PATTERSON — The statue of the legendary Gene Sarazen, located at the practice green at Diablo Grande, leans backward.
It's as though the Squire is ducking away from a right hook.
The statue, not unlike the ambitious golf-real estate project supported by Sarazen, has absorbed major damage.
In fact, Diablo Grande temporarily was KO'd by bankruptcy and a collapsed housing market last year.
For two months in early 2008, both the Legends and Rancho courses closed while weeds grew between sidewalk cracks near the clubhouse.
Eighteen months later, Diablo Grande delivers a new message: We're back, and you'll call us by a new name soon. And, by the way, the Sarazen statue is still there, off-kilter but still upright.
So farewell, Big Devil, and hello to fill-in-the-blank.
"We're committed to reposition Diablo Grande to its original glory and even better," new general manager Hans Bratt promised Tuesday. "We want to bring this to one of the top 10 resorts in the country."
Ambitious words, indeed, but an echo to what was envisioned by the first investment team headed by entrepreneur Donald Panoz. He foresaw several golf courses and a bustling new community tucked into the quiet hills west of Patterson.
The Ranch course opened in 1995, and three years later came the Legends, the only course in the world bearing the design signatures of both Sarazen and Jack Nicklaus. Homes sprouted alongside the fairways and vineyards in 2003.
The progress was amazing, given the water-related headaches that have haunted the project since Day 1. Finally, after the bottom fell out, Los Angeles-based World International purchased Diablo Grande from the Panoz partnership last November.
Today, there's new life at Diablo Grande, an energy illustrated by the improved condition of the courses. An estimated $2 million, split between the courses and the ranch clubhouse, already have been pumped into the property. A thumbnail list of the first phase of renovations:
All bunkers on both courses redone.
An updated and slightly expanded hillside practice range, featuring both natural and synthetic surfaces.
Well-kept landscaping and new furniture around the improved pool.
A fleet of 130 new golf carts and beverage carts which also will deliver to the 400-plus homes.
Restored snack shacks soon to be completed on both courses.
The restaurant open seven days a week.
A training room soon to be installed in the clubhouse.
"A lot of people still think we're closed. It's a challenge to get the word out as fast as possible," Bratt said. "When people come back, they don't recognize it. There is a different feel."
Reviving this patient wasn't easy, and a full recovery will depend on a more friendly economy. That said, the new team is in place. Sierra Golf, which maintained the courses through the difficult 2008, was replaced last February by the new regime.
Bratt guides a staff which includes head professional Kasey Wallace, course superintendent Carl King and tournament director and former Modestan John Frederick.
Wallace, 32, formerly of Fort Washington CC of Fresno, was raised in Clovis. King, the son of a golf-course builder, is a veteran of the Northern California golf business.
"We're taking something that was in the top 100 (of the nation's top courses) and has dropped," said King, formerly of Butte Creek CC near Chico. "We have two unique courses. I have the privilege to nurture them back to where they were."
Big-ticket concepts, such as a 200-room hotel and a new clubhouse on the hillside overlooking the Legends' 18th green, also are in play. Bratt said the new master plan will be completed by the end of the year.
"We have the highest respect for Mr. Panoz and his team for what they created. It's obvious it took a lot of planning, vision and investment," Bratt said. "We just want to bring it to the next level. We're going slow in a controlled growth."
The new title for Diablo Grande, however, is on the way. There are two finalists, but not among the final two is Sunset Canyon, rumored to be the choice earlier this year.
"We want to give the project a new start and a fresh look, a new image," Bratt said.
Toward that end, a recently finished roundabout at Diablo Grande's entrance is topped by a statue of actress Sophia Loren — a favorite of Panoz's wife — crushing grapes with her feet. The statue, relocated from a nearby vineyard, demonstrates the new approach.
"It (Diablo Grande) cannot help but be a huge success," Sarazen predicted in a letter to a friend in 1996. "I won't be around (he died in 1999), but the Grande will be another Palm Springs."
One painful detour later, there's still hope.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2302.