“Look at these pictures. It’s shocking. Does that look like rehabilitated wetlands to you?”
Retired Fallbrook elementary school teacher Joan McConnell had just returned on Sunday (January 24) from the site of the former San Luis Rey Downs Golf Club.
Two years ago, the 50-year-old Bonsall golf course was transformed into a “mitigation bank,” a process that promises to return it to wetlands to compensate for development elsewhere. But McConnell says it appears as if nothing has been done to advance it to its natural state.
“It’s a trash heap,” says McConnell. “There doesn’t seem to be any conversion to true wetlands, as they promised. The clubhouse is boarded up and there is graffiti everywhere. It’s dreadful. There are residences right next door. Now we fear it will be repeated in our own back yard.”
McConnell and Fallbrook business owner Teresa Platt are trying to rally their fellow neighbors in Fallbrook’s serene Gird Valley to keep their 120-acre, 18-hole Fallbrook Golf Course (also called Fallbrook Golf Club) from a similar fate.
They were spurred into action when they heard last week that some 60 acres of the “back nine” had entered escrow to also become “mitigation credits.” The two are circulating a “Save Fallbrook Golf Course” petition that maintains that if neighbors don’t get involved, the Fallbrook course could be destined to become another “weed patch surrounded by thousands of angry and disgusted neighbors,” just like the former San Luis Rey Downs Golf Club about six miles away.
The petition mentions that Fallbrook Golf Course owners Jack and Bonnie Lamberson and grandson A.J. Lanari are selling about half of their course. When they bought the course in July 2012, the Lambersons were heralded as longtime Fallbrook residents with a love of their community.
Press accounts mentioned that when they took over, the course, its restaurant/bar, and golf shop had a staff of 44.
“They have been running it into the ground,” says Platt, who claims the staff has shrunk to fewer than ten.
“Trees are falling down. Pathways are not being maintained,” says McConnell.
“All the ground-keepers are gone,” says Platt. “The gopher patrol was fired. The guys who used to water the fairways in the middle of the night are gone.”
“This is very near and dear to everyone in the immediate vicinity,” says Platt. “The Gird Valley is such a treasure. You have a beautiful county park [Live Oak Park] on the north end.”
Grandson A.J. Lanari is the namesake of the golf course lounge called A.J.’s Tap House. He said by phone that I would need to talk with his grandfather for official answers, but that he was aware that the “back nine was in escrow.”
A call to Jack Lamberson was not returned. McConnell and Platt have been meeting with local groups, including the Fallbrook Republican Women Federated and a men’s golf group that frequents the course, urging them to get involved. They have arranged for a community meeting on the subject, 3 p.m. Saturday January 30 at the Fallbrook Library.
They say that a united public outcry may move the Fallbrook Planning Group into blocking the necessary permits that would allow it to move into the mitigation process.
Last year, 47 acres of undeveloped land immediately adjacent to the golf course was purchased by the nonprofit Fallbrook Land Conservancy, which turned it into a preserve. That property, home to red-tail hawks, mule deer, and bobcats, abuts the 60 acres of the Fallbrook’s back nine holes.
“I have recently heard a lot of rumors about the property,” says conservancy executive director Mike Peters, noting that his group has not taken a position on the alleged sale. But he did say that if the Fallbrook Golf Course property follows San Luis Rey Downs into mitigation, it could take up to ten years for the property to be turned back into its natural riparian state.
Peters says that numerous state and federal agencies — such as the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Army Corps of Engineers — need to get involved and that takes time. If the land is sold, he says, it is probably due to the reality that “It’s hard for golf courses to cut it anymore.”
McConnell admits that Lamberson is probably “losing money hand over fist.” But that if someone were to buy the course it could be returned to its previous state as a thriving business in a bucolic setting.
“Five years ago it was hard to get a tee time,” says McConnell. “Eventually we hope that someone who loves it will buy it.”
Attempts to find out about the state of the former San Luis Rey Downs Golf Club were not productive. Kevin Knowles of the Sausalito-based Conservation Land Group says his group is not involved with the Fallbrook Golf Course but would not stay on the phone long enough to describe the state of the Bonsall property.