The Future of Sharp Park: Total Eco-Wonderland

sharp17thteeviewSharp Park Golf Course in Pacifica, California is the latest front in the chronic land-use battles that, unfortunately, often pit golfers against environmentalists. This story has many moving parts and I’m on the wrong side of the continent to take an informed position, so I will just offer a few of the perspectives and my own loose thoughts, and then make fun of some stuff.

On Monday, Julia Scott of the San Mateo County Times presented a good overview of the conflict. In a nutshell, Sharp Park is a municipal course outside the city limits that through some odd twists of fate came to be administered (and paid for) by the City of San Francisco. The course, which dates to 1932 and was designed by the famed architect Alister MacKenzie, was built on a flood-prone coastal site, which also happens to be the home of a couple of protected species–the San Francisco garter snake and the California red-legged frog (of Mark Twain/ “Calaveras County” fame). Sharp Park’s environmental profile caught the attention of the Center for Biological Diversity, which has mounted a campaign to restore the site to *something like* its original condition (see below). Thomas Bonk of Golf Digest, however, worries that this is more a case of opportunism on the part of anti-golf activists seeking to take advantage of the deepening recession.

I don’t know who’s in the right here. What I can say, though, is that every time a course like this falls by the wayside, it only contributes to a self-fulfilling prophesy of golf as an elitist endeavor. Sharp Park’s green fee is $20 for SF residents, $12 for seniors, and yet the Center for Biological Diversity casually refers to the place as “exclusive.” Not Fair. Some readers will doubtless remember the scuffle a couple of years when the town of North Hills, NY, literally tried to appropriate Deepdale Golf Club for the town’s residents. While that was a case of the Haves versus the Have Mores and not an environmental thing, the point is that Deepdale (an exclusive club by any definition) easily met that challenge. By comparison, Sharp Park is low-hanging fruit.

The good news is that the design wizards at the Center for Biological Diversity have presented a compelling vision for the future of Sharp Park, which in its sense of uplift is not at all reminiscent of ’50s Soviet propaganda extolling the glories of People’s Manganese Smelter #36. If you start to feel a little funny, it’s probably just jealousy–yet another example of San Franciscans getting all the cool toys. I added some captions, you know, for fun n’ all.


"Where are you taking me, Mr. Brimley?

"Remember, Billy, it's okay to watch the birds, but never try to feed them. They can get angry, and they're much bigger than you."

"Isn't this great? For the first time ever, a place in the greater Bay Area where you can walk your dog!"

"Look at those gulls! Thanks to this restored habitat, they've grown to the size of condors, and now they're ANGRY at those kids over there! Ha! Ha!"

"Look at those gulls! Thanks to this restored habitat, they've grown to the size of condors, and now they're ANGRY at those people over there! Ha! Ha!


4 comments for “The Future of Sharp Park: Total Eco-Wonderland”

  1. Based on those compelling artists renditions it seems that they strive for biodiversity much more than ethnic diversity. It looks like Shoal Creek!

    Posted by JD | March 26, 2009, 11:37
  2. Sharp Park can’t continue providing $12 rounds of golf for anyone, because it loses between $30,000 and $300,000 per year. The only options available are to turn it into something like Deepdale (privatize, bust the union, and charge $120 a round and up to just get on the greens) or create a more holistic vision that provides access to the landscape for everyone.

    Posted by Brent | March 26, 2009, 12:46
  3. Brent,

    Thanks for the comment. One thing I’m curious about: Is it true the City turned down Pacifica’s offer to take the course off its hands? I would think that if Sharp Park were such a big loser the City government would be anxious to have it off the books. My sense is that if Restore Sharp Park and its allies want to make a financial argument, it doesn’t really hold water if Pacifica residents want to keep their neighborhood course and their local government is willing to back that goal. It just seems to me that the environmental agenda (which I’m not supporting or opposing in this case as I admittedly don’t know all the details) and the financial one are mixing rather uncomfortably here.

    Thanks again.

    Posted by td | March 26, 2009, 13:56
  4. If by take it off their hands you mean give it to Pacifica for free, you’re right. But this was never taken seriously: it was posturing.

    At any rate, Pacifica would face the exact same choice as San Francisco and would probably reach it sooner, because a municipality that small simply can’t go on losing $300,000 a year on golf when they have police and schools to provide for. Eventually they too would face the same choice: privatize the course, bust the union, and charge $120 per round plus, or create a more holistic vision that benefits everyone.

    Posted by Brent | March 26, 2009, 19:40

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