Mile Square park loses 18 holes of golf, gains 93 acres of recreation space – Orange County Register


By next month, there will be less golfing offered at Fountain Valley’s Mile Square Regional Park, but a lot more space available for other kinds of recreation.

The operator of two of the park’s three golf courses is reconfiguring them into a single 18-hole course (the third course won’t be affected) and will return more than 93 acres to Orange County, which owns the park, by the end of July.

The land to be reclaimed, near the center of the 607-acre park, eventually could be transformed into new walking trails, a grassy meadow and amphitheater, a child-oriented nature camp, botanical gardens and a visitors center.

The change comes as a result of rent dispute involving the county and Mile Square Golf Course LLC, which has operated a golf course at the regional park since 1969 and currently runs the Classic and Players courses. To address what the county says was an underpayment that extended over several years, the golf course partners agreed to shrink operations down to 18 holes and return some of the land to meet other recreational needs.

The park sits between Fountain Valley, Santa Ana and Westminster, which have some of the county’s poorest neighborhoods – full of kids who need free or low-cost outdoor recreation opportunities, said OC First District Supervisor Andrew Do, who represents the area. Do believes the soon-to-be-former golf course land will help meet that need.

“You realize these young people are really denied access to some of the greatest experiences in life,” Do said. “I do believe being exposed to nature opens a young person’s mind a lot.”

Changes underway

After opening the Classic course at Mile Square park more than 50 years ago, the business partnership that runs it negotiated with the county to add a second course (Players) that opened in 1999. Fast forward to 2017, when – according to a report from county executives – a routine audit found that an error in calculating the rent (they don’t say who made the mistake) led to the operator underpaying by about $3.6 million over several years.

“The operator was not able to pay that. And then, of course, golf as a business prior to (COVID-19) was on the decline as well. So that kind of made them rethink the whole business model,” Do said.

Patrick Kaemerle, one of the general partners that manage the two golf courses, said that while his company is on good terms with the county, he disputes that it underpaid its rent. (An outside consultant hired by the company confirmed the rent was properly calculated, Kaemerle said.)

However, while discussing the return of some of the property, Kaemerle and his partners were able to negotiate a lower rent they considered more realistic – and more in line with what the operators of other county-owned golf courses pay.

“We had a lease that was really at a level that was not sustainable to even keep the golf course open,” he said.

With the rent issue settled, the golf operator is making changes to the remaining course, which will lie along the south and west sides of the park.

Scott Chaffin, the courses’ general manager, said they’ll lose several holes from the Classic course, and the #1 hole on the Players course will be reversed, “and because of that we’re having to kind of take some holes that were on the other course and we’re kind of reconfiguring them to make a rerouting that’s convenient for golfers.”

While it will look different, he said, “I think they’ll like it, it’s not going be that far out of character of what the golf course was like before.”

Plus, Kaemerle said, they’ve taken the opportunity to generally spruce up the place, adding 90 new golf carts, redoing the driving range irrigation, refurbishing the banquet facilities and creating a new garden for weddings and other events.

Chaffin said golfers worry it’ll be harder to get a tee time, and that might happen. But, he added, they’re not looking at raising green fees just because demand is going up.

‘Crown jewel’

The county has multi-faceted plans for the former golf course land. Officials held public meetings and gathered input over the past couple years and now have a master plan for the property.

Some environmental review and planning approvals still have to happen, and Do said there’s no cost estimate yet for the array of proposed amenities, which would add a raised boardwalk lined with interpretive signs over a wetland pond, a kids “adventure play area” and nature camp, picnic areas and group camp spots, and plenty of seating areas around a civic events plaza.

Once everything is approved, the work would likely be done in phases, but Do hopes to see the first phase begin soon.

“My goal is to get moving on the construction. I see Mile Square park as the crown jewel for the First District.”

Kaemerle described the outcome of the situation as a classic compromise. Though it’s likely no one is completely satisfied, there are positives on both sides – the upgraded golf facilities and refreshed course, and the new recreational opportunities for everyone.

“The golfers are unhappy, but there are a lot of people out there who are not golfers,” he said. “That’ll be a benefit to the community, so we’re happy about that.”


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