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Storms taketh and giveth with Rossmoor golf courses


Friday, January 5 (9 A.M.) Just as surely as water seeks its own level, golfers have to golf.

This fairway-and-tee-boxes variation on Pascal’s law played out in 2023 on Rossmoor’s two golf courses. Strong, persistent storms throughout January, and again in mid-March, created and exacerbated two substantial landslides on the Dollar Ranch course. Between the water, the landslides and the downed trees, both the Dollar and Creekside courses closed for almost six weeks during the period between Jan. 1 and mid-March.

It was the second-longest period Rossmoor was without golf in Mark Heptig’s 30-plus years with the golf program here. There was a 10-week stretch one year in the mid-1990s when weather issues kept the courses closed.

Heptig credits pent-up demand among Rossmoor golfers for driving a huge rebound effect once the courses became steadily playable again in mid-April – a rebound, he added, that didn’t really let up until rains returned in late December.

“We’re expecting to have 70,000 rounds played this year, on both courses,” said Heptig, Rossmoor’s director of golf. “People were going to make up for lost time. Folks who usually played twice a week were deciding they wanted to play three or four times (a week).”

In 2022, the Rossmoor courses logged 80,000 rounds played, considered an exceptionally strong year. To tally 70,000 rounds in a year when more than five weeks’ worth of play had been lost to bad weather was a huge positive, Heptig said.

Landslides prompted by the big rains did serious damage to two holes on the Dollar course. The slide at Hole 5 has since been repaired, Heptig said, with bulldozers used to “bench,” or “terrace,” the hill to stabilize it.

Blake Swint, Rossmoor’s golf course superintendent, said success with that work meant the No. 5 green didn’t have to be rebuilt, a far more expensive job. “We were able to use the existing turf and grade, and that was a big plus.”

The work at Hole 3 has been more extensive, Heptig said, and much remains to be done there. About $30,000 has been spent on that effort, he said.

Swint said the early storms resulted in approximately 10 trees coming down on the golf courses. And though they both currently remain in use, two cart-path bridges over Tice Creek on the Creekside course were compromised by creek flooding caused by those rainstorms. Their replacement will be a capital projects expense, which hasn’t yet been approved for 2024.

But while the rainstorms did all that damage, and canceled all those early golf rounds, the resulting water kept Rossmoor from having to buy any from the East Bay Municipal Utility District until June 15. That date is approximately two months later than is typical, Heptig said, and saved Rossmoor approximately $200,000 on its 2024 water bill.

“It really charged up the ground water,” Heptig said of all the rain. “That savings itself made up for any problems we had on the hillsides.”

In fact, he said, that savings likely resulted in a couple of dollars off residents’ GRF coupon.

There have been other water savings, too. Swint said the work to eliminate all turf not essential to golf play, especially surrounding tee boxes, is continuing, and that the work has thus far saved a considerable amount of money.

“We’re already seeing the benefits of those drought-reduction areas,” Swint said.

And a top priority for course maintenance in 2024, Swint said, is expected to save at least a little bit of water. There is a move now to eradicate kuikuyu grass, an invasive East African species that is not only thirsty, but whose broad, spongy leaves can affect ball playability, especially near greens. The amount of such “turf mediation” work that gets done is subject to budget approvals, Swint added.

Through the late 2010s, golf was a game on the decline in the U.S. But the COVID-19 pandemic spurred a turnaround; after years of decline following a revival spawned by Tiger Woods’ popularity, the numbers started going up as more communities locked down. Golf was a “safe escape” during COVID, one Washington Post story termed it, being outside and doable while distancing.

“I don’t see that trend changing,” Heptig said. “It’s exercise, social, relaxing … people found out what we all along knew to be true.”