Historical and affordable: Golf course faces re-designation
From Dave and Betty Lawrence’s front porch, a blanket of snow runs all the way to Brockway Road. Under the snow lie the dormant greens of Truckee’s last affordable golfing option – Ponderosa Golf Course. The Lawrences fear that soon they will look out their front window into a cluster of housing or a row of commercial development.
Inside their house, an octagonal eye-catcher right across from the clubhouse, Dave Lawrence is playing a scratchy, late-1950s home movie that documents the creation of Ponderosa – Truckee’s first golf course.
In the movie large earthmovers, taking a break from construction on Interstate 80, flatten and mold the earth. A collection of volunteers saw, nail and hoist the beams of the clubhouse. A few Jeeps and pickups strain as they pull tree roots from what was becoming fairway, green and teebox. The movie rolls in the jerky, hyperactive pace of late ’50s footage.
The Lawrences, and everyone else whose home borders the golf course, have all of the sudden become intensely aware of the General Plan update, which has looked at re-designing the golf course from open space to a designation that would allow redevelopment of the land.
While the course owners say that they have no intention of developing the land in the near future, homeowners are suspicious, seeing even the threat that their golf course homes may soon look into the back of another subdivision as a certain reduction in their home values. To many others, the course represents the last place to golf affordably in an area that is adding only high-end courses.
To one person in particular, the loss of Ponderosa would mean the loss of a piece of precious history.
Betty Kielhofer, 76, lived in Truckee for 45 years and claims the course as her work. And she has history to back it up.
“I did originate the course,” Kielhofer said. “It was four years of good, long, hard labor.”
But while Kielhofer played a lead role in the creation of the course, she highlights the volunteer effort that made locals feel like they all owned a piece of Ponderosa.
“It was the first time the town ever pulled together,” Kielhofer said. “It is such a precious memory to Truckee.”
The process began in the summer of 1957 when a group of Truckee locals who had been traveling to Tahoe City and Reno to golf, decided that the town needed a golf course and other recreational facilities. Four years of construction, with much of the material and labor donated, transformed Truckee Donner Public Utility District (TDPUD) land into a nine-hole course and a number of ballfields.
“We had no schools, we had no recreation, we had nothing for the children,” Kielhofer said. “We built it for $100,000, for $110,000 that thing was completed. Who ever heard of building a whole golf course for that?”
Construction companies donated the use of tractors and operators. Shell Oil and Texaco donated fuel. Locals donated the use of trucks. Everybody, including women and children, showed up as volunteer labor, moving rocks from the land. The clubhouse, estimated at a value of $25,000 in 1961, was built for $3,000.
A true show of Truckee’s support for the project came at the first opening ceremony on May 7, 1961, when 200 locals braved a freak snowstorm to see the opening of the course. The official opening ceremony, with ribbon cutting and all, drew 500 onlookers on June 18.
A round of golf in 1961 cost $3.50, an individual season pass was $75, and whole family could play the season for $125.
But in May of 1962, not more than a year after the course was opened, the TDPUD sold the course to a partnership of Alex Stewart, Jackie Jensen and Reynold Johnson for approximately $160,000.
“I think the public was told that when the PUD sold it that the owners were going to keep it as a golf course. That is why they got it at such a reasonable price,” Lawrence said.
The sale was a blow to people like Kielhofer, who felt like owners of the course after investing so much hard work into the project. Much of the donated time and effort toward what many saw as a municipal course, profited the TDPUD and the new owners who sold the golf course lots.
“It should have been a municipal course,” said Kielhofer, who still has hope that it may become public.
“It was a horrendous, horrendous job … and then to have it sold,” she said. “It was the saddest story that was ever told about Truckee.”
Dave Lawrence was on a golf trip to Truckee in 1989, staying at the Best Western and playing Ponderosa Golf Course, when he saw the octagonal house across from the clubhouse for sale.
The house was advertised as “on the ninth green at Ponderosa Golf Course (membership included).” Although he had no intention of buying a home on the trip, Lawrence couldn’t resist. He bought it.
Fifteen years later, Lawrence is upset that the owner of the course would even think of developing the property. He worked the greens and fairways of the course for five years after retirement and plays the course free of charge under an agreement in which maintenance vehicles are allowed to use his driveway.
Lawrence has golfed at Ponderosa since the ’60s. He’s played with the old timers, including “back nine Bob” who would tell the story of a construction mishap that left the angle of the fifth green reversed.
Lawrence is convinced that the golf course can continue to be profitable in its present form.
“I know this golf course can be operated at a profit,” Lawrence said. “It just doesn’t seem fair that they should make money off redeveloping the golf course.”
The owners say that the golf course is making a profit, although it is becoming slimmer and slimmer as people turn to the many other courses going up in the area.
“It’s not making much money. We are hanging on as much as we can,” said Robert Himsl, who represents his mother, owner Charlotte Himsl.
Himsl said that people are going to Reno for cheap golf, and that profits are hampered by the short golfing season in the mountains. Plus, the cost of business in California is not going down, he said.
Himsl said the owners have the right to seek land use re-designation. A grant deed document from the original transfer of the property from the TDPUD to the group of private owners stipulates that the property be kept as a golf course, but only until 1972.
Himsl insists that the re-designation of the property is only a backup plan – a decision that was made because the General Plan update provided the option.
“We’re not going to up and sell it to some developer who is going to tear it up,” Himsl said. “We don’t want to just throw it to the wolves. We want to do what is right for the community.”
Homeowners insist that what is right for the community is to keep it as a golf course. They will make their case at the General Plan update meetings.
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