Article provided by Craig Kessler, SCGA

Thursday, May 19, 2022

AB 1910 was held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee’s Suspense file today, killing it for the remainder of the 2022 legislative session.

When bill author Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) pulled the bill from the docket of the Assembly Local Government Committee April 6, we thought it might have been finished then. But as we pointed out at the time, there was still a chance that the bill could be heard in that committee and successfully passed out before the end of the month. And that’s exactly what happened; however, it only passed out per an agreement between Ms. Garcia and Assembly Member Bloom (D-Santa Monica) that the author amend the bill to substantially limit its scope in three very specific areas – areas backed up by credible metrics. That was a tall order in the compressed time frame between the April 27 Local Government Committee hearing and today’s Appropriations Suspense hearing. Whether a tall order not met, or evidence of the old adage that you can’t fix a bad bill, AB 1910 will not receive an Assembly floor vote before the May 27 deadline for bills to pass out of their house of origin. It cannot be resurrected in 2022, except for an end of session gut-and-amend procedure that is virtually never pursued for bills held in Suspense.

There is much about this episode in terms of lessons learned and harbingers of things to come – much that we’ll be sharing, because there is much that the golf community will need to understand to cope with what we fully anticipate will be more predations upon golf’s space in urban California. No matter the issue, it’s all about the land. But that analysis can wait. For today, know that AB 1910 is dead for the rest of 2022.

And know that it is in large part dead due to the thousands of rank-and-file golfers who took the time to express their thoughts to their elected leaders, the unified response of California’s golf organizations, and the support of so many of golf’s national organizations. SCGA and the whole alphabet soup of golf’s leadership organizations may have made solid public policy arguments to counter the bill, but without the support of rank-and-file golfers, those arguments would have carried far less weight. The congratulations go to you!


Article provided by Craig Kessler, SCGA

Monday, May 2, 2022

When we counseled “concern, not panic” regarding recent headlines about water allocation curtailments, we didn’t mean to diminish the seriousness of the moment; we meant only to assuage the many of you who read those headlines and concluded that golf courses in certain areas of the Southland, most particularly Ventura County, the San Fernando Valley, and parts of the San Gabriel Valley, would be restricted to irrigating one day a week come June 1.

Irrigating once per week in a hot and dry summer is tantamount to death for a golf course. The biology of turf is what it is. Residences and businesses can rip out turf in favor of California friendly drought tolerant palettes, but while golf can be played on less turf, it cannot be played on something other than turf. Parks, sports fields, and cemeteries fit the same mold, and that is why along with golf courses, they are routinely treated differently than ornamental or non-functional turf.

“Treated differently” doesn’t mean given carte blanche in a drought. It still means having to curtail water consumption, but it means curtailing consumption in ways more creative than day-of-week/time-of-day, one-size-fits-all methods. It means keeping 100% control over times and days of application while curtailing consumption – in other words cutting back in ways consistent with maintaining core functionality.

In those places where “golf and water task forces” that work directly with water providers have continued to meet regularly – e.g., Coachella Valley – SCGA is working with its allied partners to beef them up. In those places where such task forces have gone on hiatus since 2016 – e.g., Los Angeles – SCGA is working with its allied partners to reassemble and revitalize them.

We’re getting ready by getting in front of events. The ride promises to be bumpy this year, and golf has proven that it is well equipped to handle “bumpy.” But do consider what next year or the year after might portend if the next two precipitation years look anything like the last three. “Bumpy” will hardly suffice to describe that ride. But it’s something to begin contemplating now. Hope for better weather but begin planning for more of the same.

And under the heading, something to consider in the much longer term, take careful note of Metropolitan Water District General Manager Adel Hagekhalil’s comment in the Los Angeles Times last week about the critical need for “real investments in recycled water, real investments in storm water capture, real investments in storage. . . these are critical; we can’t conserve our way out of this.” For the golf community the question going forward isn’t whether those expensive infrastructure projects will be funded; it’s only a question of how they are going to be paid for. That’s why we were warm toward the mechanism that Los Angeles County’s Measure “W” on the 2020 ballot sanctioned – a parcel fee attaching only to that portion of a property that is non-permeable with credits for discharge permits. The drafters couldn’t have devised a more equitable, fact-based way for golf’s participation in the funding. Nonetheless, this is another cost factor that the game needs to embed into its longer-term business strategy.

But until those new storage mechanisms are in place, conservation remains the only effective tool to deal with drought.

# # # # # # # # #

Speaking of the Coachella Valley, home to 120 golf courses, and “planning for more of the same,” the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) is initiating a Colorado River Water (CRW) Conservation Program for all of its canal customers – those that draw raw water from the Colorado River in lieu of pumping from the aquifer. Twenty-six (26) golf courses are among those customers.

