Mount St. Helena Golf Course

Mount St. Helena Golf Course has remained closed since suffering wind damage in the October wildfires. 

Calistoga’s golf course, which has been closed for about five months and continues to be a point of contention within the golfing community, is slated to reopen on April 1, officials announced last week, with money coming from a reserve account to fund operations.

“As we had discussed in as far back as December, and then our January board meeting, and again on Thursday (Feb. 1) at our planning session, it is the intent of this board to reopen the golf course,” said Carlene Moore, CEO of the Napa County Fairgrounds, at the Feb. 8 regularly scheduled board meeting.

In order to operate the Mount St. Helena Golf Course, the Napa County Fair Association (NCFA) will need to pull $60,000 from its reserves and hope that an additional $35,000 is raised from donations, memberships, grants and other sources.

The operating plan includes finding 30 people who would be willing to pay $1,000 for a season pass; $500 of which would be considered “support” of the course, the other $500 would be the value of greens fees. Greens fees would be set at $15 for nine holes of golf, $20 for 18 holes, and $10 per person per cart.

Taking a new tack on the value of the golf course, Moore and NCFA board member Bob Beck referred to the golf course as “green space,” a valued commodity for the residents of Calistoga and visitors alike.

“It isn’t just golf as a recreational program, it’s also the green space, and the maintaining of that, the value of that to the community in the way of effluent water that we discharge on behalf of the city,” Moore said.

The City of Calistoga pumps over its excess partially treated wastewater that the Fairgrounds uses to water the Mount St. Helena Golf Course at the Fairgrounds. Neither the city nor the Fairgrounds exchanges funds in the transfer of water.

The golf course was closed over the last handful of months due to debris from the October windstorms that led to the Tubbs Fire and other wildfires in Wine Country. Due to the widespread range of destruction Moore had difficulty finding a tree service company that would come out and tend to the tree-related hazards on the course.

But the operation and condition of the course have been frustrating golfers for the past couple of years leading to the organization of a committee of golfers who worked with Moore to improve communications between management and the golf community and ultimately help to restore golf course conditions. The golf group also pressed Moore and the board to lower greens fees to reflect the quality of the course.

An assemblage of volunteers have maintained the course fixing things along the way as they could. But the course needs more than a Band-Aid, critics say, and it will take more money than what the NCFA has available to put the golf course on the right track. Some charge that the course should stay closed until enough money can be put into it to bring it up to a standard competitive with other area courses. Others want the NCFA board to do whatever it takes to open the course so locals can play.

It’s a conundrum Moore and the board teeter-totter on as they wait for the fate of the Joint Powers of Authority (JPA) to be decided by Napa County and the City of Calistoga, the two government entities that are poised to take over management and operation of the Fairgrounds where the golf course is located.

“We wanted to put together a proper operational plan for (reopening the course),” Moore said at the Feb. 8 NCFA board meeting. “This isn’t a plan of just operating. This really is a plan of helping to ensure this open, green, valuable space” is guaranteed to hold over “long into the future, (and) that there is something of value to hand over, as part of your legacy as a board to the next governing body that takes over that really can devote the energy and resources to the long-term solutions for the golf course.”

The plan is already under way, she said, to reopen on April 1, which is also Easter Sunday.

“We have some promotional opportunities around that,” Moore said, but between now and then the focus will be on getting the course ready to open.

The tree work got started a little earlier than scheduled and irrigation repairs, specifically around Fairway 8, are underway with irrigation schedules being figured out to coordinate around the tree work that is being done.

The city is “challenged” with the volume of reclaimed water it has, due to the dry weather conditions and lower levels of the rivers where the city is restricted in releasing water under certain conditions. Treated water will be used at the Fairgrounds and golf course.

They are also treating the greens and tees with fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides to get them healthy so that they will be able to aerate prior to the April opening.

The Number 3 green has “always been a challenge,” Moore said. It has so much drainage that it’s “basically a sand-based green,” she said. The plan includes resurfacing that with new sod. Outside of that the greens “are in pretty good condition” with the exception of some fungal activity that will be addressed with a fungicide.

At the same time that the clean-up of the course is taking place Moore said a volunteer stepped up to help out with a marketing and social media campaign, “who is a golfer herself.”

“So once we have the place looking all shiny, sparkling and new, then the plan is to open on Easter Sunday,” with the offering of a “free day of play.”

“It will be an invitation for people to come out in between hunting for Easter eggs and eating dinner that night, come out and play, bring the family out, spend a little bit of time, spend a lot of time,” she said.

Through the discussions with the golf community she said they will focus on the season being April 1 through Oct. 31.

Additional promotional activities under consideration include movie nights, dine and golf, a summer fun league, a players club, collaboration with the Calistoga Joint Unified School District to provide physical education opportunities around golf, and coordinating with the Calistoga Boys & Girls Club and the city’s recreation department to provide after-school and summer recreation programs.

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The Weekly Calistogan Editor