Don't privatize the golf courses

Golfers who aren't rich should still be able to whack a few balls
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EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom has been trying to sell off or privatize city assets for years, and his latest effort is aimed at San Francisco's three public golf courses (see J.B. Powell's story, page 16).

Harding, Lincoln, and Fleming aren't in the greatest shape, and the city poured a bunch of money into spiffing up Harding a few years back and didn't get much return. So the mayor — with the surprising support of progressive supervisors like Aaron Peskin — wants to hand the links over to private contractors.

That, of course, will mean higher fees at the few places where golfers who aren't rich can still afford to whack a few balls. It will probably means cuts in unionized city staff. More important, it's another giveaway of valuable public assets — on the grounds that city officials don't seem to know how to manage them.

As Sup. Jake McGoldrick, a privatization foe, points out, the Golden Gate Yacht Club and St. Francis Yacht Club were once public assets, and they're now elitist institutions run as private membership clubs. The golf courses would be the same.

Yes, the courses need some upgrades, which means some public money. But public golf courses around the country are crowded with players who can't afford (or don't qualify for) private clubs; there's no reason the city of San Francisco can't do just as well as a private contractor in making improvements, generating revenue, and managing the facilities.

If the city really wants to get out of the golf course business — which we think is a mistake — then the supervisors ought to consider the proposal that the Neighborhood Parks Council has put forward and turn some of the links into parks and open space. But this mad rush to privatization — selling off parks, golf courses, and other public assets — has got to end. The supervisors should go along with McGoldrick's proposal to set up a task force to study the management of the city golf courses and reject the mayor's privatization move. *