The fact that CVWD is rolling this program out should inform desert golf courses that have become complacent that the time for complacency has passed. The Colorado River Basin has been experiencing historic drought conditions for over 20 years, during which time system storage has decreased from 95% full in 2000 to less than 35% today. CVWD, which has long resisted any discussion of curtailing the generous allocation accorded it by various federal compacts over the years, has been actively discussing with other Basin States how to do just that. If the Colorado River is to continue to be a reliable source for the states that have long possessed more allocations than there is water to allocate, there is no other choice.

As an initial step, CVWD is soliciting interest for a voluntary, temporary, and compensated water conservation program for canal water users that can demonstrate a reduction in Colorado River water use for 2022 and 2023. Although this program will need to be formally approved by the CVWD Board, it is envisioned that participants will be incentivized $200/acre-feet (net and funded by external agencies) based on water conserved against their historical water use over the most recent 5 – year period, and the Irrigation Water Availability Assessment (IWAA) will be waived during the participation period.

The program is anticipated to start on October 1, 2022, and end on December 31, 2023 (program may be extended subject to further discussion with funding partners). For information about the program one can:

  1. Attend CVWD’s public workshop on May 17, 2022, at 9 a.m. at CVWD’s Coachella Office (51501 Tyler Street, Coachella, CA 92236);
  2. Visit; or
  3. Contact CVWD at or (760) 398-2661 extension 2466.

No doubt we’ll be sharing more about such new incentive programs in the coming weeks and months. CVWD is contemplating more of them as we write these words, many of which will be discussed at the bimonthly meetings of the CVWD Golf & Water Task Force. Anyone interested in perhaps participating in this particular task force can contact either of us via E-mail: or

AB 1910

Given the thread by which this bill continues to hang, we’d be remiss if we didn’t first reiterate the status report we issued immediately after last Wednesday afternoon’s Assembly Local Government Committee meeting, followed by a verbatim transcript of the comments issued during that meeting that formed our initial assessment and the questions raised by both.

INITIAL ASSESSMENT (Condensed from last Wednesday’s “Update”)

With 5 members voting aye, 2 members voting nay, and 1 member abstaining (Boerner-Horvath; D-Oceanside), the Assembly Local Government Committee moved AB 1910 out of committee Wednesday. Sort of. The 5th member and deciding vote, Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), who had expressed skepticism throughout, made clear that his deciding vote to move the bill out of committee was contingent on a pledge from bill author Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) to significantly reduce the scope of the bill by amending it in three (3) areas to his satisfaction before it reaches Appropriations; otherwise he has Ms. Garcia’s pledge to drop the bill in the 2022 session.

In addition to maintenance of 100% local control over any decision to repurpose a parkland golf course as affordable housing per a requirement that the resultant housing be at least 25% of the finished development and the finished development be at least 15% open space, the only publicly-owned golf properties subject to qualification under the program must meet the following limiting conditions: 1) The subject golf property must be deemed “underutilized;” 2) the subject golf property must be in a community that rises to a certain level of “population density;” and 3) the subject property must be in a community deemed “park poor,” albeit it is not entirely clear what Bloom meant by the “park poor” admonition. And per Wednesday’s discussion, all three limiting conditions or criteria are to be “objectively measured” in order to pass muster.


“Thank you Madam Chair and I apologize for being late and I apologize for walking in on the middle of this important discussion. But as I think Assembly Member Garcia has already mentioned she and I have been discussing this bill and I want to thank her for working with me and listening to my concerns. I expressed concerns about singling out golf courses, in fact I think I voiced those concerns at the last hearing on this issue, especially municipal golf courses that serve as important recreational areas for the public, something that I completely understand. But as I hope all of you know one of my great priorities and abiding priorities since I was elected in 2012, and I think one of the reasons I was sent to Sacramento was to work on the housing crisis and try to find ways which by necessity have to be creative ways to solving the housing crisis. So, I want to again thank the author for her willingness to narrow the bill based on three criteria that we’ve agreed on. But I want to point out we’ve agreed on a broad set of criteria we now need to agree on the metrics for those criteria, and that’s not going to be easy, but I’m committed to doing that in good faith and I know that the author is as well. The three criteria we’ve agreed upon are to one limit the consideration of golf courses to areas that exceed a certain population density – we have to determine what that density will be. We would also limit this to golf courses that are underutilized or underused and again that’s a term of art and we will have to determine what that means. And finally, we would limit it to areas that are considered park poor and exactly what that means again is something we need to work out. I do hope that we’ll be able to work these criteria out and the metrics along with them and I expect that we will hopefully be able to do that before the Suspense Hearing, and I appreciate your commitment that if we’re not able to work out those criteria that you will park the bill. If and when we do work out the criteria the amendments would be taken in the next committee – the amendments that we agree to, and the author is nodding. Again, I want to say that housing is a critical need in the state of California and my thinking on this is that if we have golf courses, there may be none, if we have golf courses that are being underutilized however we end up defining that, then perhaps there is a better and greater purpose that we can put that land to. It’s not that I want golf courses to be underutilized, but if they are then I think we should consider them for this use. The LA Times ran an editorial as you, for those of you who are interested in this issue probably know, encouraging us to think creatively about a creative bill. This is the author’s attempt to find a way to provide for more housing and to the extent that we can honor that direction and not have a significant impact on the golfing public that’s something I think we should do.”


