Smoke and flames disrupting travel and golf plans

SAN DIEGO AND LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Besides destroying homes and lives, deadly fires in the Southern California area are hurting the travel and tourist industry as well, including golf courses.

Although many courses near the fires remain open, play has dropped off because of road closures, airport delays and cancellations and gray skies, filled with ash.

The area with the most massive course closures was San Diego. Harold MacDonald with San Diego Golf Reservations said clubs in that area that had closed at least for a day or two include: Eagle Crest, The Auld Course, Mount Woodson, Maderas, Steele Canyon and Torrey Pines.

Some of these were in the Ramona or Escondido area where canyons filled with brush and trees feed the flames and where fires are already scorching some hillsides. Barona Valley -- the $260 million resort-casino-golf course on the Barona Indian lands near San Diego -- was evacuated but has escaped damage in the fires so far.

Torrey Pines, of course, is on the coast out of harm's way, but it was closed because it's a municipal golf complex, and city and county governments have closed recreational facilities.

MacDonald said that many closures were probably due to smoky conditions and blocked roads rather than because fire might sweep down fairways. "We've had to cancel a lot of tee times," he said.

For many travelers, there was the frustration of not knowing what to do next. For example, there were rumors of evacuations at Indian casino-resorts, two of which, Singing Hills at Sycuan and Barona Creek, are off Highway 8 -- a major thoroughfare between Arizona and the San Diego area. Both have golf courses.

For anyone with reservations, it seemed to be impossible to reach resorts to check on the situation. Phones continually rang busy. Rick Schloss, public relations representative for Barona Creek, said he had been unable to reach anyone at that almost brand-new resort, perhaps due to jammed phone lines.

Farther north where other fires raged, there were fewer reports of courses closing. In the Simi Valley and Camarillo areas, for example, where there are huge blazes, the Simi Hills Golf Course remained open despite closure of a significant road into the area. "Part of Highway 118 is closed," said Tyler Rizer, general manager of the course, "but we're still getting play from a lot of locals. There are a lot of cancellations though because of the closure."

One question mark in the area was Lost Canyons Golf Club in Simi Valley, also served by Highway 118. Repeated attempts to phone the course were met with busy signals.

Among the courses that were up and running were Sterling Hills and Camarillo Springs. "It's smoky here, but it's not as bad as other areas like Simi Valley," said Dan Goodrich of Camarillo Springs.

And despite the fires in the Inland Empire -- the area between Los Angeles and Palm Springs -- courses remained open, including Sierra Lakes in Fontana, El Rancho Verde in Rialto, Empire Lakes in Rancho Cucamonga, and Oak Quarry in Riverside. "There have been some cancellations because of the smoke," said Jeremy Price at Sierra Lakes, "but the fire is really to the north of us."

The best advice for most travelers seems to be, phone ahead, but be prepared to get a busy signal. If you do get through and plan to play, make sure the roads are open in the area you're headed.

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