Before Painted Hills Golf Course closed down seven years ago, golfer Justin Lyon had hoped to teach his 7-year-old son how to golf. Before he had the chance, the course closed, the land was purchased and a new development was planned.
This fall Lyon, along with friends and fellow golf enthusiasts Mike Malone and Keith Spragg, are working to reopen the golf course’s driving range in hopes that the next generation of golfers, and longtime fans of Painted Hills, will have a chance to enjoy it again.
The golf course and driving range are both owned by Black Realty, which is temporarily leasing the driving range to Spragg, Malone and Lyon. The three are allowed to operate the driving range until the land is turned into a new development. They briefly opened it in September, but had to close due to wildfire smoke and a permitting issue. They plan to work on getting permits over the winter and open the golf course in March with a series of contests for families and avid golfers.
The driving range is across a short foot bridge from the restaurant at Painted Hills, Craft and Gather, which Spragg co-owns. Malone and Lyon are regular customers. While visiting the restaurant, Malone said they often discussed their memories of golfing at Painted Hills and ideas on how to reopen the driving range, even if only for a short time.
“(The development)’s taken seven years so far,” Spragg said, “So we’re gambling it’ll take seven years again.”
Spragg contacted the property owners to ask to lease the property, and they worked together to clear it of overgrowth. He said reopening the golf course wasn’t a huge expense because many of the parts and pieces, such as distance markers and golfing mats, were still there and only needed to be set back up.
Hundreds visited the golf course in the few weeks that it was open, and Lyon said visitors were a mix of young families, looking for a safe outdoor activity during the pandemic, to former Painted Hills golfers who were hoping for a chance to return to their favorite course.
“There’s been so many times people walked across the bridge and said, ‘This brings back memories,”’ he said.
The new development at Painted Hills will include houses, multifamily units, some commercial buildings and around 30 acres of open space that would be shared by the community.
Spragg, Lyon and Malone are hoping the open space Black Realty plans to leave in the development could be where a future driving range is located.
Bryan Walker, a partner at Black Realty, said using the open space for a driving range is possible, but that would also depend on what future residents want from the open space. He said turning it into a driving range could take away from the entire community’s ability to use the space.
“I’m open to all possibilities on that,” he said. “If it fits into the project and people like it, we might be open to that.”
Walker said the environmental impact statement on the Painted Hills development had been completed and the next step would be to hold a public hearing. He said there was not yet a start date for construction on the project, but there were enough steps left in the permitting process that it was likely at least a year away.
Once the golf course reopens in the spring, Lyon, Malone and Spragg hope to invite high school teams out to try the driving range and a long-drive contest, as well as other events.
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