By: Sam Richards
SUNOL — The Sunol Valley Golf Club, opened in 1968 surrounded by the flower nurseries and gravel-mining operations of the Alameda Creek area, will likely close in early January, with the final golf rounds set for Dec. 31.
General Manager Bryan Richardson said the issue, as with many golf courses in the East Bay and nationally, is mostly economic.
“The golf market in this area is saturated,” he said. “There’s been a severe softening of the market, and it’s the economy and other things.”
Fewer than 68,000 individual rounds have been played at Sunol Valley so far in 2015, he said, down from the course’s high of more than 130,000 a year in the late 1990s.
Another factor, he said, is the state’s drought-caused water shortage, which has meant a 500-percent increase in water costs over the past four years. “It just isn’t feasible to continue to operate a 36-hole golf course under the current circumstances.”
The last day of play on one of the two courses, the Palm course, will be Dec. 20; the other course’s last day of play on the adjacent Cypress course will be Dec. 31. The pro shop will be open Jan. 2 and 3.
The golf course is about halfway through a 25-year lease with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Richardson said. The SFPUC owns the golf course land and much of the surrounding area near Sunol, having bought much of the area in the 1930s for its water resources.
Almost three years ago, the Ivaldi family, the course’s only operator over 47 years, had worked with Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty’s office for the county to acquire the golf course land from San Francisco. If acquired, the plan was to do a “highest and best use” study for the land, said Shawn Wilson, Haggerty chief of staff.
Measure D, approved by voters in 2000, resulted in urban growth boundaries around cities and unincorporated communities in central and eastern Alameda County where urban development can’t happen without voter approval.
“The intent was to ensure that land remain open space, and a golf course,” said Wilson, adding that talks with the SFPUC are continuing. “I don’t think the SFPUC, if they take the land back from the (golf course) operators, have any good plan other than to close the course down.”
The SFPUC did not return a call Friday for comment.
Sunol Valley’s central location made it a popular destination for groups. On Friday, three groups on the greens consisted of friends from various areas.
“Now we’re going to see who’s better at persuading the rest of us to go farther south or farther north to play,” joked Francis Ho of Alameda, joining friends from Castro Valley and Fremont.
Having met there almost every Friday for the past three years, they said they were sad about the closure. “This is a real loss,” Ho said.
Bonnie Garnar of Castro Valley and Karen Carlson of San Jose have taken a similar meet-in-the middle approach eight to 10 times a year for the past 25 years.
“I’m bummed, really,” said Garnar, adding she loves the course and has cherished the after-golf burgers at the clubhouse.
Added Carlson, “Bonnie and I will have to find a new place to meet.”
Other area golf courses have closed in recent months, including the Pine Meadow course in Martinez and the Springtown course in Livermore. Others have been for sale.
The closures follow a national trend. Following a boom in the 1990s and early 2000s, the ranks of American golfers in general have declined, from 30 million in 2005 to 25.3 million in 2012, according to the National Golf Foundation.
On Thursday, Richardson gathered Sunol Valley’s 80 employees to tell them of the closure. He says he is grateful to Haggerty’s office for working to keep the course open in some form, but he’s convinced the end is near now — 32 years after he started at the golf course as part of a high school work study program.
“We want people to come down and get their last rounds, redeem their gift certificates and say goodbye,” he said.
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