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While a California legislative attempt to swing a 5 iron to the heart of accessible golf in the state may have proven a strike askew, the ideology behind the issue has yet to reach the back nine.
Introduced in early 2021 by California Assembly member Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), California Assembly Bill (AB) 672 targeted the state’s municipal golf courses as potential sites for low-income housing in high-density areas. Specifically, the bill threatened:
To remove municipal courses from the protection of the Public Park Preservation Act, the game’s public golf protector against commercial/residential development for a half-century;
Provide exemptions to the California Environmental Quality Act;
Make it easier for rezoning of public open space land with a one-size-fits-all zoning element.
Referred to both the state assembly’s Housing and Community Development and Local Government Committees, respectively, AB 672 died before it could reach a vote in either. Though AB 672 didn’t gain much tread in the 2021 cycle, the Southern California Golf Association called AB 672: “The most damaging piece of legislation (regarding) golf to be filed in a generation.”
And said generation is far from expiration. A two-year bill, AB 672 automatically comes back alive at the onset of 2022. And with the return comes a shot anew at the lifeblood of California golf, for both players and employees of the state’s public game.
According to a 2013 report from “Golf 20/20,” the game creates more than $13 billion annually and supports nearly 130,000 jobs in California. Many golf experts believe the game’s growth amid the pandemic timeline may have only enhanced such figures.
California, the nation’s most populous state (and owning what would be the fifth-largest economy in the world), sports the second-most golf courses in the country, behind only Florida.
As the game’s numbers pertain to accessible golf, the SCGA states that 22 percent of all California courses are municipal, though it’s estimated that 45 percent of all golf is played across those courses on a daily basis. In addition, if not moreover, about 90 percent of the state’s junior and developmental programs take place across that 22 percent.
“It’s all indicative that municipal golf has for 100 years, is today, and will continue to be to the degree to which it survives, the growth and sustainability engine of the game’s much larger ecosystem,” says Craig Kessler, director of governmental affairs for the SCGA. “And without the feeder, at some future stage, the top disappears.”
The attack on municipal golf — inept though it may have been in this go-round — is, at its core, very much a battle for land.
“While this bill was an example of clumsy, legislative overreach — which is why it never even got to committee — it does get to the heart of the challenge to municipal golf,” Kessler says. “And that is its encumbrance of large tracts of land in places where there’s incredible competition for use of that land. In this case, it was housing. And the truth is that if you closed every course in the state and turned it into housing, it wouldn’t even put a dent in the problem.”
In concert with the reaction and messaging from the SCGA, AB 672 received stark opposition from the California golf community at large, ranging from the Northern California Golf Association to the NorCal and SoCal PGA sections to The First Tee chapters to Audubon International to beyond.
“Why were we in the gunsights? Why were we singled out? It doesn’t make sense,” says Jim Ferrin, past president of the California Golf Course Superintendents Association and current president of the California Golf Alliance, a non-profit that coalesces a unified voice for the industry. “When you’re trying to take something away from a local community and put it under the umbrella of the state, what was once yours is no longer under your jurisdiction. It’s under the ownership of the state to do what they want.”
According to the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, 480 California course employees — namely superintendents — made contact with 92 different legislators across the state in opposition to AB 672.
“We had a lot of response from our superintendent network in opposition to the bill," says Jeff Jensen, Southwest regional field representative for the GCSAA, who put out an action alert to mobilize said response. “And it wasn’t just municipal course folks, but also people from private clubs and daily fees. Everybody in the state has a big stake in this. Yeah, this was specific to municipal golf, but further down the line a lot of this comes back and it’s a cascading effect.”
Adds Kessler: “We think it received a very strong response. And there’s no substitute for people who live in a state assembly or senate district to contact their representatives and express an opinion. Golfers and the golf industry turned out on this issue.”
