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Opinion: Chamber of Commerce & Sharp Park Golf

BY JOHN BOWIE, WILD EQUITY

The March 26, 2011, letter to Pacifica City Council from the Chamber of Commerce makes several weak claims in support of the Sharp Park Golf Course. It claims Sharp Park as “the southern anchor of Palmetto” and “the gateway to Mori Point.” Most off-base is the call to “support San Francisco in maintaining a regulation sized course.” The most recent statements from San Francisco make no claim to a regulation-size course; they only mention that habitat enhancements and golf could be compatible. These claims illustrate a disconnect between the Chamber of Commerce, the issues at Sharp Park, and an informed perspective on the future of Pacifica.

The claim that the golf course is the “southern anchor of Palmetto” is fantasy. If you follow Palmetto to its southern end, you will walk directly into a fence. The golf course stands between Mori Point and Palmetto Avenue. On any sunny day there is a steady flow of hundreds of people at a given time on the trail to Mori Point. Meanwhile, by design, golf directs patrons back to the clubhouse to get in their cars, conveniently get back on the highway, and drive home. Few patrons even need to drive on Palmetto from Sharp Park’s clubhouse. Sharp Park Golf Course has had nearly 80 years to prove its mettle in our economy, and Pacifica is still in dire financial straits. Golf is obviously not the economic driving force the chamber dreams it will be; it’s more of the same.

The chamber claims reduction of the golf course would cause undeniable economic hardship in Pacifica. Let’s look at the numbers. In the SFRPD Golf report, 37,905 rounds were played at Sharp Park in 2009-2010. That’s a maximum of 37,905 visits over the course of the year, provided no one played more than one round in a day. Compare this to the National Parks Conservation Association study looking at the economic impact of visitor spending in California’s national parks. Two parks comparable to Mori Point—Pinnacles and Point Reyes—generated 178,000 and 2.2 million visitors, respectively, in a year. At the smallest national park, traffic was almost five times greater than Sharp Park Golf Course patronage. Point Reyes visitor traffic outnumbers Sharp Park golf rounds almost 60 to 1! Total visitor spending at Pinnacles was $3.2 million in a year compared to Sharp Park losing $117,173 last year. Point Reyes visitors spent more than $83 million, supporting 2,000 local jobs. Even the smallest park visitation numbers would vastly increase the tourism engine in Pacifica compared to golf.

Pacifica has an element neither Point Reyes nor Pinnacles has: easy access to San Francisco. In Leon Younger’s 2004 SFRPD report, “Walking and Hiking Trails” were rated as SF’s most desired recreation, compared with golf (ranked 16 of 19). That said, would it not be better to invest in an in-demand market and redirect the hundreds of people on foot to the Palmetto shops and restaurants to truly anchor Palmetto as the gateway to Mori Point? How much would those businesses stand to make if hundreds more people walked in front of them instead of driving by?

The demands of the chamber show how out of touch it is with the issues at Sharp Park. On February 23, San Francisco called to end further armoring of the seawall, without ruling out that golf could be maintained. This leads to the troubling realization that the ocean side of Sharp Park Golf Course needs a significant infusion of cash to maintain a regulation-size course that will likely not come from San Francisco, as it has abandoned armoring the levee. This leaves major questions as to whether Pacifica will front the high costs, cutting the budget elsewhere, or court an investor thus privatizing the “gateway to Mori Point” and leaving our beloved Salada Beach as private property. That is, if there is any beach left, as armoring the seawall would lead to erosion and eventual loss of a community asset. These outcomes are not in the greater interest of Pacifica and would leave a legacy of folly.

The businesses represented by the Chamber of Commerce should seriously consider the costly implications and legacy of maintaining a regulation-size course at Sharp Park. Is it time to investigate new options for Pacifica’s future or stick to 80 years of financial struggle? An enhanced public park at Sharp Park might be the economic engine Pacifica needs.

Comments

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I hope Mike Ferreira holds to the idea of the public good before profits when the "working group" proposes a scheme to "maximize revenues" at the golf course (higher fees).

It may have been "addressed" as a claim by opponents at last year's meeting, but claims are just that -- claims. The claims were not accepted. Turning unaccepted claims into complex conclusions may be a useful tactic to be employed in an ongoing disparagement campaign, but it doesn't serve as enlightened discourse.

How much do Pacifica's trails make?

"Maybe it's time to ask how many San Francisco Rec & Park facilities 'make' money."

This was addressed at last year's San Francisco budget meetings. Sharp Park is the only park SF owns that not only consistently loses money and represents millions in potential liabilities, relatively very few San Francisco residents use the park at all.

The money SF pays to prop up money-losing Sharp Park would be better used on any of the many projects in the city that are losing funding -- or to improve some of the other SF public parks in great need of repair.

