Driscoll goes from range-ball picker to golf course owner

By Tod Leonard
Published on

RAMONA, Calif. -- Daryl Driscoll feels as if his golf life has come full circle.

The son of a retired Naval officer, Driscoll grew up in San Diego, went to Kearny High and got his first golf job picking range balls at Admiral Baker. He moved his way up to eventually become the head pro at Mission Trails.

American Golf sent Driscoll to Las Vegas to manage courses there in the mid-1990s, he built up his own successful construction business, and now he's back with a presence in the county -- as the new owner of Mt. Woodson Golf Club in Ramona.

"The price was right, the location was right," Driscoll said. "There's a uniqueness to the property. And it all came together at the right time for us. It really was the perfect storm."

Driscoll, 53, and his wife, Shawn, who grew up in Lakeside, are the owners of Alliance GCP LLC, and he said they purchased Mt. Woodson's 184 acres for $1.7 million. Textron Financial, which foreclosed on its loan to Mt. Woodson's previous owners in 2007, had owned the course while hiring various management companies for the day-to-day operations.

In the full-circle theme, Driscoll has hired Touchstone Golf to run Mt. Woodson. Steve Harker, who hired Driscoll at Mission Trails and later asked him to move to Vegas, is president and CEO at Touchstone. Their Mt. Woodson general manager is Ron Gorski, who recommended Driscoll to Harker for that first head pro job.

"Here we all are, 20-something years later," Driscoll marveled.

It is Driscoll's belief that Mt. Woodson, open since 1991, is far undervalued in the golf community. Peppered with enormous boulders and sporting gorgeous views, the shortish course (5,764 yards from the blue tees) rolls up and down amid oak groves. The Amy Strong Castle, with its signature windmill, stands close by.

And Woodson possesses one of the most interesting features of any local track -- an "Indiana Jones" roller-coaster wood bridge that moves golfers between the second and third holes.

For many years Mt. Woodson often was in pristine condition, but Driscoll said Textron -- figuring it would eventually sell -- failed to provide more than minimal maintenance. Sprucing it up will be a top priority, Driscoll said, and work already has begun to sod bare spots, improve tee boxes and revamp bunkers. (The greens on a reporter's recent visit were exceptionally smooth.)

Golfers familiar with the property will notice some changes soon upon arrival. The county told Textron that the modular clubhouse was not up to code, and a new one was built before Driscoll took over. He wants to do more than simply offer hot dogs and snacks, so a full kitchen has been added and the dining area will be renamed the Stony Mountain Bar and Grill.

Driscoll's plan is to stage local wine tasting and other events to attract those in the surrounding Ramona community beyond golfers. Events involving the military are high on his list.

Mt. Woodson, which uses all reclaimed water purchased from the Ramona Water District, makes a "tiny profit," Driscoll said. He hopes to improve the bottom line with the food, beverage and merchandising operations.

As for the golf, it is his desire to get away from discount pricing that has produced about 47,000 rounds per year. He'd like that number to be between 35,000 and 38,000 because he believes the course can be better maintained at that rate.

Driscoll said rates likely will settle at $45 weekdays, $55 Fridays and $65 Saturday and Sunday.

This article was written by Tod Leonard from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.