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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Does S.F. Need Nine Golf Courses During This Drought?

Posted By on Tue, Sep 2, 2014 at 7:21 AM

click to enlarge Four of San Francisco's nine golf courses surround Lake Merced. - TOLKA ROVER/FLICKR
  • Tolka Rover/Flickr
  • Four of San Francisco's nine golf courses surround Lake Merced.
President Obama has gotten a bit of flak for spending a lot of time on the golf course this summer. But here in San Francisco, it’s the golf courses themselves that are causing controversy.

Earlier this month, Priceonomics’s Alex Mayyasi wondered, “Why Does San Francisco Have So Many Golf Courses?” while noting that the 47-square-mile city actually has nine golf courses, plus a tenth outside the city limits that’s under its jurisdiction. In light of the housing emergency, Mayyasi framed the question as one of space allocation, because the 700 acres taken up by fairways and bunkers constitutes 2 percent of the city’s buildable land, which amounts to a giveaway for the benefit of a very few.

But a better question might be, Why do we have so many golf courses operating during a state of exceptional drought? When ordinary residents face the prospect of fines for hosing poop off the sidewalk, leaning on Hetch Hetchy to keep the greens so green sounds outright frivolous. Yet it’s not a case of elite clubs shielding themselves off from the rules that apply to everyone else. Rec and Park runs five of the nine, plus that outlying course in Pacifica, and Presidio Golf Course, while private, is open to the public.

To be fair, an accompanying photo in a Chronicle article on rationing shows a Lincoln Park Golf Course fairway with bare patches that look nearly as golden-brown as the rest of the state in August. So it’s not as if S.F. is maintaining lush, pristine fairways. However, the half-century-old Gleneagles GC, a nine-hole course in McLaren Park, is struggling to pay its massive water bills. Having limped forward on a month-to-month basis since the lease ran out in November, manager Tom Hsieh worked out an arrangement with the Public Utilities Commission and Rec and Park to subsidize half its water bill, some 8.9 million gallons a year. (It’s especially ironic considering Gleaneagles’ namesake golf course sits in rainy Scotland, where this would never be an issue.)

If a single nine-hole course uses almost 18 million gallons a year, then the combined five city-owned courses, with their total of 63 holes — 18 holes each at Harding and Lincoln Park, and nine at Gleneagles, Flemming and Golden Gate Park — likely consume around 125 million gallons of water annually. That’s 342,000 gallons a day.

The Sierra Club estimates that the average San Franciscan uses 108 gallons per day. So the five public golf courses, which serve comparatively few people, are the functional equivalent of almost 3200 extra city residents, showering, flushing and washing their cars. We’re being instructed to rat out neighbors who hydrate their lawns under cover of darkness. So why isn’t there more of an outcry about San Francisco’s golf courses, and the public subsidy for their water use?

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About The Author

Pete Kane

Pete Kane

Pete Kane is a total gaylord who is trying to get to every national park before age 40


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