LA Creeks and Golf Courses – flowing by the fairways

March 26, 2012 § 6 Comments

It seems as though there’s almost always a creek on golf courses in Los Angeles – be it natural, concrete or underground.  And having proposed daylighting and restoration projects at a number of our local golf courses, I was happy to see this article, A Stream Runs Through It, published in the Golf Course Industry online magazine, supporting the idea.  I have found that golf courses and streams can coexist, but too often golf courses alter the stream, pushing it over the edge of the property, constraining it in ways that destabilize it, removing habitat, etc.  The management problems are often quite predictable.  The opportunity exists to design a golf course with an understanding of stream habitat and function, leading to a richer golf experience, fewer maintenance issues, and habitat for that remaining 5-10% of LA’s waterways.  Streams can separate greens, but when they traverse greens, they can become part of the play in interesting ways.

A couple of golf course/restoration locations I’ve referred to in Creek Freak posts include  Devil’s Dip (I promise a post on just the golf course and restoration potential there in the near future but here’s a slide from Creek Freak’s recommendations to Mark Ridley-Thomas about it.) and South Pasadena Golf Course.

A famous creek/golf course is the Arroyo Santa Monica through the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades.  The natural creek (they call it a barranca) has a guest starring role in the movie Pat & Mike, when Katherine Hepburn is in the creek bed trying to golf her ball out of there.  Offscreen, Humphrey Bogart was known to hang out in the shade of a sycamore tree overlooking the creek, holding court with admirers and friends.  It appears to now be completely underground.  What a loss.

Arroyo Santa Monica, brushed under the carpet, er, grass. Photo: Google Maps.

Arroyo del Jardin de las Flores still flows through the Wilshire Country Club, and would be an excellent candidate for golf-friendly restoration.  On a visit there years ago, I was told that the waters will at time flow in strange colors, what was surmised to be upstream illegal dumping of photo chemicals from one of the Hollywood studios or related industries.

View of natural creek bed at Los Angeles Country Club. Photo: Google Maps

There’s also Kenter Creek buried through the Brentwood Golf Course, drainages connected to Benedict Channel system going through the Los Angeles Country Club and Hillcrest Country Club. On the 5 Freeway by Griffith Park, one may spy a tiny sign by the roadside, naming “Golf Creek” as you pass the Harding Golf Course.  I haven’t been able to actually locate a stream on the property (only looked from roadside and aerials), so it remains a bit of a mystery to me.

And to try and balance out the geographic representation a bit here, I’d like to point out the Verdugo Wash, in a concrete channel, through the Oakmont Country Club, and the mother of restorable urban LA streams, the Arroyo Seco through the Brookside Golf Course in Pasadena.

The Stream Lives!

Wend your way further afield, and examples of living streams through golf courses can be found.  As much as I dislike seeing development carving into floodplains, in this case the beautiful bosque of the Santa Ana River, it’s great to see this little tributary creek (apparently, Goose Creek) survive through the Goose Creek Golf Course in Mira Loma.  You can see its denuded, straightened condition just upstream (upper left of the image).

Goose Creek through Goose Creek Golf Course. Photo: Google Maps

San Antonio Creek (and trib) through Soule Park Golf Course in Ojai. Image: Google Maps.

More interesting is the integration of creeks, here, in Ojai at Soule Park Golf Course, where San Antonio Creek, as one golf website describes it, comes into play on five holes.  The Golf Club description seems to place value on it:  “The course is defined by its mountain vistas, huge specimen Oak trees and creeks. ”   See – they get it!

Restored stream at Dos Lagos golf course and development in Corona. Image: Google Maps.

And at the Dos Lagos club in Corona, I’ve been told that the creek was actually restored as a part of the golf course development, making the apparent culverting of the Arroyo Santa Monica at the Riviera Country Club seem even sadder and more unnecessary.

Troubled over the Waters

For you Tujunga fans, and you edgy-design afficionados, I haven’t forgotten about the Angeles National Golf Club.  I am pretty ambivalent about it, though, for the simple reason that it is yet another encroachment into what had been a pretty undeveloped floodplain, development allowed by our regulatory agencies charged with protecting biotic diversity and natural function.

