Photo by photo by Ken Seals
Fallbrook Golf Course on February 8, 2016
On June 30, the Fallbrook Village News reported that the beleaguered Fallbrook Golf Course was closed “due to change in management.”
The paper missed a major detail about the 56-year-old course, which has come under scrutiny by golfers and neighbors who say the fairways are turning brown and the course is failing as a business. They claim that octogenarian owner Jack Lamberson, who has closed and reopened the course at least twice this year, has doomed its future due to neglect.
On June 27, Lamberson claims he was notified that the two mortgages on the 116-acre course were transferred from First National Denver to Michael Schlesinger, the Beverly Hills developer whose actions involving the Escondido Country Club have been reported by the Reader.
Rick Elkin says he wants to write a book about Schlesinger's effort to develop the Escondido Country Club where he shuttered the course, turned off the sprinklers, and spread chicken manure, triggering lawsuits and neighbors' outrage.
“[Schlesinger] just bought and then closed a course in San Ramon [California],” according to Elkin, who says he spent five-years trying to save the Escondido course. “He also recently bought and closed a course near Palm Springs [Rancho Mirage Country Club] and one near Las Vegas [Silverstone Golf Course]. All so he could build houses.”
The fate of the StoneRidge Country Club in Poway has yet to be determined since the City of Poway has so far denied Schlesinger's request to build houses on it. Elkin says he and Schlesinger aren't really on speaking terms due to Elkin's website.
How can developers put houses where they aren’t supposed to be?
“People like Michael Schlesinger have figured out a strategy to deal with zoning by putting up a fence around a golf course and then abandon it. Over time he will wear down the resistance of neighbors who get tired of looking at weeds and dirt and dead trees.”
Elkin says Schlesinger is abetted by a shrinking interest for golf.
“It’s happening all over the country. The demand for golf courses isn’t keeping up with the number of golf courses out there. Millennials don’t tend to find golf as interesting as boomers. Golf-course owners are getting clobbered.”
But new hope for Fallbrook Golf Course has arrived: new operator Harold Vaubel of Tucson's HGM Golf Enterprises took over operation on July 1. Vaubel says once the paperwork is signed on July 6, he will take over ownership of the business, Fallbrook Golf Course, Inc.
“We are now open every day,” says Vaubel. He claims Lamberson's four years running Fallbrook Golf are over.
“I have been in the golf industry for 47 years," says Vaubel, who oversaw operations at La Costa Spa and Resort in the early '90s. "I have built 17 golf courses.” He cites Starr Pass in Tucson, Talega Golf Club near San Clemente, and Hidden Valley Golf Club in Norco as courses he helped create.
“There are two notes worth about $2.7 million due over five years,” says Vaubel about the debt he assumed. “As long as payments are made, there is not a lot the lien-holder can do to keep this from being a successful golf operation. He cannot force foreclosure if payments are made.”
The purchase of Lamberson’s company includes the liquor license of the golf-course bar/restaurant that locals say was a booming enterprise until about three years ago.
“I am the opposite of [Schlesinger],” says Vaubel. “If he wants to tear things down, I want to build them up.”
The big unanswered question to many, including many longtime neighbors in the Gird Valley, is how much well water the course has access to.
“There are five wells on the property, including one that has not been operational,” says Vaubel. “From what I hear, once that well gets up and running, it can yield 57 million gallons a year.”
Escondido’s Elkin thinks Vaubel might be able to save Fallbrook Golf Course.
“Fallbrook is very rural and rustic. I don’t see the neighbors letting [development] happen.”
One major difference is that Schlesinger proved in court that the Escondido Country Club area was zoned residential and could hold an allowable density of 700 houses. Compromises point toward an actual density of approximately 300 at the former country club.
But it’s a different story in Fallbrook, according to savefallbrookgolfcourse.com, a site created by concerned neighbors. It says that the Fallbrook Golf Course is zoned agricultural with a recreational overlay and that a change to the county's general plan adopted in 2011 allowing residential would be “an onerous process with no degree of success.”
Meanwhile, Elkin says he thinks he's figured out what makes Schlesinger so hot for golf courses: “We think Schlesinger got the Escondido Country Club's 110 acres for $2.2 million. I know builders who paid over $12 million for just five acres in San Marcos.”
A call to Schlesinger for a comment was not returned.
Even though former Fallbrook Golf Course owner Jack Lamberson said that on June 27 Michael Schlesinger was moving ahead with plans to buy the the notes that control the Fallbrook Golf Course notes from First National Denver, Schlesinger's longtime attorney Ronald Richards said via email that it was actually an investment company he controlled, D-Day Capital LLC, that purchased the notes.
Although Richards would not disclose the investors who funded D-Day Capital, he said that Schlesinger was not involved and that D-Day Capital "is exclusively controlled by me."
Richards did not deny that Lamberson and new operator Harold Vaubel said that it was Schlesinger who was buying the two notes. Richards also did not deny that Lamberson said that Schlesinger provided transportation to meet with him in Beverly Hills on June 27.
When asked why Lamberson would announce that it was Schlesinger who was buying the notes, Richards said: “I have no clue what he was trying to buy but obviously that never happened so failed negotiations are not relevant. What is relevant is that D-Day Capital ended up buying the notes."
Richards also wrote: “…D-Day Capital is not exclusively controlled by me, but is exclusively managed by me. It however does not involve Mr. Schlesinger, that is the salient fact. My capital structure changes from time to time, deal to deal, depending on how this note is capitalized.”
Lamberson also said that Schlesinger also offered to buy the business, Fallbrook Golf Course, Inc., but decided instead to sell the business to Harold Vaubel, who offered him more money.
Richards did not refute that statement.
While Richards maintains Schlesinger is not involved with Fallbrook Golf Course going forward, Schlesinger and Richards have been linked in the media to many of Richards’s golf course purchases, including a Reader account.
Last year, the two jointly sued a law firm for libel involving the Rancho Mirage golf course.
Last year, the Desert Sun wrote, “[Homeowners] say there is concern about a track record Richards and another Beverly Hills developer, Michael Schlesinger, have in the purchase of Escondido Country Club through an LLC named Stuck in the Rough in which Schlesinger is the principal and Richards the attorney.”
A lawsuit filed against Schlesinger and Richards last year by the Rancho Mirage Homeowners association and homeowner Mary Willis referred to the two as partners in the suit and maintained: “The City of San Diego assessed a fine for Richards and Schlesinger and ordered them to remove the manure. Richards then approached the newspaper and stated the fine was merely a ‘donation.’ Richards also stated that the manure was ‘soil enhancer,’ but it differed from fertilizer in it had not been composted or processed into a sanitary quality. It was raw chicken feces.”
A May 13, 2016, article in the Escondido Grapevine refers to “Schlesinger and partner Richards.”
When asked by this reporter why he never corrected the previous accounts that mentioned they were partners, Richards wrote: “You will notice there is no quote or acknowledgement [of partnership] from me. I can’t speak to every report over the last five years."