By J. Harry Jones • The San Diego Union-Tribune

FALLBROOK, Calif. — Developers were showing interest and the residents of Fallbrook’s Gird Valley were scared.

The 56-year-old Fallbrook Golf Club closed for good in early 2016, another northern San Diego County golf course that had been struggling financially for years due to high water costs and a diminishing pool of golfers. A Beverly Hills speculator with ties to companies that specialize in buying distressed golf courses and then building houses on them had purchased the liens on the land.

“Then Jade and Julie stepped forward,” said Teresa Platt, whose home overlooks what was the second and third fairways.

“This is in the heart of Gird Valley,” Platt said. “It’s what makes it incredibly special, and Jade and Julie have committed to saving and preserving this open space forever.”

Julie and Jade Work bought the golf course at the end of 2016 for $4.1 million. A former professional golfer who made his fortune building golf courses across the United States, Jade knew golf would not return to the valley.

Instead, Platte’s home and many others now overlook vineyards filled with varying types of Italian grape vines.

Jade’s vision is a top-line winery operation. Already more than a dozen variety of grapes are growing on 15 of the former courses 18 holes and driving range — 90 acres of wine grapes in all.

During the planting, tens of thousands of old golf balls were found in the dirt. “How many golf balls can fit into a gunny sack?” Jade asked. “We had 40 or 50 gunny sacks of balls.”

Not any longer. About nine months ago, three youthful thieves were caught on video one night stealing all the old balls.

“They took them out by wheelbarrows,” Jade said. He didn’t report the crime. “I was glad they took them.”

Next week, Jade said, after more than 50 meetings with county planners and various county departments, he will be submitting an application for a major use permit that seeks permission to build a 56,000-square-foot facility that will house a restaurant, a commercial kitchen, a wine-making operation, a barrel room and two event centers for weddings and other gatherings.

It’s quite a change from the dilapidated, 10,000-square-foot clubhouse on the land off Gird Valley Road that was razed in 2017.

The business is called Monserate Winery, named after a nearby mountain.

Once built, hopefully by the end of 2020, the Works have committed to seeking conservation easements on the property, which will give them a tax break and guarantee the land will never be developed.

At a recent gathering of hundreds in Fallbrook, Jade gave a short presentation about his plans. He was applauded like a hero.

“It wasn’t my goal to be a hero, but I’m super happy that the neighborhood is excited and that their values are being preserved,” he said.

It’s been a long haul, requiring costly studies. Jade has been told it could take anywhere from four months to two years to win approval.

“I’m very optimistic,” he said. “I believe the county wants this to go forward and I believe we’ve cleared all the high hurdles to make sure it will. Ultimately I hope it’s profitable, but this is far and away the slowest way to get to profitability.”

The front nine of the golf course was the first to be planted. It takes new vines three years to mature to a point where their fruit can be turned into wine. Because he won’t apply to get an alcohol license from the state until after the county issues a permit, the first harvest of usable grapes next year from the 45 acres growing on what once was the front nine holes will be sold to a different winery.

“We’ll then contract with them to make the wine in the style that we want. Then we’re hoping to buy the wine back under our issued license and sell it,” Jade said.

He estimated the project will cost about $12 million.

Platt said the Gird Valley community, located a couple miles north of state Route 76, has been very supportive.

“This is a big deal to them,” she said. “Getting through the county process is daunting. We’re really happy to support them. It’s the right thing for the neighborhood. We will never fight that development battle again.”