What do “underutilized,” “population density,” and “park poor” mean in concrete terms? What are the metrics of each? How are they to be “objectively measured?” Those are the devils of these particular details – devils to be hashed out between now and the Appropriations Suspense hearing. Who or what will serve as the final arbiter of whether real meat can be put on the bones of these three vague admonitions? That’s not entirely clear. What is clear is that at least in terms of what might constitute an “underutilized” or “underperforming” publicly owned golf course, that is an area of specific subject matter expertise that is not likely to be found among the staffs of Assembly Member Bloom, Assembly Member Garcia, or the Assembly Local Government Committee.

And if these “questions” are not answered to the satisfaction of either Mr. Bloom or Assembly Appropriations in the compressed time frame available (May 27 is the deadline for bills to pass out of their houses of origin), what does that mean in terms of Ms. Garcia’s pledge on the Assembly record to “park” the bill for 2022?

The next 3 weeks promise to be as impactful as they are interesting. Stay tuned.


Article provided by Craig Kessler, SCGA

Monday, February 28, 2022

How clubs and organizations in particular can help in the 1st phase of the game’s allied effort to beat back this bill for a 3rd and final time.

As you know, Assembly Member Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) has refiled most of the contents of the AB 672 iteration that died in Appropriations in January. The title is the same; however, the author is calling it the following: “Incentivize Conversion: Accessible Open Space & Affordable Housing.” We’re still calling it what it is – The Public Golf Endangerment Act or depending on the audience sometimes “The Park and Open Space Endangerment Act.” The new number is 1910. To read it online click here. To read a PDF version of it click here.

AB 1910 is in its gestation period through March 14; that is, no action can be taken until then. But after March 14 the “action” promises to be fast and furious – the 1st phase of the “action” that is. That phase: Hearings before the two Assembly policy committees of reference (Housing & Community Development and Local Government).

Golf clubs can have an outsized impact upon that 1st phase by filing letters with those two committees. But in order to do so they must act quickly! That’s why SCGA has made it easy. Click here to access the simple form letter that SCGA has prepared for a club or organization to execute. Because the process for filing formal committee letters is a convoluted one, SCGA will handle the filing for clubs and organizations during this 1st important phase of the game’s allied effort to beat back this bill for the 3rd and what is likely the last time. E-mail signed, executed letters to SCGA Public Affairs will make sure your club’s letter gets to the committees in time to be impactful.

SCGA executed a soft opening to this 1st phase of the effort late last Thursday. The above information has appeared on the “Public Golf Endangerment Act” landing page at since then. Early this week (Monday or Tuesday) a harder opening in the form of this same information cum form letter will go out to the officers and directors of SCGA’s clubs in their monthly “Club Digest” e-publication.

The World Golf Foundation (WGF) has contacted the state’s First Tee Chapters to encourage them to participate in this 1st phase of the campaign by executing and returning policy committee letters to SCGA. The Golf Course Superintendents Association and California Golf Course Owners Association have sent out action alerts to their membership bases. California’s two PGA Sections will soon follow suit, as we anticipate will the state’s other leadership organizations. The National Golf Foundation (NGF) is close to completing a comprehensive redux of the California public golf market for filing with the two policy committees, which promises to be a total rebuke of the false information about “underutilized golf courses” that AB 1910 author Cristina Garcia has been spreading around the Capitol.

Over the weekend the NCGA tweeted out a blogpost that ran February 14 highlighting several PGA Tour Professionals giving testimonials regarding the role municipal golf played in their respective journeys – along with a lot of solid information to clubs and individual golfers as to how they might make their voices heard. Click here to view the NCGA blog.

It’s important to flood the two policy committees of reference (Housing and Community Development & Local Government) with as many organizational “oppose” letters as possible. Time is short. Both committees can schedule their hearings any time after March 14. They must pass the bill out of committee no later than April 29. We have no control over when they’re heard, nor will we have much advance warning. And we have little time to collect and file these letters, which is why this 1st phase of the game’s allied campaign is focusing so intently on executing and filing them. There will be time thereafter to gin up the generic “contact your legislator” protocol that SCGA (and others) promoted December 6 through the bill’s failure to pass Appropriations January 20. AB 1910 must again pass muster with Assembly Appropriations, and that has to happen before May 20 in order to move 1910 to an Assembly floor vote, and that’s exactly what every phase of the game’s allied strategy is focused on preventing, albeit even a successful floor vote presages the same gauntlet for AB 1910 in the Senate.

