NEWHALL/20”/LK1st/mike2nd By CHRISTOPHER WOODARD Staff Reporter The Santa Clarita Valley is one step closer to getting a PGA-quality golf course, which local officials hope would bring a major tournament and national recognition to the community. The L.A. County Regional Planning Commission recently approved plans for a 1,700-home hillside development in the area, which would include a $20 million, 18-hole course, a joint venture between Newhall Land & Farming Co. and PGA Tour Golf Course Properties Inc., a subsidiary of the non-profit PGA Tour Inc. that administers the PGA Tour, the Senior PGA Tour and Nike Tour. The course would be open to the public and meet PGA Tour standards for tournament play. PGA officials say it’s unlikely they would permanently move the Nissan Open, formerly the L.A. Open, to Valencia any time soon, but that community could certainly play host to one of the PGA’s numerous specialty events, such as the “Shark Shootout,” a nationally televised competition held last weekend in Thousand Oaks. “The exposure is fantastic. Four days of national television for some of these events is pretty hard to put a price tag on,” said Dave Lancer, a PGA spokesman. Mike Haviland, economic development manager for the city of Santa Clarita, said the area demonstrated it had the hotels, restaurants and other amenities to handle major events when the Valencia Country Club hosted the Nissan Open in February. That took place because the Riviera Country Club, where the Nissan Open is typically held, was unable to host the event due to a scheduling conflict. The event, said Haviland, gave the Santa Clarita Valley economy a substantial boost during the four-day tournament, not to mention the public relations value. “It provided national television, name-brand recognition for the words Valencia and Santa Clarita,” he said. “We had two blimps circling up above. I loved that.” It’s the kind of attention the Santa Clarita Valley would love to have again, and again, Haviland said. Still, the project faces a contentious battle. The golf course received a tentative nod on Nov. 2 as part of the Los Angeles Regional Planning Commission approval of Newhall Land’s Westridge development. First approved by the Board of Supervisors in 1992 but held up for years by litigation, the project is designed to feature homes priced at up to $500,000, as well as apartments and condominiums, built around the course on 798 acres of unincorporated land west of the Golden State (5) Freeway, between McBean Parkway and Valencia Boulevard. Westridge is expected to come before the Board of Supervisors for final approval in March, at which time opponents are likely to renew their objections to the development, especially the project’s proposed six-lane extension of The Old Road through a patch of Valley oaks and savanna grasses that the county designated as a significant ecological area. Lynne Plambeck, a leader of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment (SCOPE) the group that filed the original suit said Westridge would violate the county’s own general plan, which discourages the premature conversion of open space. Westridge would seem premature because the Santa Clarita Valley has 40,000 housing units approved for development but not yet built, said Plambeck, who hopes to impress that point on the supervisors before the final vote. Newhall Land spokeswoman Marlee Lauffer said the project is not premature and noted that the judge who heard SCOPE’s case concluded the county followed its policies in regard to protecting the ecological area. Newhall Land has taken a “very sensitive” approach to protecting the ecological area, moving fairways and homes away from sensitive areas and dedicating 154 acres of land as permanent open space, she said. The proposed golf course would be one of 15 Tournament Players Club courses in the nation. Such courses are designed and operated by PGA Tour Golf Course Properties. Bob Thomas, director of communications for the Southern California Golf Association, said even if the course never attracts a major tournament, it would likely be profitable. Although 82 golf courses already exist in Los Angeles County, there are not nearly enough golf courses to serve the number of players in the region, and Valencia in particular is underserved, Thomas said. The community has only one public course, Vista Valencia Golf Course, as well as the private Valencia Country Club. “The area in which the golf course would be located is one of the most underserved in the U.S.,” said Thomas. Nationally, a record 932 golf courses were under construction last year, the vast majority of them public courses, 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, an increase observers attribute to the popularity of such players as Tiger Woods. PGA officials said if the project gets the necessary approvals in a timely fashion, the course could be up and running in 2000. PGA officials declined to say how much the course would cost to play, saying the fee has yet to be determined. However, Thomas said Tournament Players Clubs are high-end courses which typically charge “whatever the market will bear.” He would expect the greens fees to be from $85 to as much as $125.