Refreshing the Meadows

The 142-acre Sierra Meadows Golf Course in Ahwahnee, has been purchased by Charlie Sheldon, and his business partner Reid Spice.

The golf course is part of the 1,300-acre transaction between the former owner, Robert H. Bard, Jr., and the new owners. At this time, the new owners plan to keep the facility open with reduced green fees, waiving membership initiation fees, eliminating cart fees to members, and reopening the clubhouse restaurant for lunch and dinner, with plans to develop the property into a large-scale conference center in the future.

“We are currently in an evaluation period,” Sheldon said. “From a financial perspective, the course has not done well in recent years, and we hope to turn that around. We will experiment with the restaurant and come up with a regular schedule of days and hours of operation. We hope to extend the hours for dinner and the bar, and add Sunday brunch. We are also working on a plan to increase access to the clubhouse pool.”

Eventually the new owners plan to expand lodging options on the property, beginning with cabins around the existing RV park.

In a letter sent to club members earlier this week, Sheldon and Spice said once they have additional capacity for lodging they will host conferences, retreats, and community events.

“We will be evaluating all aspects of the current businesses. Although this evaluation will be ongoing, we do know that the golf course will remain open at least through October and the RV park will likely close down for the winter months, as usual,” the letter stated.

Sheldon said future plans are to create a community-focused resort that supports both the surrounding communities, and Yosemite tourists, while also providing a location for retreats and conferences.

Sheldon said that after spending the last few months meeting employees and members, looking over the property, and completing numerous inspections, they are very excited to help start a new chapter in the history of Sierra Meadows.

According to Sheldon, Mike Best, long time golf pro and general manager, has played a critical role in the transition, ensuring that everything continues to operate smoothly.

“The community has been supportive of our plans,” Sheldon said. “We found this amazing property and decided this could be where we are for the next 35 years of our lives.”

In 2007 Sheldon, an industrial designer, started his career establishing a successful contemporary furniture company. From 2008 to 2010 he chaired the San Francisco Chapter of the Industrial Designers Society of America, where he coordinated a number of small and large conferences for the industry.

He co-founded Link Studios, a bay area business incubator for industrial design research and concept development.

For the past seven years, he has also served as a professor at California College of the Arts Industrial Design Department in San Francisco for seven years, and spent a year in Seattle in the aerospace industry.

Spice is the Vice President of Media Strategy for iCrossing in the Bay Area, responsible for providing digital marketing strategy to a wide variety of companies worldwide. He has also been involved in coordinating many industry conferences.

Golf course faced closure seven months ago

It was in last November that then-owner Rober H. Bard, Jr., in a letter mailed to members of the course, announced the 28 year-old golf course and clubhouse would be closed Dec. 15, due to the high cost of maintenance-operations, and the diminishing number of ‘rounds’ being played at the course.

In his letter, Bard said since 2008, he had spent in excess of $2.1 million over and above revenue to maintain the golf course.

Bard’s letter explained that the 142-acre golf course property was part of a May 2001 purchase of a large ranch. 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 more than $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 - a development that never materialized.

From 2008 to today, Bard spent in excess of $2.1 million over and above the facilities revenue to maintain the course. He said each year the primary golf income declined more than could be offset with new revenue sources such as weddings and receptions.

“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.”

Nearly 70 club members quickly held a meeting, coordinated by Maria and Doug Chapman, with Bard and Best, to learn details of the plan, and to brainstorm ideas that could keep the facility open until a buyer could be found - something Oakhurst Realtor Brad Ditton felt confident would happen in the near future. Most people attending the meeting were open to some increased fees over a short time period to help keep the facility open. An advisory committee was formed to seek possible short-term solutions.

At the time, Best explained that memberships account for 15 to 20% of the Sierra Meadows revenue and that memberships have been reduced from 126 in 2004 to less than 70. He said Sierra Meadows needs to increase memberships and the number of rounds of golf to cover the overhead expenses. About 16,000 rounds of golf are played annually at Sierra Meadows, down from about 20,000 rounds in years past.

Committee member Walt Reimer said it was important to keep the course open for a number of reasons - it’s the only 18-hole course in the area; it’s a big attraction for the area; it provides a tax base for the county; and keeping it open would preserve property values.

With just days left before the planned closure, a proposal by Bard, similar to what the club members had come up with, to increase some course fees, and reduce days of operation to keep the club open through through Oct. 31, was accepted by the majority of club members.

Bard, who owned the course for about 13 years, had the property listed with Brad Ditton for $3.95 million, considerably less than 18 months prior when the asking price was $9.75 million. The sale price was not disclosed.

The popular golf course has been the site of hundreds of fundraising golf tournaments, weddings, anniversaries, awards banquets, and other special events over the years.