Questions Come Up as Golf Course Goes Under

March 8, 2018

By Mario A. Cortez

(Photo/Salt Creek Golf Club)

Citing constant losses, Salt Creek Golf Course in Eastlake will cease operations on Sunday, March 18, leaving local golf enthusiasts with only a couple of days to enjoy these links.

However, a number of questions regarding the fate of this site have come up as claims that the course has hardly ever been profitable and talk of possible residential or commercial development on the expansive Salt Creek property has gone around.

The 250-acre course has been operating since 2000 and according to management has always hard a time turning a profit due to a number of factors.

“We have tried new avenues to create business and more revenue, but golf is a challenge right now,” said Salt Creek general manager Armando Najera. “Golf numbers are going down and you have expenses such as labor, electricity, and water going the other way.”

Due to the years-long drought which California has experienced, water rates have increased and golf courses in Southern California have not been able to keep up.

According to Golf Advisor, San Diego has seen notable course closures such as Fallbrook Golf Club, San Luis Rey Downs in Bonsall, La Mesa Sun Valley, and Escondido Country Club, among others since 2013. These closures have all attributed rising water costs as a factor.

Najera stated that Salt Creek, which mostly purchases discounted reclaimed water, currently pays a monthly average of $60,000 for water and then said that yearly costs are in the $400,000 range.

Najera, who has been at the course for the last 11 years, has been part of three companies which have held the rights to golf on the Salt Creek property. He pointed out that companies who lease the golf course from the Otay Water District, which owns the land on which the course sits on, have all had a difficult time operating the course.

With no new leases being signed to continue golf and, many believe that the site will be opened up to developers.

“For the last 18 years, every owner has pretty much said that there were no profits,” said Joe Pantoja, a private golf instructor who rents out an area at Salt Creek. “I’m thinking that they said there was no profit because they all wanted to develop here.”

When he found out that golf was coming to an end at Salt Creek, Pantoja gathered a group to take over the lease which was initially turned down.

The property has been discussed in previous board meetings of the Otay Water District

In the minutes from the District’s regular board meeting from June 7, 2017, it is reported that Board President Mark Robak had a meeting on May 12 regarding ownership concerns with the lessees. Since then the course has been the subject of meetings and discussions.

According to minutes, Robak has held meetings with Fred Grande and Bill McWethy, of current lessee company Pacific Hospitality Group, and an Ad Hoc development committee going back to June of 2017.

In the August 2017 regular board meeting, there was a closed session meeting which involved “price, terms of payment, or both” in relation to the “purchase, sale and/or lease of the property.” No reportable actions came from this meeting. Similar closed session meetings regarding the property and negotiations have also been held in October and November of 2017.

Since then, the topic has not been addressed by the board during any meetings.

Today, many wonder what will happen to the course now that golf operations will cease.

“I think that they told (possible buyers) that the land is not for sale but we don’t know what is going on,” Pantoja said. “It’s all speculation.”

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