Golf course to reopen, with a twist

Sunset Hills set to return to former glory

FULL SWING<br>Watson Dobbs stands on the overgrown grounds of the Sunset Hills Golf Course, which he is working to restore and reopen in the next couple months.

Watson Dobbs stands on the overgrown grounds of the Sunset Hills Golf Course, which he is working to restore and reopen in the next couple months.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Tee time
Sunset Hills Golf Course is at 13301 Garner Lane, off The Esplanade north of Eaton Road. 342-4600.

The clink of clubs hitting balls will soon be heard again—loudly—in north Chico. After two years of being open only as a driving range with two holes, Watson Dobbs is ready to restore Sunset Hills Golf Course to its former glory, with a little twist.

“I’m looking forward to getting it back to a real golf course,” said Dobbs, who sat comfortably inside the course’s pro shop last week. The twist: While he’s refurbishing the grounds, he’s going to open up for another kind of golfer—the disc golfer.

“The course has been laid out, and we hope to be open before the end of September,” he said of the disc golf course.

Dobbs bought Sunset Hills, which is visible from The Esplanade north of Eaton Road, back in January 2005 with a one-year lease. After that year was up, Jeff Farrar, who had bought the land from the course’s longtime owners, Dave and Fran Van Dyke, had other plans for the property—Wal-Mart wanted to build there.

So, for two-plus years, while the proposed supercenter underwent economic-impact reports and various stages of planning, Dobbs was left with a course that couldn’t be used, at least not to its full potential. And every time Wal-Mart came up in the news, he said, he lost more and more customers.

“A lot of people thought we were closed,” said Dobbs, a professional golfer for more than 40 years and new coach to the Durham High School golf team. “The driving range was never closed.”

The plan to build a supercenter on the site was a hot-button topic in Chico for years. Opponents, like the group Chico Advocates for a Responsible Economy, fought with billboards and petitions to keep the big-box from expanding its presence in Chico. Plans are still on the table to turn the existing store on East 20th Street into a supercenter, but the group claimed a victory when Wal-Mart abandoned its proposal for north Chico early this summer.

With Wal-Mart out of the picture, the future of Sunset Hills suddenly got a lot brighter. Dobbs’ nine-hole, par-three course is scheduled to reopen around the end of October, and disc golfers should be in business at the end of this month, bringing up another hot-button topic for Chicoans these days.

The Chico City Council faces a decision regarding Upper Bidwell Park’s wildly controversial disc-golf courses. Those who use them want them to stay; those who don’t say the players have damaged the environment and aren’t doing anything to prevent further destruction. The final EIR was narrowly certified by the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission at the end of August.

“This will give people another venue,” Dobbs said.

His isn’t the only golf course with that idea, either. Lava Creek, in Paradise, is considering offering disc golf about once a week beginning sometime in early November, said general manager Anna Brandi, although the plans are not firm yet.

As for Dobbs, he’s just looking forward to getting his business back into full-swing. It’s going to take a lot of work, he said, but north Chico needs a golf course.

“The greens have been unmaintained for over two years, so I hope too much damage hasn’t been done,” he said. “I can hardly wait to reopen.”