For Foothills Golf Development Group LLC, the good news is that the company finally won approval to build the Red Tail Golf and Equestrian project in the Big Tujunga Wash. The bad new is, it’s going to cost them, big time. Approval for the 160-acre golf course comes with a staggering list of some 300 conditions imposed by the Los Angeles Planning Commission to avoid upsetting the environmental balance of the area. The restrictions, imposed after a two-year battle with environmental groups seeking to keep the area free from development, will add as much as 33 percent or more to golf course’s $12 million price tag, developers say. “These are far more conditions than are typical for a golf course,” said Dwight Steinert, vice president for environmental studies at Planning Associates Inc., the Van Nuys-based firm that developed the environmental impact report for the project. Under the agreement reached between developers and the city, only 160 acres of the 350-acre site can be used for the golf course. The surrounding 240 acres will be dedicated as a preserve with equestrian and nature trails. Another 60 acres will remain in their natural state to preserve the vegetation that grows there. Nearly every step in the development process will be regulated, from the type of grass that can be used only three varieties of sterile hybrid grasses are acceptable out of the approximately 100 types of grass that are available to the water for keeping the turf irrigated, said Steinert. Developers also will have to build around nesting areas and other plants and natural vegetation. The Big Tujunga River is one of two major rivers that drain the San Gabriel Mountains (the other is the San Gabriel River). The wash in the area where the river descends into the San Fernando Valley is home to a bird called the cactus wren and an endangered plant called the slender-horned spineflower. In addition to protecting these natural habitats, the developers will have to provide for the uninterrupted flow of storm waters through the course and develop special drainage systems. These and other requirements are expected to add another $3 million to $4 million to the $12 million cost of developing the course, according to David Hueber, president and owner of Foothills, which has offices in L.A. and Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Some think the price tag could go higher still. “There are a lot of drainage and mitigation issues that are beyond the initial cost. I can’t imagine they’ll be able to build that course for $15 million,” said Gene Krekorian, senior vice president at Economics Research Associates, an L.A.-based commercial recreation consulting firm. Opponents of the golf course development insist the battle is not over. Foothills still needs approvals from the Army Corps of Engineers as well as other state and federal agencies, and those approvals if they come at all will add more costs to the project by imposing even more conditions on it. “In my opinion, I don’t think they’re ever going to build the golf course,” said Bill Eick, a volunteer attorney with Small Wilderness Area Preservation, one of several environmental groups opposing the development. To help recoup the high cost of the project, Foothills is planning a first-class golf course that will command greens fees of as high as $65 to $75 about three times the price of municipal courses, and at the high end of the range for other public courses in the L.A. area. The 18-hole public golf course will be designed by top-drawer architect Nicklaus Designs founded and operated by golf legend Jack Nicklaus and offer the kinds of amenities typically found only in country clubs, Hueber said. An 8,000-square-foot clubhouse, a maintenance facility and 200-car parking lot will be located along a seven-acre area at the western border of the course. Red Tail will have four to five tee stations, including championship, regular, men’s and forward tees. (Different tee stations allow golfers to play the hole from different distances, depending on their level of skill.) Players will be scheduled at 10-minute intervals instead of the customary 6.5 minutes at municipal courses, and there will be a bag drop, lockers, a restaurant, pro shop and banquet facilities for private parties. “We’re looking for more of a country club experience,” Hueber said. “The cost will be comparable to a private club guest fee.” Hueber said the course will not compete with the area’s increasingly crowded municipal golf courses, which typically accommodate 100,000 rounds of golf a year, have only about three tee stations and offer no locker-room services. Nicklaus Designs, a division of Golden Bear International in North Palm Beach, Fla., is considered among the foremost golf course architects today, commanding fees of as much as $1.5 million for its work. The developers chose the firm because it has designed similar “natural” golf courses before. One recent example is the Desert Highlands course in Scottsdale, Ariz. “Highlands, like this one, is a very natural golf course with limited turf grade areas,” said Hueber. “There will be bush and scrub and all the things you find in nature including snakes.” The course designers said they plan to make use of yucca and other natural plants in the area to enhance the look of the golf course. But the strict environmental conditions attached to the project will make playing at Red Tail a challenging experience for most golfers, said Chris Cochran, senior design associate for Nicklaus. “Golfers who hit erratic shots are just not going to find their golf ball,” because of the amount and location of rough terrain, he said. Nevertheless, industry experts say the demand for public courses in the Los Angeles area is so high that the developers will have no trouble attracting players to the facility. “It will be very busy, very quickly,” said Bob Thomas, director of communications for the Southern California Golf Association in L.A. With 82 golf courses, Los Angeles County ranks in the top five U.S. metropolitan regions for the number of golf courses. But Thomas and other golf course development experts said there still are not enough courses to service the number of players in the area. “The Los Angeles-Orange County metropolitan area is one of the worst areas in terms of golf course accessibility,” Thomas said. The greens fees for Red Tail will be at least three times higher than the costs at the area’s municipal courses, but similar developments, such as Pelican Hill, built in Newport Beach about five years ago, have shown there is a market for these high-end public courses. In general, such facilities attract golfers who don’t play enough to make the cost of joining a country club worthwhile. “The people who built Pelican realized there was a market for people who could afford it, but didn’t want to join a club,” said Thomas at the Golf Association. Nationwide, a record 932 golf courses were under construction last year, the vast majority of them public, according to the National Golf Foundation, a research and consulting group for the sport. The number of golfers last year rose by 7 percent to 26.5 million nationwide, a boost pundits attribute to the popularity of Tiger Woods and others who have drifted into popular culture through professional golf tours and national advertising campaigns. Hueber expects that Red Tail will have no trouble capitalizing on that growing interest. He is projecting that the business will yield a net operating income “in the range of 30 percent” once it is established, with first-year net operating income projections at 22 percent to 23 percent “depending on how much we end up spending” to build the course, he said. Foothills plans to begin construction next March and hopes to have the course open for play by the spring of 2000, barring any additional disputes. A golf course was first proposed on the site 12 years ago when Cosmo World Corp. began an effort to build a championship course there. Environmental groups, however, put a halt to that plan, and Cosmo World, working with Kajima International Inc. in Pasadena, scaled back the design. Kajima ultimately withdrew from the project, though the company currently holds a lien on the land and leases it to a Cosmo subsidiary, L.A. International Inc., in Torrance. Foothills leased the property in 1996 from L.A. International and resumed development efforts. The company won the approval of the Los Angeles Planning Commission in 1996, but the City Council voted against the project amid opposition from the Restaurant and Hotel Employees Union Local 11, which had been involved in a long-running dispute with Kajima. Council members denied that union opposition was a factor in their decision. Foothills, however, filed suit against the city and the council ultimately reversed its decision.