Too many golf courses

Golfers get 700 subsidized acres, while soccer moms and dads get 25?

OPINION The future of San Francisco's public golf courses affects you even if you don't play golf.

San Francisco's seven public golf courses cover more than 700 acres of parkland, or 20 percent of our public open space. That's three times the acreage in Chicago, a city five times larger with four times the population. Furthermore, San Francisco's golf courses lose more than $1 million annually.

In a 2004 city-funded survey, San Franciscans preferred more hiking trails, community gardens, skate parks, playgrounds, off-leash dog areas, bike trails, and baseball diamonds. Golf ranked 16th out of 19 on a list of recreational priorities. If the city is serious about keeping families and children in San Francisco, we must prioritize the recreational uses preferred by our diverse community.

With the exception of Harding Park, San Francisco's public golf courses operate at only 40 percent capacity. Golf courses effectively remain unused half the time. There is clearly an oversupply of courses, while demand continues to wane. We can convert this underutilized asset to greater use and still meet demand for golf at all ability levels.

Pleasanton recently hosted a soccer tournament. A friend noted that her hotel was filled with players and families. Our local economy would benefit by adding adequate acreage to our mere 25 acres of soccer fields to host similar family-friendly tournaments. Golfers get 700 subsidized acres, while soccer moms and dads get 25?

Recreation and Park Department studies indicate the city accommodates fewer than 50 percent of soccer teams with only one game and one practice per week. What about the other teams? Rec and Park recommended 35 more soccer fields to meet demand.

One of the city's courses, Sharp Park, is a prime candidate for conversion to restore its wetland ecosystem, home to the endangered red-legged frog and San Francisco garter snake, while adding hiking trails and preserving golf play.

Public pressure from a broad coalition of park users to stop privatization of our public courses helped force Rec and Park to analyze conversion of some — not all — golf courses to other recreational uses. The city should compare the costs of conversion to the estimated $64 million needed to upgrade existing golf courses.

No one suggests closing all of San Francisco's public golf courses or denying people access to them. However, we can likely meet current golf demand with two or three fewer courses.

Demand more equitable use of our open space by e-mailing recpark.commission@sfgov.org and board.of.supervisors@sfgov.org. Indicate you want the study funded by the Board of Supervisors to begin immediately.

Rick Galbreath, Jill Lounsbury, Dan Nguyen-Tan, Sally Stephens, and Isabel Wade

Rick Galbreath sits on the executive committee of the Sierra Club's San Francisco chapter. Jill Lounsbury is manager of the Golden Gate Women's Soccer League. Dan Nguyen-Tan works with the Coalition for Equitable Use of Open Space. Sally Stephens is a member of the San Francisco Dog Owners Group. Isabel Wade is executive director of the Neighborhood Parks Council.

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