An Attack on the Game's Spirit
AB 672 not only posed a direct threat on golf’s key feeder system, the bill also evidenced a legislative lack of comprehension about the game’s communal, recreational and environmental benefits.
“Publicly-owned courses are crucial to the future of our game,” Jensen says. “They provide affordable golf to all levels of players, including reduced rates for seniors. And many of the municipals host junior programs and serve as feeder market for other facilities, such as resort play and also for private club golf members down the line.”
The belief system is shared across the game’s guardians.
“Muni golf, public golf, really facilitates the entrance of people into the game,” Ferrin says. “Affordable and accessible golf, it brings juniors into the game, facilitates high school golf and also college golf to a degree. Without muni golf, the game wouldn’t be available to the masses. Public golf brings a greater value to the community.”
From employment to environment, those outside the game would seemingly need an education on what a course brings to a community.
“The municipal courses provide greenspace in an urban environment and are a great habitat for wildlife,” Jensen says. “The courses filter storm water for runoff, prove carbon sequestration, produce oxygen, reduce noise and also provide cooling environments for hotter areas. From a golf perspective and also a history perspective … once that greenspace disappears, it’s gone forever.”
Attacks on the game are coming by way of impressions askew.
“There needs to be a greater understanding that golf represents good stewards of the land,” Ferrin says. "We’re not polluting, we’re not overfertilizing, we’re not throwing around pesticides left and right, and we’re some of the most responsible users of water in the world. We need to better get that word out, because when that image changes then we won’t get attacked the way we are right now.”
Those employed at municipal courses across the state took note of the bill’s dangers.
“We may not have been as much under threat as muni courses in high-density areas, places where they’re really having issues with affordable housing, but we were definitely paying close attention to it, keeping our finger on the pulse,” says Josh Heptig, director of golf course operations for the County of San Luis Obispo Parks & Recreation, whose duties involve overseeing three courses. “A bill like that gets passed, and you never know exactly what the unintended consequences are going to be, or what it could open the door to and try to change a golf course into something different.”
Heptig says that messaging from this bill cycle mowed fairways for the fight ahead. “I think the various organizations did a good job trying to get in front of this, sending out notifications,” he adds. “A large group of people are now well aware, so moving forward, it might not take as much of an outreach or education effort to rile the animal as it did the first time.”
Back nine battle
When AB 672 or bills akin return anew, the golf industry best be prepared for a strategic fight, while also readying more curated, if not creative messaging.
“It’s not going away any time soon. Much more tailored, well-crafted assaults are going to continue to come forth,” Kessler says. “There’s an entire political ethic in the state which doesn’t believe golf is a good use of the land. Golf should not take a victory lap. It should see it as a warning shot for much more intelligent, well-honed, well-focused and well-crafted things that will come in the future based on the same thinking dealing with land use and water use.”
Avoidance of premature bows appears a uniform thinking.
“While we were happy with the response, what comes out of the AB 672 situation is that if it had garnered the right sort of political support, it had the feasibility of becoming a reality,” Ferrin adds. “(Garcia) wasn’t able to foster the support of trade unions that she was hoping to get. Had they gotten that, the bill could have passed and we wouldn’t have had the available resources to fight it.”
|Most municipal facilities by state||California|
|69||Source: National Golf Foundation 2021 Golf Facilities in the U.S. report|
An improved message of municipal golf’s true optics may be a means of effective strategy.
“I’m very concerned about where this is going, and there’s a lot at stake in this game for us,” Jensen says. “This is a threat to our industry, and in California’s particular political climate right now, golf is often seen as rich, white and elitist by many folks. But when you go to any of the state’s municipal golf courses, you see that’s not even close to being the case. Whether it’s Rancho Park in Los Angeles, Tahquitz Creek in Palm Springs or any of the munis up in San Francisco, you see a melting pot of players. And we need to get that message out there.”
Working forward may involve looking back. Taking a page from the Home of Golf, Heptig believes that, like the Old Course at St Andrews, opening one of his courses as a community park space one Sunday a month (the Old Course is closed for golf almost every Sunday) may bring needed allies to the golf cause.
