The digital draft on the Southland Golf site is available here: www.southlandgolf.com/articles/let-225-cousin-time.html
If you’ve ever seen a golf course that’s been let go, you know it’s not a pretty sight.
Well-maintained grass and greens revert to a pasture/prairie state quickly as the course becomes an unkempt cousin of its former self.
Re-taming what the wild has taken back takes time. How much time?
“In the golf business, for about every year you let a course go, it takes you three years to get it back,” said Byron Casper, Corporate Golf Director and Golf Professional recently re-opened Warner Springs Ranch Golf Club. “This course was let go for the better part of almost three years. I think we’re ahead of the game by getting it in this condition this early.”
Using Casper’s calculation, that’d be nine years of regression for Warner Springs, which closed in 2012 amid bankruptcy proceedings for the course and adjoining resort and hot springs. Pacific Hospitality Group, led by Chairman, William H. McWethy, Jr. and President Fred Grand, claimed the property and hired Casper to oversee the course renovation.
The course is now open three days a week while under renovation and is being targeted for a grand opening around November.
While the course remains rough around the edges, Casper said the progress made in 18 months, especially amid the state’s prevailing drought, is rather remarkable.
“This course was let go for the better part of almost three years. I think we’re ahead of the game by getting it in this condition this early,” Casper said.
During a September visit, several cart paths remained to be laid and the course had more than its share of bare spots, but the sizeable greens were rounding into shape and most of the par 3s played as fairly finished golf holes.
Casper said the detail work that would catch up the rest of the course was just ahead.
“If it’s 80 percent ready (right now), that remaining 20 percent is the most important part,” he said. “That 20 percent is the aesthetic beauty that people want. That’s what everybody sees. It’s the part that makes a course look like a proper golf course. And we’re at that level of detail right now.”
“When I open this course for the grand opening, I don’t expect a weed to be out of place or a pond to be unfilled, etc. All of that will be taken care of.”
That would complete a most remarkable transformation of a course that Casper said was in a dilapidated state when he first toured it, presenting him a challenge unprecedented in his career.
“I’ve opened golf courses from scratch, but I’ve never taken one over. This was a huge challenge, and that appealed to me,” he said. “But I liked the ownership group and wanted to take this on.”
Amidst the neglect, the thing that gave Casper hope were the course’s many stands of old-growth trees, which were still healthy and had given the course its character since it opened in 1984.
“The infrastructure was absolutely perfect. I thought we could have a pristine, desert-type course that looked like we just naturally dropped it in. That’s what this looks like.”
Casper and the ownership team have taken a classic parkland-style layout and added bunkers and, on the par-4 8th, even a pond on the right side that stretches from the fairway and to near the green. Casper says that’s now one of his favorite holes.
“I love No. 8 since we added the lake,” he said. “It’s a great risk-reward hole. If you rip it, you’re looking at having a wedge in your hand into a green that’s front to back. But if you fade your drive, you’re in the lake. In a tournament scenario, you’re probably taking a 3-wood, hybrid or long iron there. It becomes a placement hole.”
While it puts some teeth into the hole, Casper said the intent remains within the guidelines of those handed down to him by his famous father and mentor, Tour Hall of Famer Billy Casper.
“He always said that you don’t make a course for Tour players. You make it for the average golfer. That’s a 17-handicap.”
The course is open three days a week during its renovation partly so Casper can capture the play and opinions of those players whom he sees as vital to returning the course to its place as a recreational and social hub for the community.
“I wanted something people could respond to, and I’m getting some great comments and feedback,” he said. “But when you’re letting people play a course at this stage, you’ve got to be in constant communication about the things you’re still working on.”
Casper’s father passed shortly after he took on the project, but he gave his blessing to his son’s involvement and commended him for continuing the family legacy of maintaining and preserving the game.
Like most teenagers, Byron Casper and his father didn’t always see eye to eye; however, as the two grew older, they found a mutual appreciation for each other and worked closely for several years before his father passed. Casper said striking out on his own and working overseas, including a stint as the head pro at St. Andrews, earned his father’s respect.
“It changed the dynamic,” Casper said. “The last seven years, he became so much more than a father to me – a coach, a friend, religious advisor, etc. – as well as my dad.”
In that regard, Casper said Warner Springs has unintentionally turned into a legacy project, which only bolsters his dedication to the outcome.
The course – and actually any golf course – is a constant reminder of his father’s memory and influence, one that is unavoidable for Casper.
In some ways, Casper said that’s forced him to face and quickly reconcile his feelings for his father.
“My dad thought I was good enough for the Tour and good enough to teach. He sent all his friends to me,” said Casper, who intends to make Warner Springs a destination for coaching and teaching.
“At the end, you either feel like you had enough time or you didn’t. I felt I had enough. I would’ve loved more, but I felt like we had enough.”
“I don’t have any regrets. When my father died, I knew he was proud of me and he knew how much I loved him. And he knew I’d do the job he’d wanted it terms of the family legacy.”
Warner Springs Ranch Golf Club By The Numbers
3 – Number of years the course was closed
8 – The hole undergoing the biggest change. A lake has been added.
2012 – Year the course closed
2014 – Year Pacific Hospitality Group claimed the course and resort out of bankruptcy
18 – Months of renovation put into the course since then