NOT ALL PLACES ARE
LIKE THE BAY AREA
With the New Year upon us, it's time to turn our thoughts to
charitable giving. So I'd like to suggest sending donations to help keep
my country club golf course from closing down.
Sure, there might be more worthwhile charities, such as
childhood disease or homelessness, but let's not forget those poor souls
across America who are witnessing their beloved golf courses closing
because of a lack of dues paying members.
Before writing that angry email, please be advised I'm
kidding. The remaining members of the de Anza Country Club in beautiful
Borrego Springs, California, don't expect your help. Any checks sent will
be quickly returned uncashed.
It's a story worth telling, though, simply because it's a
microcosm of what's been happening in small "rural" towns across
the nation. We live in a proverbial bubble in the San Francisco Bay Area,
and quite often are oblivious as to how much of the nation is struggling.
For those readers who are unfamiliar with Borrego Springs
(and I would guess that is about 90% of you), it's a town of about 3000
people. It sits all by itself in the desert, about 1 ½ hours southwest of
Palm Springs and two hours east of San Diego.
It's a beautiful setting, surrounded by de Anza/Borrego State
Park, the largest in California. It has no traffic signals, no movie
theaters, no huge supermarkets, no department stores. Just natural desert
beauty, framed by mountains and desert landscape. And ideal winter
Its isolation is its greatest blessing, and its greatest
curse. Come from San Diego and it's two hours of difficult but scenic
winding roads. Come from Palm Springs and it's 1 ½ hours of desolation
driving, except for a possible quick stop in Salton City, on the shores of
the Salton Sea. Their best selling t-shirt, sold in the liquor store,
reads "Salton City---7 billion flies can't be wrong!" You get
Borrego Springs, though, is an oasis. Developed in the
1950's, it quickly grew to 3000 full time residents, which is where it
stands almost 70 years later. Its main street is wide enough for six lanes
of traffic, whereas two lanes would have been more than enough. Prime
commercial lots remain unbuilt. The growth never came.
We were introduced to Borrego Springs and the de Anza Country
Club about 10 years ago by some friends who had a second home there. They
loved the place, and eventually, after several weekend visits, we fell in
love as well. The penultimate moment was when we walked into the clubhouse
and some longtime members looked up and said excitedly, "Look, here
come the youngsters!"
Since we were in our mid-50's at the time, that sounded
pretty good. With home prices very reasonable, especially compared to the
Bay Area, we were fortunate enough to buy a second home and join the club
for some occasional welcome relief from Northern California winters.
Like the town, the club was plugging along when we joined. It
had 250 members and some substantial cash reserves. Now it has 132 members
and a cash deficit. Members have died or moved away and not been replaced
by new homeowners. And interest in golf is at an all-time low.
While Northern California real estate prices have
skyrocketed, Borrego Springs prices have dropped considerably. It's a
constant struggle for restaurants, hotels and other businesses to be
successful. There is no real industry besides tourism, and the town's
isolated location makes a visitor think twice before making the trip.
I've always found it interesting to compare the booming
economy of the Bay Area and San Diego, and the Palm Springs area, with its
500,000 people only 1 ½ hours away, to the small, rural town of Borrego
Springs. Various factors make it difficult for some towns to flourish in
this country, and Borrego Springs, despite its attractions, is a prime
I'll never give up on it, though. The golf course may or may
not survive (and I think it will), but the hiking and biking and
wildflowers and dark nights will always be available. After 70 years, I
still believe the town will be discovered, and those six lanes of traffic
on the main street won't look quite as ridiculous.
Then again, a part of me wants it to stay just the same, with
no traffic signal within 30 miles. Solitude can be a beautiful thing. Yep,
a blessing and a curse.