MESA, Ariz. — Shovels will begin turning dirt March 19 in preparation for the new Chicago Cubs spring training complex, which will bring an end to Mesa's popular Riverview Golf Course.
Golfers can hit the links until the day before tree removal starts and nearly two years of construction begins on the $99 million complex.
The course is closing this month even though the stadium work won't begin until June. Riverview has to shut down now because crews will begin salvaging about 300 trees that will be re-planted in the new facility, Mesa City Manager Chris Brady said. The trees are being uprooted now because they would die if dug up during Arizona's scorching summers.
"We'd love to keep it open longer, but we can't have these huge holes in the park and still be able to have activities there," Brady said.
The tree work represents the first work on the training complex. The project will trigger the closing of Riverview Park on April 2, and the shuttering of softball fields June 28. After that, major construction will get underway on the stadium, practice fields and a revamped Riverview Park.
The golf course opened in 1987 and is the Valley's only regulation 9-hole golf course. March is always a popular time there but the course has been overwhelmed at times by golfers who want to play a final round, said Don Flavell, who oversees the city's golf courses and cemetery.
"We have people now wanting to get tee times and the tee sheets are full, and we're not able to accommodate them," Flavell said.
Mesa is offering discounts for Riverview's final two days. It's also giving coupons to encourage golfers to play the back nine holes at the city-owned Dobson Golf Course.
Riverview has hosted 1.6 million rounds in its 24 years. Its peak came in 1997-1998, with 87,500 rounds played per year. For the past two years, the annual number of rounds was about 49,000. Flavell said the decline reflects a small drop in the sport's popularity but also the growing number of courses in the Valley.
"Supply obviously had caught up with demand," he said.
The golf course's days have been numbered since 2007, when Mesa voters approved plans to redevelop 125 acres into the Waveyard water park and resort. Waveyard's agreement with Mesa ended after its owners failed to secure financing during the recession. The Cubs chose the site as they sought more modern training facilities than Hohokam Park and Fitch Park.
Mesa has never planned to replace the golf course.
The park will return with about 300 salvaged trees, Brady said. The city will rebuild the lake and construct an east-west trail that will span the entire park.
The spring training complex will be completed in late 2013 and host spring training in 2014. Riverview Park could open before the rest of the complex is done, Brady said.
"It's going to be an enhanced version of the park," Brady said. "The park is coming back in a big way."
Information from: East Valley Tribune, http://www.eastvalleytribune.com