By Glenn Raggio —
AHWAHNEE – Let’s set the record straight about two local golf courses, since there’s been ample discussion on the subject after it was announced last month that one of them would close permanently on October 31: we’re talking about Sierra Meadows closing, and River Creek taking up the slack.
I own a house directly on the soon-to-be defunct Sierra Meadows Golf Course. I bought the lot, built the house and believed I had made a dream to last my lifetime. A golfer for 45 years, and a onetime 4 handicap, I’ve played some of the best courses in California.
Sierra Meadows, I was told when I bought and built, was going to be a “B” course one day, and the improvements and the development was going to bring players and homebuilders from all over the country. I bought it, hook and line. I didn’t do my homework and over the years I watched a “soon-to-be“ course turn into much less.
The developer didn’t get to develop and his interest in the course waned. If you ran the numbers, even a cursory estimate would have told you what most of us realized for the past five-to-eight years – this course loses money. No stretch of golfers is available in this area, nor would golfers travel an hour to play here. No reduction in price could or would have made this profitable.
Putting aside the obvious water issues during a drought, and concentrating only on improvements that most certainly would have to be made just to bring it up to speed, it’s clear to see why Sierra Meadows was operating in the red. We would need 10 percent of all the people in Oakhurst to take up golf in order to make Sierra Meadows profitable, and that’s on top of the players we had.
When the owner began offering it up for sale, it came as no surprise; the surprise was that he waited as long as he did. When escrow closed with the new owners, Charlie Sheldon and Reid Spice, and I realized the old owner did not retain the golf course lots – about $800,000 worth of prime lots – I knew it was game, set and match. Sorry others didn’t.
It was quite clear the new vision for Sierra Meadows was not seen in my dream. The old owner had a right to sell and, frankly, Charlie Sheldon and Reid Spice have their own dream. It didn’t take them very long to realize Sierra Meadows Golf Course was a massive loser, financially speaking. Their dream, I suspect, didn’t include becoming a charity in order to keep my dream on track.
This is not a story about spilt milk. It’s about the owner of River Creek, Scott Michel. In July, when I approached him and told him I was convinced Sierra Meadows would close, I asked would he, could he absorb members of the Sierra Meadows Men’s Club? There was a hesitation; I was about to be crestfallen when he said, “Yes, and I’ll go you one better – I’ll waive the $1,500 initiation fee.”
I had occasionally filled in at counter there and observed a man who was as frugal and dedicated to his business as any I’ve witnessed. With that one response, the River Creek owner tossed away the potential for $15,000 to $20,000, because he couldn’t in good conscience take advantage of the situation, he said. Recently, when it was finally revealed the course would definitely close, Scott again waived all initiation fees.
“I’m a business man, but I’m also a golfer,” explained Scott. “We’re going to do all we can to make this situation work.”
The course has been called “too busy,” with some claiming, “five hour rounds.” This is completely false.
Ask any of the members of the River Creek Club, or “The Crew” (ex-pats from Sierra Meadows), and you’ll hear that the average round is 3.5 hours. The course is wide open and never busy. Sure, there are tournament days, but playing before or after is no chore. Call River Creek and, I assure you, a tee time waits without any difficultly. The men’s and ladies’ clubs have their times and the rest of the tee book is open.
River Creek was wrongly compared recently to the Yugo subcompact automobile, with Sierra Meadows being referred to as a Cadillac. That’s a ridiculous comparison; the slopes of River Creek and Sierra Meadows should be reversed. River Creek is the most demanding track in the area, far more difficult than Sierra Meadows: just ask the lifetime members who came over the course on Harmony Lane. How come every player who came over is shooting 4-6 strokes higher than at Sierra Meadows? These comments were inaccurate and hurtful to a man with a business that stands to lose money because his conscience insists on doing the right thing.
On behalf of both Men’s Clubs at River Creek, we’re grateful to Scott Michel and heartily respect the efforts you’ve made to make us feel at home on a course that Jack Nicklaus approved. River Creek is a beautiful nine holes; we play it twice and don’t even notice that we’re doubling back because we’re busy concentrating on the links.