“I think that the biggest thing the golf industry as a whole needs to do is get more non-golfers involved, and how they see golf courses, how the golf message is being told to them,” says Heptig, who works as a government advocate for the GCSAA. “A lot of times, the golf message isn’t being told to non-golfers by us, but by groups that don’t necessarily support what we do or how we operate.”
Whether such messaging and outreach borrows from the past or reaches for the future, the battle is now afoot. And the public game defenders believe, candidly, if not gravely, that golf needs to be better prepared for the fight ahead.
“The golf community needs to be aware that this thinking is out there, and it’s going to pop up again in different ways moving forward,” Kessler says. “This was a shot across golf’s bow, in that golf needs to stop being complacent in assuming that the California body politic isn’t hostile to golf’s continuation, especially in the state’s big cities. And golf is not particularly well-equipped to deal with it.”
Judd Spicer is Palm Desert, California-based writer and frequent Golf Course Industry contributor.
Cameron Beckman celebrated the July 4th holiday by winning the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open and recording his first PGA Tour Champions victory.
It was a day for Anthony Chapman to celebrate as well. Chapman is the superintendent at the En-Joie Golf Club in Endicott, New York. Chapman and his team faced down significant challenges to prepare the course for not only 81 of the top 50-and-over professionals in the world but for the approximately 30,000 rounds the county-owned club expects to host this year.
The winter of 2020-21 saw Chapman dealing with perhaps the biggest challenge of his career. On the evening of Dec. 16 stretching into Dec. 17, a Nor’easter covered the area with 40½ inches of snow. On Christmas Day, the course received two inches of rain. The Nanticoke Creek, which flows through the course, left its banks and the nearby Susquehanna River came through the east side of the property.
Days later, temperatures dropped once more and Chapman found himself looking at a golf course covered in what he estimates was 40 inches of snow, three inches of ice and 1/8th of an inch of silt. Six greens were covered in ice. Chapman’s first priority was getting the silt off the greens.
“There were only three of us here at the time,” he says. “It was dangerous. You can’t go out there when it’s all iced over. You don’t know how deep the water is out there, plus the river flowed through and left a bunch of trees, old trees that had been put in one of our dump areas. All that debris came out onto the golf course, so there was that cleanup. (The flood) washed away one of our cart paths. There were tee signs all over the place.
“But my main focus was the greens. I’m not worried about anything else. I need to get those greens cleared off and ready to go. And then you’re worried about the silt layer getting into the canopy. So now you’re changing what you’re going to do in the spring. You’re not just going to come out and do your normal spring cleanup. Your main focus is on getting those greens to where you want them, then we’ll deal with everything else after.”
“Everything else” included preparing for the traditional opening of the golf season on or around April 1 and the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open 13 weeks later. En-Joie has hosted the PGA Tour Champions event since 2007. The course, which is owned by the village of Endicott and operated by Broome County, previously hosted the PGA Tour’s BC Open from 1972 to 2005.
Chapman received plenty of help getting the course ready for the 2021 season. His allies included his friend and mentor Rocco Greco, who hired him as a technician at En-Joie in 2010 when Chapman had no golf course experience. Chapman grew up in the Binghamton, New York, area not far from En-Joie before migrating to Lantan, Florida, near West Palm Beach with a friend. He worked in sports turf before returning to southern New York so he and his wife, Andrea, a psychologist and Binghamton-area native, could be near their families while Andrea completed a residency closer to home.
After two years of selling real estate, Chapman reached out to Greco and launched his career on the golf side of the turf industry. He was promoted to an assistant superintendent’s position in 2012 before succeeding Greco as En-Joie’s head superintendent in September of 2014 when the latter received the superintendent job at Binghamton Country Club.
