The Falls golf course reopens Saturday

Destination golf course reopens in Chilliwack with new owner after bankruptcy proceedings.

The Falls Golf Club is getting back into the swing with a “soft” opening of the hillside golf course scheduled for this Saturday.

“We have built an incredible team to bring life back to the course and provide memorable golfing experiences,” Jamie Baxter, general manager at the Golden Eagle Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, said in a Thursday news release.

Baxter, who spoke to The Progress on behalf of the Aquilini Investment Group, which now owns both the Falls and Golden Eagle, said golfers will find the same 18-hole championship course “in excellent shape” with the most “drastic” changes seen in the clubhouse fixtures and updated kitchen.

The golf course had fallen into disrepair after former owner Rick Wellsby at Blackburn Developments started bankruptcy proceedings in early 2011 when a $75-million debt threatened to swallow the course and the residential resort built around it.

There had been talk that the Aquilini Investment Group, which now holds controlling interest in the golf course, wanted to “reconfigure” some of the holes for residential development to make the course economically viable.

Some homeowners feared reconfiguration could lead to some homes without a view of the golf course.

But city officials made it a “principle” of a new comprehensive development plan for the eastern hillsides to protect homeowners who had purchased homes whose value relied, in part, on golf course views.

Baxter said golfers, who can register for a Saturday “tee time” at The Falls website, will find “the same layout” as the original 18-hole course. A more formal re-opening of the golf course will be held “down the road,” he said.

Aquilini officials could not be reached for comment on the re-opening and its residential development plans, but last month the company stated in a letter to city council its “full and unqualified support” of the amended city plan that will guide development in the eastern hillsides.

“Our development proposal will be in compliance with the proposed new comprehensive area plan,” Riaan deBeer, Aquilini development manager, said in the letter.

“Our (intent) is to continue a constructive dialogue with the City of Chilliwack, and to engage other stakeholders, as we move forward to reopening the golf course and developing the new residential neighbourhood,” he said.

Ernst and Young, appointed by the court as receiver to maximize the value of the Blackburn properties, also supported the plan, but had concerns that low-density zoning would limit the number and the density of units that a potential purchaser might want to develop.

“Flexibility is very important in today’s uncertain market conditions,” the company said in a letter to city council. “Therefore it is vital that we retain the ability to develop a variety of residential densities and small scale commercial uses including a hotel should future market conditions make this feasible.”

City planners are continuing talks with both companies and with individual stakeholders about adjusting development proposals to fit the amended development plan.

The plan was revised by city staff after the area’s total buildout population potential was chopped to 6,000 from the original 17,000 people.

The issue now is whether the competing interests — golf course operator, existing homeowners and potential new housing developers — can live within the limits set out by the city’s development plan.