Southern California fires scorch Simi Valley courses

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. - Some golf courses in the Simi Valley area of Ventura County did suffer damage from fires that swept through Southern California last week, but at least one of them showed heroism in helping to save nearby homes.

Several unique canyon-style courses were singed around the edges or lost some equipment when the deadly firestorm roared through on Saturday, Oct. 25. Some were forced to close briefly. But most are bouncing back and expect to reopen soon if they have not already done so.

Employees at Tierra Rejada Golf Club in Moorpark told a harrowing story of a near brush with fiery disaster. As a 100-foot wall of flames bore down on the area, several employees went to work, crossing the course repeatedly in the dark to keep applying water to crucial areas. Due to road closures, Fernando Gonzalez, the assistant superintendent, even walked three miles to reach the course to help fight the fire. Meanwhile, Ventura County firefighters used a lake on the 13th hole to fill their water-dropping helicopters to fight flames endangering homes.

"We saw the fire coming," said Ted Swedzinski, director of golf at the club, "but we were pretty safe because we knew where the wind was headed. We turned the irrigation on and we kept the flames from burning up everything except the natural areas and the rough. They were toast."

Swedzinski said the real danger threatened local homes, and his irrigation system on the Bob Cupp designed course may have helped save them. "We believe that our golf course acted as a firebreak and kept the flames from going across the freeway to a brand-new subdivision. It hit our corner, ran into the irrigation water and stopped and went around us," he said.

His course did close Oct. 27 and didn't reopen until Oct. 31. "We had to make sure everything was safe," he said. "And then there was the ash everywhere. We did a lot of hosing down and sweeping. The smoke was everywhere. I think we're going to have a fire sale in the pro shop."

Perhaps the hardest hit golf club in the area was Lost Canyons, with two spectacular courses named to the top 10 list of best new courses in Golf magazine after it opened in 2001 and 2002.

A notice posted at said the club was temporarily closed and that phone lines were down. No one could be reached directly at the course as a result, but Szwedzinski, at nearby Tierra Rejada Golf Club in Moorpark, said that natural areas burned at Lost Canyons as well as bridges between parts of the club. "They also had problems with controllers for their irrigation system that were in natural areas. They burned and they may have to be rewired," he said.

The Shadow Course at Lost Canyons should reopen soon, according to a report in the Ventura County Star, but the Sky Course is closed indefinitely. The courses were laid out by Pete Dye in an area of majestic old oaks and meandering valleys. The Sky follows canyon ridge lines, while the Shadow rolls along the canyon floor.

Still the Lost Canyons Web site noted: "We are very fortunate that our employees and their families are well and have not sustained significant losses. Many of our golf course greens, tees and fairways are intact, as well as the clubhouse." Another club with charred native brush and grasses is Rustic Canyon Golf Course, a public daily-fee course that opened just last year in Moorpark to great acclaim. Although a voicemail message on the club's phone line indicated that the course is open, repeated attempts to reach a person failed.

However, Geoff Shackelford, one of the designers of Rustic Canyon, posted a notice on his personal Web site indicating that native brush was burned on the course. "Especially hard hit was the back nine where the sage scrub protected area running through the course burned, as did the beautiful surrounding hills. Amazingly, the clubhouse and driving range did not burn."

But Shackelford noted that winter rains would quickly restore the burned areas in amazing ways: "Next spring people will see purple wildflowers like they've never seen before."

For golfers hoping to play at some of these courses, it may be difficult to get through on phone lines for the next few days. But slowly the situation is returning to normal.

Elkins Ranch in Fillmore, for example, lost power for a while and was closed for two days. But after hosing down the clubhouse area to clean up the ashes, it reopened for play.

For more on courses mentioned in this story:

Rustic Canyon Golf Course:
Phone: (805) 530-0221; web site: canyon/

Lost Canyons Golf Club:
Phone: (805) 522-4653; web site:

Tierra Rejada Golf Club:
Phone: (805) 531-9300; web site:

Elkins Ranch:
Phone: (805) 524-1121:

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