One of the largest recreational attractions in Madera County - The 18-hole Sierra Meadows Golf Course in Ahwahnee - will close on Dec. 15.
The popular golf course has been the site of hundreds of fundraising golf tournaments, weddings, anniversaries, awards banquets, and other special events for more than 27 years, and the closure will prove to be a huge loss to the Mountain Area.
The closure was announced in a letter recently received by the 100 families and individuals who are members of the course (about 150 people) from owner Robert H. Bard, Jr., who has owned the course for 13 years.
Sierra Meadows was close to being sold recently to a Bay Area man with business ties to Shanghai, China. The potential buyer had improvement and expansion plans for the property, but the deal fell through.
The announcement of the closure came as a surprise to many golfers in the area.
Ed Hart is president of the 80-member Sierra Meadows Men’s Club.
Although Hart said he was surprised when he saw the letter Friday, he was optimistic about the future of Sierra Meadows.
“There are people working with potential buyers for the course,” Hart said. “The price of $2.3 million is a steal for this size property and all the improvements on it including the golf course, club house, pool, and RV park. We hope there is a buyer out there, and soon, because it won’t take long for this course to go to seed without maintenance. No one is going to be around to take care of the course, the pool, and other facilities.”
Hart said the men’s club plans on continuing and will hold a meeting at 5 p.m., Dec. 10, at the Club House. The club will hold it’s annual awards banquet Dec. 13, two days before the closing.
“We plan on keeping the men’s club active and maintain our handicaps,” Hart said. “We hope to continue with tournaments - they will just be held at other courses throughout the Central Valley.”
There is also a women’s club at Sierra Meadows, although with a considerably smaller membership.
Keith and Diane McDaniels, have been members of the club for 14 years, and Keith plays golf at least twice a week. The couple learned of the closure after opening their mail Saturday after returning home from a short get-a-way.
“We were shocked to read the letter,” Diane said. “We knew the property was in escrow and we were looking froward to see what the new owner’s plans were going to be - but instead we learned of the closure.”
“Hearing the news was very disheartening,” Keith said. “There are a lot of families that play here, along with their children. I came here to retire and I’ve had 15 good years and was hoping for another 10 years of relaxation, golf and the camaraderie with the other golfers in the men’s club.”
Keith called Sierra Meadows a golf course community and it was the golf course that enticed most people to buy property there.
“I’m sure with the closure, property values will drop,” Keith said.
Keith indicated he will most like continue to play golf at River Creek since it’s now “the only game in town.”
Diane had high praise for Mike Best, who has been at Sierra Meadows for 20 years - seven years as the resident golf pro, and 13 years as the general manager.
“Mike Best has been there for many years, and he and his staff has done a fabulous job in operating the facilities,” Diane said. “He is highly respected and admired by all who know him.”
Yosemite High School girl’s golf coach, Rusty Oetinger, said he was disappointed when he learned that Sierra Meadows would be closing.
“The course and facility has been an integral part of the success the Yosemite High golf teams have had over the last 12 years,” Oetinger said. “The support from the staff and ownership at Sierra Meadows has been phenomenal. It is ironic that the year our girls win our first CIF Central Section Championship, our home course commits to closing. As a coach, I will surely miss Sierra Meadows.”
Oetinger said the most difficult thing to image as a member is losing the opportunity to spend time at the golf course with his family during the summer.
“We have so many great memories there as a family,” Oetinger said. “A typical day for us, was to go to church on Sunday, go to the course for lunch, play golf as a family and then finish off the day with a swim in the pool. There were many days, in which this was our normal routine during the summer. My daughters have grown up at Sierra Meadows.”
About five full time employees and three part time employees work at Sierra Meadows.
Golfers in the area still have a course in the area to play on - the nine-hole River Creek Golf Course on Road 600 in Ahwahnee.
Sierra Meadows history
Bard’s letter explained that the 142-acre golf course property was part of a May 2001 purchase of 1,600 acres of ranch land. At that time, the golf course, clubhouse, maintenance equipment, cart fleet and other facilities were in drastic need of repair and upgrading. Between May 2001 and April 2008, Bard invested over $6 million in needed improvements with the expectation that he would be able to include the Sierra Meadows course and facilities as the signature amenity for a proposed development of 315 residential lots.
Although there was concern over water and roads, the Madera County Board of Supervisors approved Bard’s plan to build the subdivision around the golf course in 2009.
The governmental approvals of the subdivision took more than seven years, $500,000 in costs and involved negotiations with many local, state and federal agencies.
“As everyone knows, the period from 2008 until today involved a deep recession, resulting in a dramatic decline in the value of California residential real estate, particularly in California’s Central Valley and the Sierra foothill areas,” Bard said. “In addition to the residential housing recession, the development approval process resulted in many additional cost requirements, which in turn made the estimated cost of our finished residential lots more expensive than the resulting market value of the lots and of the homes that could be built on the lots.”
Bard said that from 2008 until now, the management and staff of Sierra Meadows have made every effort to maintain the quality of the golf course and club house in the hope that the recession would end and the proposed residential development could proceed with the Sierra Meadows Golf Course as the central amenity.
“During this seven year period we developed a wedding business and promoted our RV park rentals to increase income,” Bard said. “However, each year the primary golf income declined more than we could offset with these new revenue sources. In addition, in 2014, we experienced our first major water shortage resulting from the historically severe California drought. We had insufficient water to maintain the survival of many of the grass areas on the course. It is estimated that it will now require an additional $300,000 to $500,000 to repair the drought damage to the course and to replace much of our aging maintenance equipment and cart fleet. From 2008 to today, we have spent in excess of $2.1 million over and above our revenue to maintain the golf course. From the beginning, the golf course has not made any money in spite of all our continued efforts and substantial investments.”
Bard stated that the continuing California drought and the unlikely ability of the residential housing market to recover in the foreseeable future, forced him to close the facility.
“The ongoing annual operating loss, and necessary capital expenses give us no choice but to close the Sierra Meadows Golf Course as of Dec. 15.
In his letter, Bard thanked the residents of the mountain communities and the golfers from all over the Central Valley for their support during the last 13 years.
“We especially would like to thank our hard working employees for their diligent efforts to avoid this unfortunate outcome,” Bard said. “ Sometimes events occur that are beyond our control and no amount of effort and money can change the outcome.”