Napa County Fairgrounds Board of Director meeting

The Tucker Room at the Napa County Fairgrounds was filled with people interested in hearing the options for the Fairgrounds revitalization project. Most were golfers interested in protecting the golf course and hoping to influence positive changes to it.

Local golfers drove home a message at last week’s Fair Association Board of Directors meeting: If you touch the golf course it had better be to make improvements, not shrink it.

The course is sometimes unkempt, and there is nothing fancy about it, but golfers in town say they love it and argue that if the course were given a little more love it would draw more golfers and ultimately bring in more revenue.

“With improvement, you get more play and you get more revenue,” said one speaker at the May 12 meeting. The current course prices are “too high for the condition of the course,” he added.

Revenue is the crux of the matter. After losing state funding a few years ago the Napa County Fairgrounds has struggled to find a way to fill that monetary gap and needs to make more money to stay financially viable. On the table for change is every aspect of the Fairgrounds, the ideas and options for which were discussed at the May 12 Fair Association Board of Directors meeting. And the consultants hired to conduct the study and review and report on the Fair’s prospectus put an exclamation point on the fact that nothing has been decided and that all options are open for review and discussion.

“Nothing is cast in stone,” said Taylor Bollinger, associate principal of planning for RCH Group.

RCH Group, a fair and exposition planning consulting group, was hired to evaluate the potential of the fairgrounds and provide suggestions and options for the long-term development of the Fairgrounds. At the Board’s April meeting RCH Group reviewed their findings and left the Board to review the analysis and return to the May meeting for questions, further discussion, and to hear public input.

Dozens of interested Fairgrounds users — most of them golfers and members of Calistoga’s men’s and women’s golf clubs — showed up to listen to the consultants as well as offer their own opinions to not only save the golf course, but to improve it.

Representatives of Calistoga’s men’s and women’s golf clubs shared their feelings about the importance of the course and their desire to see it better cared for and enhanced.

Among the golfers who spoke, one said the “greens need to be aerated” and “sprinklers need to be fixed” and when he drives past Logvy Park with its lush green lawn he thinks “that’s what a golf course should look like.”

Logvy Park is owned and operated by the city of Calistoga, and the Mount St. Helena Golf Course is operated by the Napa County Fair Association. The golf course has a mutually beneficial relationship with the city of Calistoga in that it is the largest user of the city’s reclaimed water, which gives the city a place to send its excess treated water, and the golf course gets free water.

The course is either under-watered or over-watered, and “despite the heroic efforts of 10 volunteers” the course cannot be maintained, said one speaker. A professional golf course company needs to be hired to maintain the course, some argued.

Making improvements to the golf course – called an “underutilized resource” in the consultants’ analysis — could be a financial boon to the Fairgrounds, said Dana Cole, board member.

“There’s a potential demand for that golf course. With some prudent investment” it could be a moneymaker, he said. “This is the only course in the upper valley. Let’s look at enhancing what we have before we decide to shuffle land uses,” he said to audience applause, and someone calling out “I’ll drink to that” when Cole suggested adding a bar.

Cole was referring to one idea floated by RCH, which suggested creating a luxury RV park to be located at the edge of Napa River. He cautioned that getting in to the archaeological area of the river could “bump up against the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act)” and “there may be a deal killer waiting for us out there.”

“We could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get there,” Cole said.

A new RV park would also mean rearranging the golf course, which takes up a little more than half of the 70-acre property and wraps around the Speedway that sits in the center.

Amid the RCH options was one that reduced the size of the golf course – which is now longer than a true nine-hole executive course — to a true executive course, or reconfigure it to a “strategic course,” one that is designed to present challenges to golfers who hope to improve their game. Strategic courses are set up so that a golfer always has to think ahead and play a shot with the next shot in mind.

Keeping the course USGA-rated is important, the golfers said, adding that maintaining that rating would draw in more local and visiting golfers and keep the course listed in the USGA’s National Course Rating Database, which is one way visitors would find it.

With two new resorts opening soon, there’s an opportunity to make it a “destination golf course,” Cole said.

The analysis looked at uses and potential for all areas of the Fairgrounds including the event center, Speedway, Fourth of July Fair, and RV park.

Directors will meet again in June and continue discussions about the direction of the golf course and the Fairgrounds’ future.

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The Weekly Calistogan Editor