“He told me ‘Hey, if you have any issues at all, you need to know something, you need any help, you call me anytime,’” Chapman says. “I took advantage of that so much, I think Rocco was probably ready to throw his phone at me. Rocco didn’t want to see me fail. He was the one who convinced me I could do this.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to become a superintendent. I was comfortable as an assistant. You go home and you go to bed. As a superintendent, you go home and you lay in bed and you’re constantly thinking “What happens if this happens tomorrow? What happens if this happens?’ It takes you a good two hours to fall asleep because you have so much on your mind.”
In the aftermath of the storms, Greco was not only a lifeline for Chapman, but also a sounding board.
“I had Rocco come down,” Chapman says. “We both kind of stood there and came up with something. We brainstormed. You have to have that. You can’t just go at it on your own. You have to have that support system.”
That support network also included some industry sales professionals who had formerly worked as superintendents. “These guys that come from the chemical companies, being former superintendents, know what you’re up against, what you’re going through,” Chapman says.
Chapman’s ad hoc support team also included PGA Tour agronomist Mike Crawford.
“We were constantly talking,” Chapman says. “I’m constantly showing him pictures. I’m constantly sending him the plugs that I took out of the greens to make sure that they’re growing in our break room. I’m trying to simulate the spring for him. Maybe raking them off with a fork. Those plugs were growing as soon as I brought them inside, they were growing right up through the silt. Him and I, we have a really good relationship. He came here back in 2017. We’ve actually become friends and we speak to each other frequently.”
To accelerate the recovery process, Chapman applied enhanced gypsum on greens in April. He then aerated around the same time. As the spring progressed, he became more confident the course would be ready to host the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open. But that confidence came only gradually. The weather, after all, included a cold snap in April and early May.
“Our nights were cold for a while after aerification,” he says. “After aerification we’re using Verticutter on our approaches, then it gets cold at night (mid to high 30s) so everything kind of slows down and goes backward.
“My agronomist came sometime in April and we’re going through things. It’s not where I wanted it to be at that time, but you’re knowing things are going to start popping here shortly, right? Getting into May, getting into June that’s the best growing season, those months. So, you’re going from maybe a ‘5’ confidence level and gradually going up as the year progresses.”
The final countdown began on June 20 when the golf course was shut down. It remained closed to public play through July 5, the day after the tournament concluded.
Tournament week is always special for Chapman, but perhaps especially so this year. Over the course of the week, he received an assortment of voicemails and texts from around the country from natives of the area who had moved away but enjoyed seeing “their golf course” shown on national television. Then, there was the reaction of the professionals themselves.
“It’s always nice to hear compliments,’ Chapman says, “but to hear them from these guys who play on some of the finest golf courses all over the world … to hear Paul Goydos say, ‘What these guys do here is amazing.’ That’s why we do the job. We do it for golfers to come out here and say ‘This place is amazing.’ You do it for your own satisfaction, but it really completes it when you have these professionals complimenting your golf course like that.”
John Karedes is the tournament director for the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open. He is in a unique position to observe the evolution of the golf course. The tournament office is located at En-Joie, adjacent to the golf shop. Karedes celebrated the work of Chapman and his team.
“What they faced back in December and January, between the snow, the melting, the ice, the river silt, the freezing again and all while trying to protect the turf, just goes to show their dedication and passion for this golf course, not just for one week during the year, but year-round to make it the best,” Karedes says. “The amount of rounds Anthony faces on a daily basis compared to other superintendents who host similar events, it’s night and day.”
Rick Woelfel is a Philadelphia-based writer and frequent Golf Course Industry contributor.
Sporting a scorecard of playability and sustainability, The Links at Terranea proves worthy of its annual reference among the nation’s top par-3 courses since debuting in 2009.
Boldly situated on the Mediterranean-inspired, 102-acre Terranea Resort spread in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, the nine-hole design from Todd Eckenrode plays perched above the coastal bluffs, with panoramic views of the Pacific on nearly every hole.
