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River Oaks Golf Course being sold
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River Oaks Golf Course will remain a golf course, said owner Kim Phipps, when it changes hands. The Hatch Road course is being sold but she is keeping the buyer under wraps. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/ Courier file photo

The trustee of River Oaks Golf Course is looking to sell and has a buyer in mind while remaining tight-lipped due to a confidentiality clause in the real estate contract. Kim Phipps says, however, that she is selling to a party determined to keep it a golf course and improve it.

The 18-hole golf course and driving range - located on Hatch Road in Ceres along the south bank of the Tuolumne River - was developed in 1979 by Jim and Carol Phipps. Their son, Rob Phipps, who was a member of the Ceres City Council, took over management of the course. When Rob died in late 2007, brother Mike Phipps became the manager. Mike raised hackles in the community - especially homeowners along Golf Links Road - when word leaked in 2013 that he wanted to develop 70 custom home lots on the upper nine-hole course because River Oaks was struggling financially. Those plans never materialized and Mike Phipps' March 2015 death left the course in the hands of his widow, Kim Phipps. She is executor of her late husband's trust.

"I'm still on good terms with all the neighbors," said Kim. "I've had conversations with everyone and asked them what they wanted ... and I'll do everything I can to make sure it happens."

Phipps said she would only sell to a party who would keep it open for golfers and has the perfect buyer in the loop. Phipps said numerous investors have been "beating down my door" to buy and close the course, let it go to blight and later develop it for housing.

"One of them even told me that he was going to allow it to be blighted so that the neighbors would be happy with whatever he did with it," said Kim. "That's how bad investors can get and I feel like I have an obligation to the city of Ceres to make sure they have someplace good for families. That's where my heart is."

Phipps says she has no idea when escrow will close, adding "there's too much legal stuff." Those issues include family matters and state issues with Mike Phipps' corporation.

"We don't even know if we can even sell it yet; it may have to be leased."

A lot line adjustment affecting the golf course property is going before the Ceres City Council on Monday.