RSF Golf Club’s course renovation aims to begin in April

Golfers practice their short game at the RSF Golf Club (file photo from last year).
(Karen Billing)

The Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club will be undergoing a major upgrade in 2021. On Jan. 7, the Rancho Santa Fe Association board approved a $5.9 million overhaul that includes the installation of a new irrigation system, fresh turf on the fairways, reshaped bunkers and a renovation of the practice range and short game areas.

The funds for the upgrade will come out of the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club’s reserves and club members with voting rights also need to vote to approve the project before it moves forward.

The renovation is expected to take six months and the goal is to have nine holes open the majority of the time. The front nine is anticipated to be closed from April through June, the back nine closed from July through September and there will be a full course closure for the last three weeks of the project. The targeted completion date is Oct. 15.

The process for the renovation began back in 2019 when the club hired world-renowned golf course architect David McLay-Kidd to help update the master plan, which is redone every 10 years. McLay-Kidd is known for the design of Bandon Dunes in Oregon, Rolling Hills Country Club and courses throughout the world.

When the club gathered input from members about the course, some of the biggest complaints were frustrations with the turf on the fairways and the accessibility of the bunkers.

“We have turf that’s really on a respirator,” said Blair Nicholas, RSF Golf Club board president. “It’s decades old and was originally developed for putting greens but it was the best turf available at the time.”

After studies with multiple vendors, the club selected a much better Bermuda turf that can thrive in the Ranch’s micro-climate. The turf will increase drought resistance, improve color retention (not going as visibly dormant), better tolerate traffic and grow in the shade.

“That will be huge enhancement to the playability of our golf course,” said Nicholas.

The bunkers, which are currently very hard to get into and out of, will be reshaped in the more user-friendly, traditional style of Max Behr the original course architect.

The short game area and practice range will also see improvements— Nicholas said practice areas are the number one amenity at courses right now as many people use them if they don’t have the hours to devote to playing a full round.

The replacement of the irrigation system is “overdue” as the current system is over 30 years old and has required many repairs and operates inefficiently, resulting in a lot of lost water. The new Rain Bird system is expected to improve water conservation and help enhance turf conditions.

RSF Association President Mike Gallagher said that while the RSF Golf Club is responsible for the funding and the stewardship of the course, the Association owns the property and the board has a responsibility to ensure it is well-maintained.

“This is one of the most important assets that the community has,” Gallagher said. “Unfortunately the condition of the turf at the golf club has deteriorated over time…This re-turfing is going to ameliorate that situation and bring us back to where we have been noted as one of the finest golf courses in Southern California.”

Overall the club is in a positive position financially, Nicholas said, logging record numbers of rounds played and adding 22 new members in the last six months.

Last November, the Association’s Forest Health and Preservation Committee expressed some concerns about tree removals on the golf course and RSF Association Director Laurel Lemarie had some questions about tree management in the new master plan.

Nicholas said that the master plan calls for the removal of six trees and the replanting of 16 trees—the selected replacement trees are cork oak and live oaks that consume much less water and are considered to be much safer trees.

The some-12 trees that were removed by the golf club in 2020 were said to be diseased and structurally deficient, posing a danger to golfers and trail users. All went through a review process with the RSF Association.

“I’m an environmentalist at heart and I share all of the values of someone that wants to preserve our trees,” Nicholas said. ”There was a huge importance put on making sure that we preserved our environment.”

Nicholas added that the irrigation system and new turf will make a huge impact on the conservation and watering of trees, shrubs and understory: “It really should be a huge benefit to the community. Unlike a prior master plan where there were a lot of trees removed, we did everything possible to maintain every single tree that we could.”

The tree plan is posted on the golf club website for members and hard copies are available for review at the administrative offices.