Teleli Golf Club, formerly known as Mountain Springs Golf Course, is scheduled to reopen on May 17 after being purchased earlier this month by the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians.

The date was revealed to The Union Democrat on Monday during an exclusive tour of the grounds at 17566 Lime Kiln Road in Sonora to see the work that’s underway and hear about the tribe’s plans.

“We’re really grateful for the opportunity this community has given us, and we’re able to give back to the community as well by keeping this open,” said Michael Cox, treasurer of the tribe’s Tuolumne Economic Development Authority Inc., or TEDA.

Work has been underway to repair and upgrade the facilities since the tribe finalized the purchase of the course for $900,000.

The tribe previously planned to develop a golf course on part of the 191-acre West Side Flume & Lumber Co. property near Tuolumne that it purchased in 2002, but Cox said that’s no longer happening.

“It would have cost us three times as much to build a golf course out there, plus we have the Black Oak Concert Series now,” he said, in reference to the Westside Pavilion that hosted its inaugural season last year.

Cox said plans for the Westside property will depend on the success of the upcoming second season of the concert series this summer, which is slated to feature such big-name performers as Pitbull, Snoop Dogg, and Pat Benatar.

The tribe still plans to eventually build homes on developed residential lots along the edge of the Westside property, according to Cox.

Purchasing the golf course was viewed by the tribe as a good investment given the community’s demographics and tourism-based economy, Cox explained. It’s one of two 18-hole courses in the county, including Pine Mountain Lake Golf Club in Groveland.

An estimated 35 percent of all golfers at the course come from outside of the county.

“The county is a retirement and vacation community, so keeping this open brings value,” he said. “It’s an economic boost for the whole county.”

The course opened in 1990 and was designed by landscape architect Robert Muir Graves. It was originally intended as the centerpiece of a residential development of 2,000 homes, which was later reduced to 600 when it was approved by the county Board of Supervisors.

Opposition in the community ultimately prevented the homes from getting built, though a community plan for it remains part of the recently updated Tuolumne County General Plan.

Cox said the tribe has not had any discussions with the owners of the roughly 1,000 acres surrounding the course where the homes would be built, but he hopes they are built someday because it would add value to the course.

While the tribe plans to market the course as an amenity to its Black Oak Casino Resort in Tuolumne, Cox said the goal is for it to be able to stand on its own as a business and attraction.

The name, Teleli, means Black Oak in the Me-Wuk language, and the logo is reminiscent of the one used for the tribe’s other properties.

Sierra Golf Management Inc., based in Chowchilla, has been contracted by the tribe to operate the course. The company also operates and maintains 13 other courses in California, including Forest Meadows in Murphys.

About nine employees of Sierra Golf Management were operating excavators and mowers on Monday to restore the greens and 51 sand traps, while employees for TEDA were renovating the buildings on the course that will house a pro shop, bar and restaurant.

Some fans of the course in Sonora have wondered if it would ever reopen after being closed since the beginning of the year for what former manager Kim Daters said at the time was repairs and maintenance ahead of a possible sale to the tribe.

Daters estimated the course would reopen in February, but it has remained closed during the process of selling it to the tribe.

“Everyone thought it would be a casualty,” said Jeff Christensen, president and founder of Sierra Golf Management.

Christensen, of Twain Harte, has been a PGA professional since 1984 and has lived in the county since 1994. His company previously managed the nine-hole Phoenix Lake Golf Course.

The work that’s underway at the Teleli Golf Club is to address what Christensen described as “a lot of deferred maintenance over the last 30 years.” He said they plan to continuously make improvements to the course and facilities on a month-by-month basis.

“Every time someone comes on this golf course, it will be different,” he said. “It’s like a living organism, but it just takes time.”

Golf courses throughout the United States have struggled in recent years due to the effects from the financial crisis in the late 2000s and declining interest in the sport among younger generations.

Christensen said they hope to get more young people interested by offering memberships for people under 18 at $100 per year.

“We’re not replacing golfers who are aging out anymore,” he said. “That 50 year old who was playing here when it first opened probably isn’t playing anymore.”

Dan Bacci, vice president of Sierra Golf Management, said they aim to market the course as place for hosting events such as weddings, birthdays and celebrations of life. They also plan to start out with some small local tournaments and eventually adding some pro-am events, but likely no PGA Tour events.

The restaurant, formerly known as the Terrace Room, is being rebranded as the Teleli Bar and Grill, which will include a bar called the West Wind. It will serve a menu featuring a “modern twist on American comfort food” crafted by chef Justin White, who also helped open the Service Station restaurant in Jamestown.

Melodie Feguson will be the food and beverage manager for Sierra Golf Management. She previously worked as a concessionaire operating the restaurant for the former owners of the course.

Bacci, who lives in Chowchilla but grew up in Sonora and graduated from Sonora High School, said he remembers the bar and restaurant being “the place to go” when the course first opened in 1990 and hopes it can be that way again.

“They’re committed to doing this the right way and not cutting any corners,” Bacci said of working with the tribe. “They know if you’re at this to be successful, you have to invest in it to make it a nice place where people want to play.”

There will be an open house at the course starting at 6 p.m. on May 8 that the public is invited to attend where more information will be provided about the hours of operation, rates and membership programs.

Bacci declined to disclose the prices on Monday because some of the details were still being worked out, but he said he believes the membership program will be slightly cheaper than it was previously.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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