neighborhoods keep their value, as they limit development and require open space. See the AR-zoned green areas including Fairbanks Ranch, Doug Manchester's The Grande Del Mar at Del Mar Mesa, and Fred Maas' Black Mountain Ranch.

http://www.sandiego.gov/development-services/zoning/pdf/maps/grid35.pdf http://www.sandiego.gov/development-services/zoning/pdf/maps/grid39.pdf http://www.sandiego.gov/development-services/zoning/pdf/maps/grid40.pdf

Many successful local developers in city limits live within gated communities in the Agricultural-Residential AR Zones. These same developers that have protections for their private McMasions estates through Agricultural Zoning, try to upzone and densify regular Residential (R) neighborhoods to create wealth.

New Golf courses on AR Zoned subdivisions in the City of San Diego help developers meet meet open space requirements, market walkable trails, and provide a low point where urban storm water can be captured onsite. Many new development projects designed golf courses at the lower elevation of the site. Its a win-win-win.

In conclusion, during development within City of San Diego limits, many golf courses were integrating into the low density AR Zoned subdivisions. Mainly to protect high property values, not for love of Golf.

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Don Bauder June 9, 2013 @ 7:44 p.m.

laplayaheritage: I can't argue with your conclusion. Also, I wonder whether golf courses should satisfy open space requirements. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister June 16, 2013 @ 12:37 p.m.

Those in developments were often conditions of approval for the subdivisions, i.e., "open space." A lot of developers, however, got away with "designated" open space rather than "dedicated," and as such mislead their customers. The government agencies approving such subdivisions were often complicit in this fraud. The land should remain open space of some kind, either a developed park, restored to natural vegetation (zero irrigation) which can then be modified to provide more "useable" space for passive recreation and fire hazard reduction, or a combination of the two.

Developed parks use massive amounts of water, so every acre that can be returned to that crafted by God/Nature will "save" the amount of water previously used under the golf course use (about the same for developed park space), which amounts to at least one million gallons of water per year (in reality, the actual savings run two or three million gallons per year, up to as much as five million gallons or more). Even so-called "drought-tolerant" landscaping uses millions of gallons of water per acre--just try to get the water bills for such "gardens." They won't release the information.

Manicured landscaping, like grassy areas for play and picnics need only to be as large as the demand, but extra grassy areas solely to look at are not only water-hogging, they are extremely expensive. Ask your local park department for these data and see what happens.

Re: Don Bauder June 9, 2013 @ 10:01 a.m. viewer: Water conservation would be a good reason to close marginal golf courses and change them into public parks. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder June 16, 2013 @ 8:01 p.m.

Twister: Southern Californians, particularly San Diegans, are still blissfully unaware of the water crisis already evident, and likely to worsen, perhaps drastically. Even though recycled water is used to water courses now, the excessive number of courses worsens the water situation. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister June 16, 2013 @ 9:55 p.m.

"Recycled" water is yet another fraud, and and expensive one, and very unhealthy. Where is the independent testing? Where are the the studies of the aerosolization from trickling filters and sprinklers and their health effects? Israeli researchers discovered this decades ago, but I suspect the research was hushed up. Kibbutzim downwind of irrigated areas (e.g. alfalfa) suffered a significantly higher incidence of disease that those upwind. Catchment plates similarly showed higher counts of disease organisms and toxins downwind. "Inconvenient" research on "ultragiant" aerosols. Think those researchers ever got another grant? I don't know, I didn't follow it at the time. I just go along with Mark Twain's assessment of "the goddamned human race." We have long been living on bull$hit, and it's fast becoming more and more widely accepted in lieu of the truth. Why are there no skepticism courses in the schools? Bread and circuses. "Watch" TV--NOTHING, regardless of the number of channels, but pablum and sensationalism, except for the occasional good movie (e.g. "Two Women") or C-SPAN.

THE DEVIL (AND THE TRUTH) IS IN THE DETAILS! Not in "opinions," "expert" or otherwise.

It isn't so much that we're "blissfully unaware" as it is that we are lied to.

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Don Bauder June 17, 2013 @ 5:57 a.m.

Twister: Are we blissfully unaware of lied to? That's kind of a chicken-egg proposition. If were lied to and swallow the b.s., aren't we blissfully unaware? Best, Don Bauder

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Twister June 17, 2013 @ 7:23 p.m.

It depends upon the amount and kind of evidence we require--of the truth and the lie, as well as proving the lie . . .

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Don Bauder June 18, 2013 @ 6:01 a.m.

Twister: Maybe there is not a big difference between being blissfully unaware and being lied to. In both cases, we haven't done our homework. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister June 19, 2013 @ 7:16 a.m.

Back to golf, I like your idea of converting them to parks and minimizing the amount of grass (the biggest water-hog among plants when it comes to the amount of irrigation--6-16 acre-feet per year) while confining most of the shrubbery and trees to those capable of growing without irrigation or maintenance (e.g., native plants and some succulents, taking care to avoid the poisonous ones), and keeping the design informal while still meeting the parks' actual recreational requirements rather than the mere whims of the designers.

PS: Is it true that LiMandri is getting ten grand a month as a tree consultant?

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Don Bauder June 19, 2013 @ 7:47 a.m.

Twister: Tell me about LiMandri getting ten grand a month as a tree consultant. He has a lot of irons in the fire as he sets himself up as an urban consultant. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister June 25, 2013 @ 12:47 p.m.

It's just a rumor I heard at a party. I have no further information. It might be his wife, as I think she is involved with some kind of (street?) tree group. I think they want all San Diego streets planted with street-shading elms, like in New Jersey or something--I'm unclear on the "facts" as I have no primary sources.

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Don Bauder June 25, 2013 @ 1:12 p.m.

Twister: I have not heard the rumor. Best, Don Bauder

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gbennett Aug. 17, 2013 @ 11:13 a.m.

The price reduction of golf courses should not shock anyone - did you hear about the real estate market between 2006 & 2011? As the real estate market goes, so does the economy in general. Most people were having a tough time financially and golf just isn't a priority at that point. The number of courses is high in this town but I actually like that for two reasons. First, I love a deal when it comes to golf and courses are trying to get golfers to their course with discounts. Second, I would argue that golf courses do make for great open space and, as mentioned before, are sometimes in an area that are prone to flooding - see Riverwalk as the classic San Diego example. Many courses have open space as part of their design like Mt. Woodson. As the real estate market/economy continues to improve so will the courses and their values. Golf San Diego courses and homes for sale

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