Charting at nearly 1,300 yards from the tips (and about 700 yards from the forward tees), the course’s dozen year run to-date has done more than redefine the possibility and potential of short course play across golf-avid SoCal – it’s concurrently served as a seminal golf resort en vogue amenity for name architects creating shorter courses across the country.
“I won’t say we set the trend, but we were one of the first of this modern wave of walking-only, shorter courses,” says Mike Hill, director of golf operations at The Links at Terranea. “Out here, we see a huge mix of play; we’re not pegged into one demographic of golfer. Avid players, seniors, beginners, women, juniors – the course fits the need for all segment of player.”
The golf grounds are far more than just a resort add-on.
“The course was designed with the entire master plan,” Hill says. “Sometimes, when you think about a par-3 course at a resort, you think ‘pitch-and-putt,’ or the design thinking was, ‘Hey, we had a little bit of land left, and we’re gonna add a little course.’ That’s not the case here.”
A modern consideration for family and generational vacation time also finds a sweet spot in nine holes.
“Being less than two hours, the course lends itself to being a resort amenity and activity; whether the day also includes, say, a kayaking tour or some off-site horseback riding,” Hill says. “Everything is kind of in that two-hour window.”
Open to the public and resort guests – and offering an on-site Golf Academy and swing studio – The Links will test both the sticks and nascent alike; to wit: Defending the dearth of distance, the grounds present continual challenge on sizeable, swaled putting surfaces and green complexes enjoy the ongoing surrounds of comely, fescue-capped rustic bunkering sure to test players of all levels.
“It’s a golfer’s par-3 course. And even though it’s a par 27, I think of it as a second shot course. You may not need the big stick here, but you’ll need to be sharp with everything else,” Hill says. “And it really is a links-style course, in that it incorporates many of those strategic design elements; our greens are really large, with lots of undulation and feeder-slopes throughout the course. They’re challenging, even for avid golfers. Once you get off the tee, you’ll find every kind of short game shot you can imagine around the putting complexes; lots of little swales and tight lies. You need to be able to chip and pitch to really score here.”
Nearly every hole presents personality across the 90-minutes play, and while the Big Blue backdrop offers the most fetching highlight, multiple holes contend for the marquee.
The top-handicapped No. 3 (“Captain’s Bluff”) plays uphill at 172 yards with ample trouble both long and left.
“It’s a great test, playing out to the bay on the far side of the course toward Pelican’s Cove and the Pt. Vicente Lighthouse,” Hill says. “Being on that green feels like you’re on an infinity pool, looking out toward Catalina Island; and when its super-clear, you can see all the way to tiny Santa Barbara Island way off the coast.”
A punchbowl green on No. 7 and a burly, 173-yard eighth set the stage for a challenging finisher. “There’s one tree on the course,” smiles Hill of the 121-yard, downhill ninth, playing over a ravine, “and it guards the right side of that green.”
Enhanced Links’ fame and frame comes via a laudable sustainability effort, which extends from resort to course. Prior to Terranea’s debut, the prime perch stood dormant for more than 20 years as the former site of the Marineland of the Pacific amusement park. A highly focused eco-friendly effort across all aspects of the property has been a core philosophy of Terranea’s operation since its inception.
Among the most visible on-course eco-aims are native plantings, ranging from Coastal Sage to California Sunflower Bush to Saltbush. Natural irrigation and water treatment via wet ponds and bioswales also play as elements of the Links’ routing.
“You play around them, over them,” Hill says. “So, it’s kind of cool that they’re environmental features, but they’re also unique features of the course strategy.”
A sizable investment in the property’s StormFilter systems both reduce and treat runoff.