Tujunga Wash/Angeles National Golf Course site, 1994 and 2012. Images: Google Earth and Google Maps

Were it a restoration, taking a channelized or disturbed wash and restoring it to have more floodable area, with braided and ephemeral channels, it would be an exciting compromise.    But the golf club bought this land that included the very geomorphically active and ecologically significant Tujunga Wash.  They would (knowingly, I might add) have flood risks associated with that, and they would have attendant mitigation and biological responsibilities outlined in their EIR that would be part of their development agreement.  Indeed flooding, such as happened in 2005, is going to occur here.  And if they violated any rules related to how they managed that, there’s liability (reported here and here).  Given the EIR and standing agreements, unlike many smaller endangered streams in Los Angeles, it would have been very difficult to develop the active wash area.  And while it would have been heartening to see a private property owner take on in good faith their responsibilities as land stewards of sensitive ecological property, in fact, according to Curbed LA, the Wash was to be transferred as public open space as part of its title back when they got their development permit.  Once the deal went through, there was never any additional development risk here.  Which is why I was a little perplexed by the celebratory tone of the reportage of the recent land transfer, describing this as new protection, as “nature protected from the golf course”.  Sounds to me like an old legal agreement was finally made good.

On the other hand, a trusty stream protection ordinance would have obviated not only the need, but the perception of need, for acquisition.

I just hope that the MRCA, City of LA or whoever has taken title doesn’t get saddled with liability for flood damages that are complicated by the development at the golf course.  Now that the floodplain has been encroached upon, some structures have been built on fill resulting in decreased flood storage volume, and drainage flow paths are constrained and altered.  I can only hope that all biological mitigation requirements have already been met, and not handed down to us to take care of.  The articles about the transfer refer to trails maintenance to be paid for by Angeles National for 25 years, but no mention of ongoing biological monitoring, mitigation, or maintenance.  Unless there’s some fancy footwork in the transfer agreement, I am concerned that any flooding of the Wash into the golf course – or elsewhere – will now be the State’s problem, in other words, our problem.  It would be very sad indeed, if our recent celebrations were actually for the “golf course protected from nature” and not the other way around, as reported.

I may not have all the story here, but will remain hoping for fancy footwork in the fine print of that land transfer agreement that protects the public interest.

As an aside, The Foothills Forum blog had lively discussion about the golf course, flooding, and development issues.


[Correction:  I initially posted this stating the Arroyo Santa Monica ran in a concrete channel through the Riviera Country Club.  My memory must have failed me, as a review of the Google Earth history of aerial images shows that it was completely culverted.  Brain fart and apologies for the inaccuracy.]


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§ 6 Responses to LA Creeks and Golf Courses – flowing by the fairways

  • Melina Watts says:

    Love the array of golf courses you reference, with pictures no less.Thank you for your perspective on the repeated integration of the creek into the golf course in Ojai which appears to have real…soule.

  • Mike Letteriello says:

    Have to check out some of these watercourses some day as usual.
    Too many and too little time!

  • BarbaraE says:

    Jessica, your posts on waterways and daylighting always make me dream. I guess the very fact that the golf course industry is articulating something on returning ecological and hydrological function to waterways is progress but oh so slow! Anyway, South Pas is back at it. The CEQA review regarding the extension of the driving range came back with recommendation of Mitigated Neg. Declaration – otherwise known as, go at it! City council (with two new council members) will be considering the terms of a lease agreement with Donovon Brothers Golf (who would not sign a lease before without the option to extend the driving range). It is my hope that enough people will care enough about this issue to contact Council Members Joe, Cacciotti, and Khubesrian. Rick Schneider has been a staunch supporter of the nature park, while Philip Putnam has already heard what people had to say about this in the last go around. Check out my blog post for links to city info, etc.:

    Thanks for the coverage — and the dreams.

  • […] to Jessica on yesterday’s post about reaching détente between golf courses and healthy creeks. Her examples are instructive, but there’s at least one more somewhat interesting local […]

  • hi jessica

    the ojai project as i recall was restored after significant flood event some time ago. i think the golf designer was Gil Hans, and landscape architect and perhaps the most respected non-pro golfer now working on course design. i have spoken with Gil, who considers the best golf hazard to be “habitat encroaching on the field of play”- he is unique in the field.

    we at the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains have been developing a complex creek daylighting, aquifer recharge, water quality improvement and water conservation project at the calabasas country club over the last two years. in this location, at the very top of the LA watershed, upstream development flows and some channel hardening has created down-cutting in natural bottomed sections of the oak woodlands of the course corridor, which we hope to correct by managing the upstream flow input to allow for non-structured we have yet to find a funding source, and the challenges related to water “ownership” in supposedly “natural” creeks with unnatural inputs are significant. but we have a willing landowner and our informal poll of golfing members suggested that they would love to see their course enhanced and made more challenging by additional free-flowing creek. your post is a good motivator- would be happy to share the project concepts with you too.

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