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Golfers Camp Out to Play a Round at Congested Courses : Recreation: The five public links in Long Beach may be among the busiest in the country.


Bribery attempts, threats, all-night waits in a car.

People do all sorts of things to play golf at one of Long Beach's five public golf courses. But then, as golfer Mike Neal of Torrance said, "In my estimation, most golfers are lunatics. They are fairly obsessive."

And the crowded links of Long Beach bring it out.

Long Beach recreation officials claim that their municipal golf system has been one of the busiest in the country. A total of 635,000 rounds of golf were played in a recent year. That's an average of 127,000 rounds per course, or about three times the national average for a public course.

Golfers can get stacked up like airplanes waiting for takeoff at Los Angeles International Airport, teeing off every seven or eight minutes at Recreation Park's 18-hole course, the city's busiest. "They push 'em out pretty good," conceded Doc Brewer of Seal Beach, having finished a round on a recent Friday afternoon, in the company of some friends and some cold beers that had grown warm by the time he had made it to the final green.

5 Hours to Play

Habitues expect a very slow round of golf at Recreation, where it takes them five hours to play 18 holes, compared to 3 1/2 to 4 hours on a less crowded course. "I do not like it all," Jeff Finestone of Costa Mesa said. "On the weekend, on the third tee, you have a 40-minute wait. Sometimes we go into the bar for 15 to 20 minutes."

Like it or not, golfers put up with it. They even go to great lengths to join the throngs on Long Beach's greens.

"I have been offered up to $100 to get four guys on the golf course," said Tom Frost, who supervises the five courses for American Golf Corp., the company that runs the system under a contract that last year yielded the city nearly $2 million, based on a percentage of gross receipts.

Frost said he's gotten "all kinds of threats," been promised season football tickets and been screamed and hollered at by players who just have to tee off, right away, without reservations. "They look down at the (reservation) list and say, 'That's me at 9 o'clock. I'm Mr. Jones.' " The more honorable camp out in their cars in the parking lot on a weekend night, waiting for dawn under the steering wheel, staking out a place at the head of the line. "Usually you can get here Friday or Saturday night at 1 in the morning and there'll be people lining up," noted Frost, who grew up in Tennessee "where you can just walk in, give the guy money and walk straight to the tee."

What with foursomes relentlessly chopping and swinging across the course from dawn to dusk, the maintenance crews always have something to tend and mend. "It's like having 400 people a day walk across your front yard," said David Hein, who oversees maintenance on the five courses. His crews start at 5 every morning, and work backwards from the 18th hole, so as not to stay on the heels of any one set of players.

No Relief

During the span of a year the crews spread 100 tons of fertilizer, 50 tons of seed and 500 million gallons of recycled water across 400 acres.

There is no promise of relief from the press of golfers, who also flock to other Southern California public courses. More than a million rounds of golf were played at Los Angeles' 12 courses in 1988, making that system a rival for the title of busiest.

Not only has the sport surged in popularity in recent years, the weather and price are ever inviting at Long Beach's courses. Long Beach residents, who make up 40% of the players, pay $13 to play 18 holes beneath swaying palms and eucalyptus trees on the weekends. Non-residents pay a dollar more.

As for the weather, "the only season we have here is daylight savings," Frost said.

Management will soon install a computerized phone reservation system to ease the frustrations of patrons who spend 45 minutes speed dialing to get through to the operators, as is now often the case.

The system will also start experimenting next year with a ranger program to discourage players from dawdling, said Ralph Cryder, city parks and recreation director. "Put someone out there like a traffic cop," he said. Someone who will give players gentle hints, like, "When you lose a ball, stop hunting for it. Get going."

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