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Teed Off Over Golf Courses

With Tiger Woods reenergizing the public's interest in golf, there is greater demand for courses. There has been limited development of public courses in the past few decades, and private courses keep setting record high user fees. KATHRYN MacLAREN spoke with two area golf proponents.

September 30, 2000|KATHRYN MacLAREN

RICHARD L. BERGER

Film composer, Los Angeles

Between 15 and 20 new golf courses (depending on how far you'll drive to play) have become available to Angelenos in the past year or so. All of the new courses are very expensive compared with the public courses that have been played by city golfers for the past umpteen years.

Golf builds character in ways that other sports don't. It is all about the individual and requires intense concentration; it forces you to look deep in the mirror in order to play well.

It's ironic that this ultimate democratic sport has acquired a sheen of snobbery and a "let-them-eat-cake-mentality."

Golf is the great equalizer. No matter how much money you have, you cannot buy a golf swing. If you keep slicing your ball into the woods, you have to do the hard work required to correct it. Don't get the wrong idea. I like to play on nice golf courses. I don't even mind paying a little more for the privilege. I thought nothing of going up to the Ojai Valley Inn when it cost $60 to play what I still think is one of the best golf courses anywhere. When they raised their prices over $100, I stopped going. It was excessive. My reasoning is based on the fact that their price increase far outpaced the rate of inflation.

Also not lost on me was the fact that they were using the golf course as the cash cow to build their new spa and redesign a few holes. What used to be a nice, charming, funky-chic weekend getaway that my wife and I used to be regular patrons of, now seems to be turning into just another very commercial resort. Why should I subsidize what I hate?

The funny thing is that I can actually afford to play on these courses. But I won't. The only reason [that some people go] to play these very expensive courses is because they keep out the great unwashed, the peasants. In my 14 years as a golfer playing public courses, I haven't met more than half a dozen people I would consider jerks. And I've made some great friends. I walk on as a single all over the L.A. area, and it's been one of the uniquely positive experiences of my life. I've met all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds, and more than anything else, this is the thing about golf that I love.

What we need are more $20 and $30 golf courses, not bastions of elitism that no one can afford to play. It's not in the public interest. As for me, I'm going to vote with my feet and stay away from overpriced golf. I hope there are many others who feel this way, enough of us to make those overpriced courses hurt for business.

*

CRAIG KESSLER

President, Public Links Golf Assn.

Golf is a game of a lifetime; you can play it as long as you can get around a golf course. I am a member of the city's golf advisory committee.

Public golf courses exploded in the 1950s and 1960s and pretty much stopped in the '70s; since then, we have been living off of that stock.

The cities are keeping up the public courses, which are affordable and of good quality. But if the stock of affordable and accessible publicly owned golf courses is not expanded to meet the demand created by the current explosion of the urban junior golf programs the Tiger Woods-generated golf bubble will burst.

Where will the new juniors play? Where will the growing ranks of seniors play? The burgeoning ranks of women golfers? Where will new golfers be introduced to the game? Will those attracted to golf to be able to play regularly at $150 per round, since by definition not everyone can be part of the top 15% of the income population? The clear answer is no. We desperately need more public golf courses.

About 25 years ago, municipalities--particularly in large urban areas--stopped building public golf courses. The land became too expensive, the permitting process too cumbersome, the environmental obstacles too daunting and the competing interests too powerful.

Yet, you may ask, didn't the same structural factors affect other urban recreational causes such as general-use parks, nature preserves, open space, wetlands, soccer, baseball, arboreta, boat slips, equestrian activities, trails systems, etc. So why has municipal golf languished while all of these other laudable land uses have advanced so successfully in southern California?

The answer is not hard to discern. For every one of these recreational causes, particularly open space preservation, there exists a well-organized and well-financed public advocacy organization that focuses exclusive attention on influencing land use decisions, legislation and the promotion of bond issues that make funding available for their respective recreational activities.

Those who believe that, absent this, there will be an expansion of affordable, accessible, publicly owned golf courses are living in a dream world.

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