By Kathe Malouf
Special to the Sun
Kern Valley Golf Course closed to the public on the afternoon of Aug. 14. It was a difficult decision, but one without many options.
Golf courses have been closing across the nation at an alarming rate due to dwindling membership and participation. But the reason behind the closure of Kern Valley Golf Course goes beyond the national trend.
And while the local golf course has experienced a decline in membership; poor management and delinquent bills were the primary factors that led to the decision to close the golf course that has been in operation for nearly 60 years.
Lynn Klase, who came on board as President in late June said the decision stemmed from the fact that the golf course had not paid essential bills, one of those being the Franchise Tax Board.
The golf course was advised back in March by the Franchise Tax Board that payment of $800 was due by March 31 or their business license would be revoked. That deadline came and went without the required payment. A hearing date was scheduled for July 5, but again, no payment was made. As a result of missed deadlines and lack of payment, the business license for the golf course was revoked by the Franchise Tax Board.
Along with having their business license revoked, Klase pointed out that the golf course also lost their liquor license and snack bar license.
“As soon as I found out we didn’t have a business license, we had no choice but to close,” Klase said.
The golf course was delinquent with payment to more than the State Franchise Tax Board.
“Every time I looked, I found something bad,” Klase said.
Klase also discovered that the golf course had not paid the lease to the U.S. Forest Service for the last three quarters. The Kern Valley Golf Course has operated under a Special Use Permit from the Forest Service since 1959 to lease the land where the 9-hole golf course is located.
In addition, the golf course owes money to their employees.
Kern Valley Golf Course has not gone as far as filing for bankruptcy. “Filing for bankruptcy takes a lawyer, and we have no money to hire a lawyer,” Klase said in frustration.
Following last week’s closure, Klase and Hal Chealander, who serves as an advisor to the board, met with the attorney representing the golf course’s lienholder to discuss a possible option to the permanent closure. That option includes trying to find financial investors who are willing to invest in the golf course to allow it to reopen.
Klase also met with representatives of the Forest Service asking that they be allowed to continue minimal maintenance on the golf course – keeping the greens green – in the event that they are successful in finding investors.
According to the National Golf Foundation, since 2003, participation in the sport of golf has dropped by 20 percent. There are more golf courses closing than opening due to the declining interest in the sport. The NGF reported that only 13 18-hole golf courses opened in 2012, while 154 courses closed. More than 800 golf courses have closed nationwide during the last decade. And it’s everywhere; golf courses in Palm Springs, Las Vegas and other popular venues have closed, all citing declining membership, increased costs and declining interest in the sport.
Klase said that at one time, Kern Valley Golf Course had 350 members, so many members that the board decided to close membership.
Then membership started to drop and Klase said it has been a rapid and steady decline. Klase did not have the current number of members; nor did he wish to place blame or speculate as to how the golf course got into such deep financial trouble.
As word of the closure circulated, it was distressing news for local golfers. Paul Cromwell has been playing on Kern Valley golf course for the past 25 years.
“It is really sad. But all golf courses are struggling. They are closing daily across the country,” Cromwell said. “It is a national problem and not unique or limited to any one area. The old guys are dying off and the young kids are not interested in the game.”
At this time, Klase cannot say whether the golf course will reopen. “Not under these same conditions,” he said.
Klase said he had no idea that the finances were in such bad shape when he agreed to serve as president of the board. “I inherited a complete disaster,” he said adding that it was a difficult decision for him and the other board members to close the golf course.
“We didn’t have a choice,” Klase said. “We are just trying to do what is right because there is enough wrong right now.”
A “Go Fund Me” account has been set up and can be found on the Kern Valley Golf Course’s website.