Sharp Park Update
Sharp Park “Golf Alternatives” Study Seen as a Good Start Toward a “Win/Win” for Golfers, Preservationists, and the Environment
SAN FRANCISCO - Bay Area golfers were relieved when after a long-delayed 5-month study, the city’s Recreation and Parks Department recommended keeping the 18-hole Sharp Park Golf Course open. “The Department’s report is a “good start towards saving the historic Alister MacKenzie-designed golf course and all of its endangered species—frogs, snakes, and municipal golfers,” said Bo Links, co-founder of San Francisco Public Golf Alliance, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization that has led the fight to preserve the golf course.
The Department’s report is a significant step, but nevertheless only a step, along the way for rehabilitation of the beautiful but tattered 77-year-old golf course, which is subject to a currently-pending Environmental Impact Report, and which must ultimately be approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
A Tucson-based environmental litigation group, Center for Biological Diversity, has led a political charge to close the course, in favor of creating a dedicated frog and snake preserve. The Recreation and Parks Department’s 400-page report concluded that closing the golf course, or reducing it to 9 holes, would be significantly more expensive than keeping the historic 18-hole course in operation. The CBD’s proposal to use an environmental “mitigation bank” as a funding device for closing the golf course, would have high up-front costs and questionable revenue-generating prospects, the Department’s report concluded. Under all alternatives, the frog and snake’s primary habitat would be protected and expanded at Sharp Park.
“This is another good day for golf in San Francisco and the Bay Area,” said Links, who pointed to other recent golf good news in President’s Cup Tournament conducted in October at Harding Park and the opening of the new First Tee Academy at the inner-city Visitacion Valley Middle School. “Golf is a wonderful outdoor sport played by people of all ages and backgrounds, and Sharp Park is a beautiful and historic and fun place to play. It is one of the real treasurers of Bay Area golf. And we are pleased that the Recreation and Park Department now understands this after long neglecting the property. We congratulate Parks Director Phil Ginsburg and his Department for this.”
The Department’s golf plan calls for closing the 3-par Hole 12, and shortening the 4-par hole 11 and 5-par hole 13, for the purpose of moving golfers and maintenance workers away from the two large ponds and a connecting stream on the western part of the course, which are thought to provide the best potential new habitat for the creatures. “We have not had time to study the Department’s hole closure and redesign proposals,” said Links, who is himself a prominent amateur golf architect. “But the less change to MacKenzie’s historic course routing, the better. And we are confident that our architects will have good ideas which can help to minimize the amount of golf course disruption on this landmark property. We look forward to working cooperatively with the city, as well as the Pacifica and San Mateo County leaders who share our commitment to preserve and renovate Sharp Park’s architecture as well as its environment. Golfers are environmentalists, and this is important to us, too.”
Despite its fancy architectural pedigree, the golf course is famous for being the home of a racially and culturally-diverse, middle-class golfing clientele, featuring large percentages of pensioners, women, and beginners—a clientele much like golfers on the public seaside links of Scotland. “This is exactly who Dr. MacKenzie designed this golf course for,” said Links. “He had been the consulting architect at St. Andrews before he immigrated to the States. At Sharp Park, MacKenzie intentionally re-created a Scottish public seaside links. Sharp Park’s golfers just fit the spirit of MacKenzie to a tee.”
In the months since the Center for Biological Diversity first mounted its assault to close the course in favor of a frog and snake preserve, there has been “a groundswell of public support for keeping Sharp Park open,” Links said. “Perhaps the powerful reaction from golfers and preservationists caught golf’s opponents by surprise, but it doesn’t surprise us. Together with Long Island and Chicago, San Francisco is the original home of golf in America. Because of this, golf in the Bay Area has kept its Scottish roots as a broadly-based public sport. So the attack on golf as “elitist” simply does not ring true to people here. At Sharp Park, there is also a strong cultural history factor, because the golf course is the work of the greatest golf architect in history. It is as if the CBD were trying to tear down Frank Lloyd Wright’s Marin Civic Center. There is too much cultural history here to just plow it under.” Located in the southern San Francisco coastal suburb of Pacifica, the Sharp Park Golf Course has been designated as a nationally-significant at-risk cultural landscape by the Washington D.C.-based Cultural Landscape Foundation.
San Francisco Supervisor Sean Elsbernd and Pacifica Mayor Julie Lancelle have joined with the Public Golf Alliance in defense of the historic golf course. Within the past month, the golf course’s publicly-announced political supporters has grown, to now include Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo County), State Assembly Whip Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco), Assemblyman Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), and San Mateo County Supervisors Carole Groom and Adrienne Tissier, and San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera. Additionally, Local 261, the Laborer’s Union that represents gardeners at the San Francisco public courses, has declared its support for the Save Sharp Park movement. This support is in addition to major golf organizations, including the World Golf Foundation, Northern California Golf Association, California Alliance for Golf, Alister MacKenzie Society, Golf Course Superintendent’s Association, and others. San Francisco golf legend Ken Venturi, the 1964 U.S. Open Champion, is the Public Golf Alliance’s Honorary Chairman.
Next up in the continuing struggle over the golf links, will be a series of public meetings, whose dates have not been set. Long-term, it is unknown when the matter will reach the Board of Supervisors for a final determination.