On March 10, the Union-Tribune headline read: “Fallbrook Golf Course Closing Monday.”
The next day, owner Jack Lamberson said he wasn’t closing his course after all.
Lamberson says he decided to keep the 56-year-old course open under new terms: golfers will now have to show up between 7 a.m. and noon each day. Monthly memberships increase to $250 while the per-day fees are $40 weekdays and $50 weekends.
“And no more discounts,” says Lamberson.
Over the past two months, Lamberson gave numerous on-again, off-again signals that all or part of the 18-hole course would be closed, subdivided, or sold. That motivated a group of nearby residents to launch Save Fallbrook Golf Course in late January.
“They only made it worse for themselves,” says Lamberson about the neighbors who live adjacent to his 116-acre golf course.
The group, spearheaded by Joan McConnell and Teresa Platt, launched a website, held public meetings, and contacted public officials in an effort to save the serene locale near their Gird Valley homes. There are about 55 homes that have a golf-course view.
The effort seems to be paying off.
When it was reported on March 10 that Lamberson planned to close the golf course and suspend maintenance on the course starting March 15, McConnell and Platt discovered that the action would violate the part of Lamberson’s deed that the trustor must do what is “…reasonably necessary to protect and preserve the property.”
Platt says that when she brought that passage in the deed to the attention of Andrea Hageman, senior vice president of First National Bank of Denver (which holds the deed for the course), she was told Hageman planned to fly out to see the condition of the course.
A call to Hageman was not returned. Platt and McConnell suspect their intervention may have changed Lamberson's mind.
The two say that Lamberson has allowed the course to become run-down.
“In the last year he stopped watering the fairways, the cart paths and bridges are rapidly deteriorating to the point of being unsafe, and golf course carts breaking down on the course have become a regular occurrence,” says McConnell.
Lamberson disagrees. “The greens are better than any of the greens in the valley.” He does admit that trying to run a golf course as a solvent business venture “…is a losing battle.”
Yet, McConnell and Platt say that the Fallbrook Golf Course has a better chance of survival because of its bucolic setting and because it has its own supply of well water.
Lamberson says there are in fact five wells on his property and that he is currently tapping into three of them. He says that if he had to rely on water from the Rainbow Municipal Water District, his watering fees could be as high as $30,000 a month.
Lamberson says he had a buyer for the front nine, which would continue operating as a nine-hole course; he says he had another buyer to buy the back nine, which would have become a “deposit” in a mitigation land bank, an area set aside to offset damage to wetlands in other parts of the county.
He blames the Save Fallbrook Golf Course group for derailing that plan.
“They kind of shot themselves in the foot with all the harassment they gave me,” says Lamberson. “It was horrific. They made my revenue dip to the lowest it’s been. They created a monster that didn’t need to be created.”
But according to Platt and O’Connell, Lamberson would have had to subdivide his property to make his stated sales plan fly, a lengthy process they say would take years.
Platt and O’Connell showed correspondence from Jim Bennett of the County of San Diego’s Department of Land Use. Bennett pointed out that the property comes under the purview of a “Major Use Permit,” which went into effect in the ’70s: the course's legal zoning use is Open Space/Recreation.
“Any change,” asserts McConnell, “would require changing the county’s general plan and would likely be very difficult to modify.”
Though Lamberson announced on March 11 that he was not closing the course on March 15, he says his long-term plans are to eventually divide the property and sell the back nine for mitigation and sell the front nine to a residential developer.
Platt says Don Ross of Earth Balance, a Florida land-mitigation company, is the point person involved with purchasing the back nine from Lamberson. A call to Ross was not returned. Lamberson admitted it was a Florida company that was trying to obtain the back-nine property.
For now, the Fallbrook Golf Course will continue to serve golfers, but Lamberson says he will now only offer golf-course memberships on a month-to-month basis.
“I want to do everything I can to preserve it,” says Fallbrook Golf Course general manager Nate Lynch, who has worked there for 12 years. He says the course’s support staff once numbered 40. "Now it's down to 15. I don't want to see it go down to zero.... This is where the kids from Fallbrook and Bonsall High come to golf.”