CASTRO VALLEY -- Golfers are fretting that Castro Valley's sole public course may shut down when its lease expires later this year.
The East Bay Regional Park District has told golfers for more than two years that it wants to keep Willow Park Golf Course running, but no operator has been chosen, said the president of a golfers club.
"Here we are at the eleventh hour with no confirmation. We are skeptical and disappointed by the lack of progress and communication," said Steve Falzone, president of the Willow Park Golf Club.
The 18-hole golf course will remain open, said Bob Doyle, the park district's general manager.
"Believe you me, one way or another, we'll keep it open," Doyle said. "We know we have a facility people want to keep running. It's a very beautiful little site, in a secluded area surrounded by parks."
Willow Park is on the east side of Chabot Regional Park. "There's always deer, turkeys and geese on the course," Falzone said. "It's a lovely course."
Willow Park Golf Course opened in the mid-1960s, and its lease runs out at the end of November. The park district is just beginning to seek a new vendor. Golfers question whether there's enough time to get an operator before the lease expires.
Bid solicitation has been pushed back repeatedly, and lack of information has hampered the park district, Doyle said.
"This is an unusual situation where we've had a lease to one family for a number of years. We've had to do an analysis on everything and had no possession or control of the property."
A preliminary request for bids is being reviewed and may be posted this week.
According to the district document, the course logged 40,000 rounds in 2013, up from 37,000 rounds the previous year but down from the late 1990s and early 2000s, when annual play was close to 50,000 rounds.
Willow Park is showing its age, Doyle said.
The new operator would have to upgrade the irrigation system and make other improvements that will cost more than $2 million, according to the district document.
Many public golf courses have struggled during the economic downtown. Antioch's Lone Tree Golf Course receives a $276,000 city subsidy, and Pittsburg outsourced its public course in 2009 to help trim a general fund deficit.
Alameda's city-owned Chuck Corica Golf Complex is bringing in less money and fewer rounds, and the city recently brought in a company to manage it.
The Hayward park district's two public courses are beginning to see a slight increase in players, said its golf supervisor. But estimated revenues are not expected to cover costs this year, said Dan Giammona, manager of golf operations in Hayward.
"Golf's a very competitive industry. A lot of golf courses were built in the 1980s and '90s, and some of those haven't been able to sustain themselves," he said. "The older courses have to do a lot of things to compete and always make improvements."
Park district officials also have been delayed in soliciting bids for Willow Park because they are dealing with other challenges, including trying to keep as many recreation facilities as possible open during the drought, Doyle said.
"We're a very big agency, and we've been very busy. We manage 113,000 acres in 65 parks," he said.
Falzone's club usually conducts its membership drive and schedules its annual tournaments for the year in September. "We can't do anything until we know if the course will be open," he said. "If golfers leave, they're gone. It's like retail -- trying to get them back is twice as hard."
The current Willow Park vendor does not plan to bid for a new contract, according to a letter sent earlier this year by general manager Rene Viviani to golfers. Viviani declined to comment for this story, saying an attorney had advised him not to.¿
Viviani and the district are in a legal dispute over flooding at the course several years ago, Doyle said.
The golf course is on watershed land owned by the East Bay Municipal Utility District, which leases the range to the park district.
An EBMUD director expressed frustration at the delay.
"I'm doing everything I can to get the ball rolling," said Frank Mellon, a Castro Valley resident who golfs at Willow Park. "But in the end, it's up to East Bay Parks."
If needed, the district will find a temporary operator, Doyle said.
"If there's any lapse, it will be tiny," he said. "It is certainly our goal to keep it open."
Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473 or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.