Maybe it's time to ask how many San Francisco Rec & Park facilities "make" money.
Or, perhaps, how many are specifically charged with "making" money.
Then again, rather than asking such broad questions, why don't we focus instead on specifics such as:
How much does Dolores Park "make"?
How much does Golden Gate Park "make"?
How much do the 40 Community Gardens "make?
McLaren Park?
Palace of Fine Arts?

Maybe we need to ask San Francisco to turn the management of all this socialistic, subsidized recreation over to some Tea Party types to satisfy the sensitivities of our local budget hawks.

Chris Porter says: "The Chamber of Commerce is looking for Sharp Park Golf Course to be a destination spot to promote the city."

The golf course has been there 60+ years. Exactly what is the chamber waiting for?

The math just doesn't add up: a golf course that consistently loses money, has open-ended potential for millions of dollars in liabilities...

Virtually no one can afford a money-losing property in these economic times.

Proponents of keeping the course should review basic math, and think again.

Mr. Bowie, sorry for my late reply, but I was away this week.

Here are the average numbers for any given day. A group of usually four golfers goes off the first tee every 10 minutes. Sometimes it's three or in the afternoons maybe two. That's up to 24 golfers per hour on a Saturday or Sunday. Now, of course, this is not every weekend and every hour, just an average.

As for our monthly tournaments, we average 100 golfers per tournament per month. Our tournaments are usually over at about 12:00 p.m. The course then sends out regular/public play after that.

As for this: "As for 1,000 rounds played for the year, that's 2.7 rounds a day for your monthly tourneys. So almost three people playing daily." Do they teach you that at Wild Equity? What kind of math is that? When I say 1,000 rounds for the year, that is just tournament play on one Sunday per month generally. We did lose two tournaments last year due to rain. The number would have been much higher than that, and those numbers are for just our club. Many clubs and groups hold their tournaments there as well each month/weekend.

I have done my numbers, but it sure does seem that you have not done yours. I would like to extend an invitation to you to come to SP on a Sunday and see for yourself.

Well said, Chris.

The Chamber of Commerce is looking for Sharp Park Golf Course to be a destination spot to promote the city. Groups can play golf while their children surf, skateboard, or hike. The more available entities there are to promote, the wider appeal you have to tourists. No one is downplaying hikers, but we need the most recreational venues we can have to lure tourist dollars.

John, I've lived in West Fairway Park for 27 years. I walk the trails @ Mori Point as well as the berm a couple of times per week. I also play golf a couple of times per month. So here are my observations. Even on sunny days (not many in P-Town), the trails are nearly empty on weekdays, and busier on the weekends. On typical Pacifica weather days, overcast, fog, drizzle, and wind, the trails are nearly deserted. I have yet to see hundreds of people there, unless it was a special event or happening going on. I look down on the golf course and see groups of 2-4 players on every hole. Tournament play makes up a minute percentage of total rounds played per year. At Sharp Park, the average annual figure for the past decade is around 45,000 rounds, approximately 122 per day. No, John, most golfers do not play two rounds per day.
When I play, I notice lots of seniors and occasionally juniors from three high schools using Sharp Park as their home course. A substantial number of the players are from San Francisco, with seniors making up the majority. The players are racially and ethnically diverse. It's a great historical course enjoyed by millions over the 80 years of its existence. These are PAID rounds while the FREE trails are nearly deserted. Always begs the question. Mr. Plater mentioned on several occasions that Bay Area golf courses are played at less than capacity. So how is capacity measured for trails? I don't believe a hiker or two every several hundred yards brings the word capacity to mind. John, anytime you want to take a hike with me, just let me know. We can take a count.

2.2 million visitors = 6,027 people per day, so conservative estimates for "their" national park in Pacifica might be 3,000 people per day? Right? Where will they park? Where will they eat? Where will they shop? Bringing their carbon footprint along, they won't walk or bicycle into Pacifica. So this begs the question: Who are the true environmentalists? The golfers who want to keep the course and the beautiful ecosystem it hosts with regulated, secure activity and regular maintenance or the "enviros" who are bound and determined to flood the course and turn the beautiful cypress trees into logs for the snakes to bask on?

I know, Butch, they are pretty daunting numbers. I live in Pacifica, and walk the berm with my dogs. As for 1,000 rounds played for the year, that's 2.7 rounds a day for your monthly tourneys. So almost three people playing daily. We can count that in minutes with joggers, dog-walkers, picnickers, bird-watchers, hikers, walkers, school groups, etc.

Don't miss my point. All I am saying is that Pacifica needs to evaluate how much this will cost and how much the city stands to make. Tear me down if you like, but at least do your numbers.

What is this guy smoking?
"On any sunny day there is a steady flow of hundreds of people at a given time on the trail to Mori Point."

When have any of us seen this? How about never!!! Last year in our monthly tournaments, we had more than 1,000 rounds played for the year. This is for the fourth year in a row.

Mr. Bowie, come down to Sharp Park to see how we do it.

We have a hotel tax, why not a golf tax (exempt seniors and students)? Why not tack on $5.00 per round? Let's get SOME revenue off this swath of turf.

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