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The era of new San Diego County golf courses may be ending

The days of new golf courses in San Diego County are over, according to the managing director of the Golf & Resort Properties division of CBRE Group.

“I don’t think there will be any more new golf courses in Southern California for a very long time, if at all,” Jeff Woolson added.

The 117-acre Stoneridge Country Club in Poway has been put up for sale, following the closure of the Carmel Highlands Golf Course in Rancho Penasquitos, the San Luis Rey Downs golf course in Bonsall and the Escondido Country Club within the past 18 months.

While there is no single reason for the closures, they each have one common denominator -- a limited or expensive water supply.

Stoneridge owner and developer Michael Schlesinger, who also owns the Escondido Country Club, is used to battles, having fought for the right to develop the Escondido property for at least the past 18 months.

Schlesinger heads Beverly Hill-based Cambra Realty, which owns the Escondido and Poway courses under the monikers Stuck in the Rough LLC and No Stone Unturned LLC, respectively.

Schlesinger just purchased the Stoneridge Country Club in 2013.

The owner /developer has been upgrading the property since then, with improvements ranging from nine newly resurfaced tennis courts to upgraded banquet venues. The country club also features a half-Olympic size swimming pool and a children’s wading area.

Unlike the Escondido course, Schlesinger has also pulled out turf and taken other measures to make Stoneridge as water-wise as possible during the past year.

Schlesinger, who couldn’t be reached for comment, has put Stoneridge for sale. He was quoted in a Poway News Chieftain article saying he won’t close the transaction unless he likes the price.

The challenge for Schlesinger or anyone else attempting to develop the property is that with underlying open-space zoning, a change in use would require a vote.

In Stoneridge, Schlesinger acquired an 18-hole course, dating back to 1962, that was far from fiscally sound.

By the time a trustee’s sale notice yielded no bidders, Schlesinger’s No Stone Unturned LLC partnership purchased the note.

The property had formerly been owned by Michael Dinofia’s La Jolla Development Group, which had acquired it in November 2007.

The good news for Stoneridge is that unlike Escondido, where membership plummeted in the months leading to its closure, it has nearly 500 memberships -- a figure slightly higher than when Touchstone Golf began to manage the property three years ago.

As for the closed Escondido Country Club, Schlesinger has offered a development plan for 270 homes -- compared to 430 under the original plan.

The offer is contingent on the city agreeing not to appeal a judge’s ruling. That ruling invalidated the city’s general plan amendment that attempted to rezone the land into open space.

While the plans move forward in Escondido and a new owner may be expected in Poway, The Laurus Corp. is weighing its options for the Carmel Highlands Golf Course in Rancho Penasquitos that was closed in March. Laurus paid $13 million for the hotel and resort in 2011.

Situated on a 130-acre site on Penasquitos Drive, the 174-room hacienda style resort features an 18-hole, par 72 championship golf course, more than 18,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, two food and beverage outlets, five tennis courts and a fully equipped 5,500-square-foot health and fitness club.

The owners are renovating the lobby, pool deck and guest rooms.

When Cornerstone Real Estate Advisors owned the property, it discussed plans to replace the golf course with 200 residences, an additional 150-room hotel, a community center and a pool. Those plans died with the recession.

Los Angeles-based Laurus Group officials said that no determination has been made as to what type of development might replace the Carmel Highlands course, which was originally known as the Rancho Penasquitos Golf Course and opened in 1967.

The San Luis Rey Downs property, in operation for 62 years, closed in August 2014. The Vessels family-owned site is in the process of being converted into a wetland mitigation land bank to offset other development impacts.

Another golf course property that formerly had its own share of difficulty, including a bankruptcy, is what is now known as The Lakehouse Hotel & Resort in San Marcos.

That property features a 141-room resort, a private 18-hole championship golf course, 18-hole executive course, a meeting hall, restaurant and fitness center.

The property, also formerly owned by Matt DiNofia, is currently owned by Pacifica Enterprises of Rancho Santa Fe.

Lakehouse, formerly known as the Lake San Marcos Resort, recently underwent a $9 million upgrade on the buildings and another $1 million on the course.

Some golf course owners, particularly those using potable water, are looking at ways to reduce their consumption.

Last year the Carmel Mountain Ranch Country Club, which uses potable water, embarked on a turf-reduction project designed to reduce the course’s water consumption by 40 percent.

Carmel Mountain Ranch course manager JC Golf reported the job entailed pulling out turf in favor of desert-style landscaping where possible. The $4.4 million project that ripped out more than 50 acres of turf in favor of what is now a desert-scape-style property.

JC Golf reported the estimated 35 million gallons saved annually at the course is equivalent to 278 households worth of annual water consumption.

Woolson said while owning a golf course using potable water can be a problem, “if the course has ready access to reclaimed water, you have a pretty good investment.”

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