Jim Meinert practices on the driving range that still is open at the Fig Garden Golf Club. The clubâ€™s 18-hole course closed Jan. 1. Photo by David Castellon
On a cool but sunny afternoon, Jim Meinert normally might be out on Fig Garden Golf Clubâ€™s course getting in 18 holes.
But that wasnâ€™t the case last Friday, as the retired hospital administrator had to be content hitting balls on the northwest Fresno courseâ€™s driving range, as the course shut down Jan. 1, leaving only the driving range and a few putting and chipping greens open â€” at least for now.
Meinert, a member of the golf club and a resident of one of the upscale neighborhoods surrounding it, said he and other members he knows were heartbroken when they got the news late last year that the course was closing after six decades in operation.
â€œItâ€™s such a beautiful place, and so many people play here and have played here for a long time. Itâ€™s such an essential part of the community,â€ Meinert said.
Club President David Knott sent a letter to his members in November stating, â€œI have not been able to keep up with facility and equipment upgrades necessary to provide the quality that you continue to expect and provide the tools necessary for our staff to perform at their bestâ€ due to declining interest in the golf course in recent years driving down revenues.
With the course closed â€” with the exceptions of the practice areas and clubhouse â€” members are left wondering whatâ€™s next for the nearly 132 acres that comprise the facility.
Several members contacted said they hoped that if the course is sold, whoever buys it will continue operating it as an 18-hole golf course, but most conceded that seems unlikely.
â€œIâ€™ve heard a lot of rumors,â€ which have included dividing the land into 20-acre parcels for luxury homes, as well as a variation in which only part of the land would be set aside for homes and the rest would become a 9-hole course, Meinert said.
Art Mays, a vacuum cleaner salesman from Clovis, who was practicing his putting Friday, said he heard only that homes would be built on the site, though â€œeveryone Iâ€™ve talked to thinks it should be left a golf course,â€ he said.
As for what actually is planned for the golf course, that hasnâ€™t been made public. Numerous calls to Knott werenâ€™t returned.
In late of 2017, his company entered a right to purchase agreement with Central Green Co. in Madera.
According to the latest records available from the Fresno County Recorderâ€™s Office, no purchase of the land has occurred as yet, and the agreement â€” filed with the county in November 2017 â€” gives the investment group 24 months to make the purchase for an unspecified amount.
As for Central Green Co., itâ€™s a limited partnership operating pistachio groves, and Larry Freedls, listed as its manager in county records, couldnâ€™t be reached for comment to ask about what his groupâ€™s plans.
Some rumors have circulated that the golf course could be converted to a nut grove, but some club members were skeptical, noting that the land sits amid some of the most well-to-do neighborhoods in the Fresno area, making it a prime, valued spot for luxury home development.
But some, Meinert among them, questioned how homes could be built on the course, as it has areas prone to flooding.
Regardless of what happens to the course, Alex Babigian, a retired educator and businessman who lives near the course, said he hopes the bar and clubhouse are preserved and converted into a first-class restaurant.
And keeping nine holes of the golf course would be nice, too, he said.
â€œAnything they do to preserve the community contact, involvement would be a plus.â€
As many in this neighborhood wonder about the future or the Fig Garden Golf Club, concerns have settled down about what may happen to the Sierra Sport and Racquet Club, less than a mile to the south.
Concerns were raised after the city of Fresno updated its zoning map in 2016 and rezoned the nearly 12 acres of land the Racquet Club occupies from residential use to parks and recreation.
The owners petitioned the city to restore the zoning to residential, and the Fresno City Council was set to vote on the matter last year until a contingent of residents in the neighborhood surrounding the club raised objections.
Their issue was that prior to the zone change, the allowable sizes for home lots were a minimum 12,500 square feet. The proposal before the City Council to restore residential zoning to the area would have reduced that minimum to 5,000 square feet, according to a petition passed around in the neighborhood.
Some residents were concerned this would allow the construction of smaller homes on smaller lots at a density two-and-a half times greater than the surrounding neighborhoods.
Adding to the neighborsâ€™ concerns were rumors that the owners of the Racquet Club were selling it entirely or wanted to sell off parts of its vacant land for housing developments.
So the residents asked the council to approve the zone change but to a larger-sized lot minimum,Â as â€œSuch a district would provide for minimum lot size of 9,000 [square feet] and 57 homes. This would allow for a project with a higher density than the adjacent area, but a much more compatible project than one that crams 103 homes onto an 11.84 acre site,â€ according to the petition.
Robert Mitchell, a partner in Sierra Sport and Racquet Club, issued a letter last year looking to alleviate those concerns, stating that neither the club or portions of its land had been sold, nor were such plans in the works.
He stated that he had asked an architect about the possibility of building condominiums around the club, and during this process it was discovered the city had made an error in changing the areaâ€™s zoning.
Efforts to contact Mitchell werenâ€™t successful, but Dan Zack, assistant director of the city of Fresnoâ€™s Development and Resource Management Department, said the clubâ€™s owners asked for the change, saying it would give them flexibility in how the land may be used in the future.
â€œPlease understand that I have not submitted any formal request for development or sold the club to someone that would develop and remove the tennis club, as is being rumored,â€ Mitchellâ€™s letter continued.
As for the concerns about the allowable parcel sizes, should any of the clubâ€™s land be redeveloped, â€œWe thought that was a fair point,â€ said Zack, whose department analyzed the sizes of residential lots around the Racquet Club and came back to the City Council with a recommendation of changing the zoning to lots that are a minimum of 9,000 square feet and a maximum 32,000.
â€œThat fit really well with the surrounding lots,â€ and the Racquet Club owners didnâ€™t object to the changes, nor, it seems, did the residents after the City Council voted to approve those changes last month, Zack said.
Staff writer Edward Smith contributed to this report.