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Golf play declines, but Sun City courses remain in the green

You’ve probably heard that Badlands Golf Course in Summerlin could soon become Badlands Housing Development. And you probably know that Silverstone Golf Course in northwest Las Vegas could soon suffer the same fate. Among the reasons are steady losses of income due in part to a decline in golf play, coupled with an overabundance of golf courses in Southern Nevada.

And maybe you also heard how a band of loud residents in Sun City Summerlin only a few years ago were demanding that at least one of the three golf courses in their community be closed. Their argument was that golf is a loser, and closing one of the courses would help keep down their homeowner association costs.

But what you may not know is that none of the three golf courses in Sun City Summerlin are any longer marked for similar doom. That’s because one morning somebody woke up after a bad dream and spread the message: Don’t do anything foolish!

Golf in some areas may have degenerated into a loser, but the three courses in Sun City are holding their own. In appearance, they’re quite majestic. And they become even more imposing anytime some homeowner cashes in on a pretty decent price tag for some house nestled in such a bountiful setting, as opposed to homes located along some weed-infested expanse that used to be called a fairway.

Joe O’Connell is a member of the Sun City Board of Directors, the body that governs the community of 7,800 homes. He’s also Sun City’s assistant treasurer and chairman of the community’s Golf Oversight Committee. So it’s fair to conclude that O’Connell knows what he’s talking about when he said, “Nobody is talking anymore about closing any golf courses in Sun City because that would be a foolish thing to do.”

In essence, Del Webb Corp., developer of Sun City, used similar reasoning when it constructed three golf courses in the community to help sell homes. If you were truly bent on buying a retirement home in Summerlin, the developer’s reasoning went, how could you say no to a home in the midst of lush green golf courses, irrespective of whether or not you played golf? And the homes did indeed sell fast.

Then the realities set in. There were too many courses, not only in Sun City but throughout the Las Vegas valley. And there just weren’t enough golfers, whether residents or vacationers.

“A few years back, there was a lot of talk about closing at least one of our courses,” O’Connell said. “So we did some studies, and we discovered that the courses Del Webb built were in flood zones, meaning that if we didn’t use those areas as golf courses, we would still have a need for green grass on the same sites because that’s what moves water.

“We do get rain. So water comes down the center of our fairways, sometimes through the rough, and is channeled away from the community.”

The bottom line is that “if we did close a course, we would still need grass in the same fairway areas, but we would not have the income we now get from golfers. In addition, we would have a myriad of lawsuits,” O’Connell continued, referring to angry homeowners, and especially from those whose homes border the courses.

He said that several studies have been conducted at Sun City in the last five years.

“They showed how much it would actually cost if we closed one of our courses and went to a green zone,” he added. “In fact, it has been a shock to learn that we have actually accumulated $8 million in reserve for our golf courses, which is phenomenal.

“So, we are not in a situation like Silverstone Golf Course, and nobody is talking anymore about closing one of our golf courses. Quite honestly, we are in a very good financial position.

“Contrary to what may be happening elsewhere, our courses are in great shape. We have excellent personnel caring for them, and we have been increasing the amount of play at our courses every month for well over a year, ever since Donny Long took over as our director of golf.”

— Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His most recent novel, “Double Play,” is now available. Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.

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