“Beneath the property are seven different vaults; you can see the labeled manholes around, and if you were to look underneath, you’d see these huge filters which are filled with a product called PhosphoSorb,” says Lauren Bergloff, sustainability leader at Terranea Resort. “So, when it rains, all of the runoff – including any pesticides or oils from cars or any trash – instead of it going straight into the ocean like it once did, it gets filtered through either the bioswales, the holding ponds or the storm drain filters. And you can see the bioswales on the course. They’re basically creek beds, but they’re big rocks with plants within them and they lead to the holding ponds. So, they serve as a natural barrier.”
The Pacific below has reaped benefits, seeing the return of the Kelp forest and biodiversity, and with local divers long remarking on far clearer waters.
From sea to tee, the property’s commitment to sustainability and natural habitat generally finds some added members to one’s foursome.
“One of the founding values of Terranea, from the beginning, was giving back to nature. It’s all connected, and the golf course has a big part to do with it,” Bergloff says. “When you’re playing, you’ll see all of the animals that have come back; from bunny rabbits to foxes to lizards to hummingbirds, hawks, falcons and snakes. And they’ve all come back because of the native plantings.”
Shaune Achurch hails from Queensland, Australia. Seeing the splendor of American courses while watching televised golf events convinced him to move across the world to pursue a turf management career.
Steve Ellis landed a job with an agriculture cooperative and started working in a fertilizer production facility in 1983. He has spent his career in Tennessee, helping farmers and subsequently turf managers improve the quality of their respective products.
Consider them the unlikeliest of ideal professional matches.
Achurch is the superintendent at The Governors Club, a private golf community in Nashville’s rapidly growing south suburbs. Ellis is a territory representative for Simplot Turf & Horticulture who covers most of Tennessee and parts of northern Georgia, northern Mississippi and southern Kentucky for the expanding company. The pair has cultivated a mutually beneficial relationship since Achurch arrived at The Governors Club following a stint as an assistant superintendent at famed East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
Needing to learn a new market and growing environment as quickly as possible, Achurch immediately contacted people connected to the Tennessee turf community. He made a new friend on his first day at The Governors Club.
“I got Steve’s number through a vendor who was in Atlanta and we struck it up on the phone,” Achurch says. “I said to him, ‘I’m going to be in Tennessee. Drop in on the first day.’ I think it was right around 9, 10 o’clock my first day, Steve showed up. We got straight down to business creating a program.”
From helping Achurch control weeds in The Governors Club’s 60 acres of fescue areas to conversations that extended into personal realms, Ellis instantly helped a middle Tennessee outsider adjust to a region where warm- and cool-season turf thrives (and sometimes struggles). The Governors Club features four acres of MiniVerde Bermudagrass greens and 70 acres of Meyer zoysiagrass hitting surfaces. “With Bermudagrass greens, the challenge is in the wintertime and cooler temps and making sure we make the right decisions for the greens,” Achurch says.
Helping others handle freezes and summer stresses represents Ellis’s work focus for nearly four decades. He moved from the fertilizer plant into the materials department before leading GPS fertilizer and spraying demonstrations for farmers in the 1990s. When the agriculture industry started to contract, Ellis became a custom applicator who provided services to golf courses. He moved into a golf and turf sales job in the early 2000s and joined the Simplot Turf & Horticulture team in 2018. “Understanding all aspects of the business instead of just being generally one-sided … I’m thankful for that,” Ellis says.
And Achurch is thankful somebody as experienced and dedicated as Ellis covers his territory. “Steve was a big help with the fescue and pre- and post-emergent and that sort of stuff,” Achurch says. “We work as close as probably two friends do. I know Steve is there for me when I need him, and he wants me to succeed as much as anyone.”
Ellis views success in his role as a matter of trust. That fast start with Achurch has evolved into a candid relationship.
“I enjoy listening to their ideas and bringing new ideas to them,” Ellis says. “Superintendents moving into a new area really need to get to know their sales reps, especially if they have been there for a while. They can put their heads together and come up with an agronomic plan and programming that’s going to be the best for them. It might not be exactly right the first go-around, but things can be adjusted to be successful.”