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Atomic City Update: Will LA get a new golf course?

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By Phil Scherer

During Tuesday night’s County Council meeting, councilors approved a plan to spend Capital Improvement Plan funds on three recreation projects, including $4.5 million to be used on improvements at the Los Alamos County Golf Course.
According to a person familiar with the situation, however, there may be much more going on than installing a new irrigation system and repairing the greens at the existing site.

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The longtime member of the Los Alamos golfing community said there may be internal discussions among the county council and the golfing community about a plan to construct a new course.

The plan involves selling the existing golf course to a realty company and using the money from that sale to fund a new course in Pueblo Canyon.

The realty company would build some 350 lots on the 140 acres now occupied by the golf course. The belief among the golfing community is that the land would net the county approximately $18 million.

That, along with the property taxes that would be collected on the new 350 lots and the $4.5 million awarded from the CIP funds, would give the county around $25 million to build the new course, with no tax increase required.

The money would allow the county to build a course that would be among the top in the state, and perhaps one of the top 50 courses in the country.

Though a majority of the golf staff has expressed interest in the idea, some have expressed concerns, according to the golfing community member, who wanted to remain anonymous. The main concern is that the sale of the existing course to a realty company would be approved, but that the county would not follow through on building the new course.

This concern comes after proposed improvements to the golf course were delayed and deferred multiple times by the county council over the past few years before being approved this week.

At this week’s County Council meeting, Ted Ball, a longtime advocate for the golfing community in Los Alamos, said, “This golf course is 70 years old. We should have had some of these improvements done already.”

Councilor James Chrobocinski acknowledged that improvements for the course had been delayed longer than was originally intended, and that they were a necessity.

“Improving the golf course has been long promised,” he said. “And now it needs to happen.”

Although councilors approved funds for improvements, some questions remain about how much impact the changes would have, and what kind of disturbance they would cause to the course.

The proposal involves installing a new irrigation system at the course designed to keep the course looking better year-round and to conserve water.

But installing the system would cause major problems for golfers, as this would likely be a two-year project that would result in half the course being unusable each year.

When Councilor Antonio Maggiore asked what the process would be for installing the system at the council meeting, Council Vice President Susan O’Leary said, “That’s still to be determined because the golfers want to continue to be able to use the course year-round.”

Questions also remain about how much of the money would be left for actual improvements after taxes and fees are paid for labor and installation.

According to the person familiar with the situation, it is estimated that after those fees are paid, there would be approximately $3.2 million left for improvements.

Initial estimates have the cost of the new irrigation system at $1.8 million, though it could be much more expensive due to the terrain of the course.

The completed system would be most useful in the dry season when keeping the greens at peak condition is most challenging, but would have very little impact during the busy summer months.

This leads some to believe that the improvements may not be worth the inconvenience of losing access to half of the golf course for two years, and that the alternative idea is preferable.

The longtime member of the golf community said that the idea was originally brought up by a member of the County Council as way to improve the reputation of golf in Los Alamos County, as well as developing more real estate in the county and bringing more tourism without having to raise taxes at all.

Members of the golfing community believe that the county should strongly consider the idea, and let it go through an investigation and vetting process. They also feel that the golf staff has never been in a better position to make something like this happen.

The person familiar with the situation said, “We feel that there is more experience on the staff now than ever before, with multiple members of management having previously opened courses around the world. If we want to do something like this, now is the time to do it.”