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Back nine may become JWA parking lot

County may not renew lease to preserve space; local golfers expected to become 'very vocal.'

April 18, 2007|By Alicia Robinson

Local golfers are afraid they'll lose the back nine holes of the Newport Beach Golf Course to parking for John Wayne Airport, so they're about to come out swinging.

One of a few public courses in the city, the Newport Beach Golf Course opened in 1976 in the airport's flight path. Its 18 holes lie on two parcels, one owned by the Irvine Co. and the other by Orange County.

With the golf course's lease on the county parcel ending July 31, county and airport officials are considering other uses, including more airport parking, airport spokeswoman Jenny Wedge said Tuesday.

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"Our goal is to find the highest, best use for the area," she said. "Nothing has been decided because we're looking at the area right now."

The Newport Beach Golf Course's operators and people who play there said they only learned recently that they could lose half of their course, and they're not happy.

"They have put us on notice that the lease has ended, but they won't tell us if they're going to renew it or not," said Steve Lane, who opened the course in 1976 and is one of its two owners. "This is my livelihood. I built it and want to keep it alive for the community."

What the county could do with the property is somewhat limited because it's in a "runway protection zone," which puts height restrictions on the land, Wedge said.

There are other options for golfers in Orange County who don't belong to a country club — the county owns seven golf courses, and Costa Mesa has a municipal course.

But supporters say the Newport Beach Golf Course is unique — it's lighted for nighttime play, and amateurs are welcome.

"Even if you're not a golfer, you can go hit a bucket of balls," said Keith Wyrick, a starter at the course. And at $25 for 18 holes, with a taco and soda for $1.25, he said, "it really is an inexpensive trip to come over there."

Pelican Hill Golf Course, another public course in Newport Beach, is closed for construction of an adjacent resort, but recent prices for 18 holes were around $175 Monday through Thursday and $250 on Friday through Sunday.

Newport Beach resident Buck Johns, who has played Pelican Hill and the Newport Beach Golf Course, said if the choice is between open space for golf and parking, he'd prefer the golf.

"That's not just a little golf course there — it's a lifestyle for a lot of people," he said.

Wedge said airport officials and the county's airport commission will at some point make a recommendation to Orange County supervisors, who have the final say on the property, but no meetings on the issue are scheduled.

She said the airport welcomes public input. They probably won't be disappointed — petitions already are out at the golf course.

"I think that citizens may become very vocal on this issue," Newport Beach City Councilwoman Leslie Daigle said.

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