Five New Golf Courses Proposed for Vandenberg Air Force Base

Concerns Raised over Potential Impacts to Endangered Species and Sacred Chumash Sites

Commercial developer Owen Larkin (right) and retired Air Force General Gene Renuart pose for a photo near the entrance of Vandenberg Air Force Base. | Credit: Courtesy

Doug Kern, director of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, sounded the alarm bell Monday that Vandenberg Air Force Base is in the final stages of negotiations with a private development company to lease and build five new golf courses in environmentally sensitive habitat of Santa Barbara County that is home to four endangered species and a monarch butterfly migration site. 

The proposed project, known as Vandenberg Dunes Golf Courses, would cover nearly 1,300 acres of land in the northern part of the base, Kern said in an email newsletter, and sit on the site of the former Marshallia Ranch Golf Course that closed in 2017 due to high operational and water costs. Vandenberg Dunes would also include reception facilities, a driving range, a two-story hotel, 50 stand-alone cottages, a 215,000-square-foot maintenance facility, and 25 acres of access roads and utility corridors.

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Vandenberg is looking to finalize a 50-year agreement with MLK Consulting, a private enterprise represented by The Larkin Group, a Florida-based project-management company specializing in the development of golf courses, Kern said. Fifteen sacred Chumash sites are also contained within the footprint of the project. The proposal will be vetted under federal regulations, Kern explained, and a draft environmental assessment is expected to be published this fall for public comment. The Larkin Group, Kern said, doesn’t believe the project falls within the purview of the California Coastal Commission, but the commission is reviewing its authority over the matter.

On its website, The Larkin Group, states that the Vandenberg golf courses would be open to the public and offer “greatly reduced rates” to military personnel. The company, which has overseen the construction of links in Martha’s Vineyard, Scotland, and Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics, says it is staffed by “pragmatic environmentalists” who “balance the needs of business with the requirements of the game and the protection of the land.” President and CEO Owen Larkin worked for 35 years in commercial real estate development, the site says. His business partner, Gene Renuart, is a retired four-star general for the U.S. Air Force with “extensive experience with [Air Force] privatization efforts.”

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