Now would be the time to get those club and organizational letters executed and returned to the SCGA ( for filing with the policy committees.

While clubs and organizations do their part, the California Alliance for Golf (CAG) will be doing its part by providing both policy committees with a very deep policy and legal dive into why AB 1910 is just bad public policy, something sure to cause great harm to the state’s park and open space stock while doing next to nothing to mitigate a housing shortage that ALL agree requires immediate redress. As we have said from day one of this saga, this is NOT about housing. It’s about singling out one and only one of California’s parks/open-green space activities for differential treatment. If it were about golf playing its part in a shared sacrifice scheme that might actually put some small dent in the state’s acute housing shortage, this would be a very different matter.


Article provided by Craig Kessler, SCGA

Thursday, February 10, 2022

As expected, at 9:00 PM Wednesday night Assembly Member Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) refiled most of the contents of the AB 672 iteration that died in Appropriations just a few weeks ago. The title is the same; however the author is calling it the following: “Incentivize Conversion: Accessible Open Space & Affordable Housing.” We’re still calling it what it is – The Public Golf Endangerment Act. The new number is 1910. To read it online click here. To read a PDF version of it click here.

The author’s title may be very different, but the guts are practically the same. The ONLY “accessible open space” targeted is golf. The Assembly Member’s Tweet on the subject makes that clear. A very large golf ball appears prominently; not open space or housing – a golf ball and little else, a popular name brand no less.

Ms. Garcia’s first two swings at golf’s stake in the parks/recreation/open space/public amenity community were whiffs. Strike one: The February 2021 version failed to make it to Committee. Strike two: The January 2022 revision that the Member tried to rush through as a 2-year bill failed to pass muster at Assembly Appropriations.

AB 1910 is the Member’s 3rd swing at golf. Given that Ms. Garcia has announced her intention to leave the Assembly at the end of 2022 to pursue California’s 42nd Congressional District seat, this will be her final swing. Of course, any other member of either the Assembly or Senate is free to pick up where she left off in 2023 with a new version of the same old swing – something that cannot be controlled but can be mitigated to the degree to which this 3rd swing is another whiff.

Unlike the process the game successfully navigated in January, the AB 1910 process will be the normal order for 1-year bills:

  • 30 day posting period during which no action can be taken on the bill;
  • Housing & Community Development Committee hearing;
  • Local Government Committee hearing;
  • Appropriations Committee hearing (May);
  • Floor vote;
  • Assuming the bill passes through all of the above, over to the Senate, where it will undergo a similarly dilatory process;
  • Assuming the bill passes through the same hoops in the Senate, over to the Governor for signature or veto.

“Dilatory” doesn’t mean that the California golf community has the luxury of time; quite the opposite. Golf merely has enough time to accomplish more than it was able to accomplish under the rushed 2-year process it navigated in January. Everything above takes time; that’s just the way these things go. And the clock has started to run.

Outreach is well underway. The California Alliance for Golf (CAG) contemplates next steps first thing tomorrow (Friday) morning. Rank and file golfers and SCGA members will certainly be soon engaged in the way they were during the bill’s 2nd at-bat. Indeed, they were largely responsible for the whiff!

Here’s a thought. Shouldn’t the “Public Golf Endangerment Act” really be called the “Public Park and Open Space Endangerment Act?” Once incentives are offered to carve up one kind of public park, won’t there be a run on carving up other kinds of parks – one step at a time until there’s precious little green space left? Environmental organizations call what Ms. Garcia is doing here “piecemealing” – the toleration of small insults that in and of themselves don’t rise to the level of environmental harm, but when taken together amount to a level of harm not to be tolerated under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In this case the harm is to parks, open space, and green space.

We have made the following point ad nauseum. But some things bear constant repetition. Public parkland golf courses (municipal) are 22.3% of California’s golf stock; however, for reasons we have outlined in detail many times over the last year, the line from this bill is a straight one to the state’s daily fee and private club facilities. In both cases, it’s all about the land all the three species of course sit atop, and golf’s continuing legitimacy to employ that land as it has for more than a century.

Municipal Golf Courses in California are Under Attack

AB 672 (Public Golf Endangerment Act) provides $50 million in developer subsidies to redevelop California’s municipal golf courses into housing complexes. That’s 22% of the state’s golf stock that hosts upwards of 45% of the state’s golf play and roughly 90% of the game’s growth and diversity programs. It singles golf and only golf out for dismemberment; no other park, open space or land preservation use is similarly jeopardized, guaranteeing that golf and only golf will be sacrificed up for redevelopment. Your opinion is the one that counts most with the legislators who will determine whether golf will be sacrificed up or treated the same as every other park and recreation activity in California. Let them know what you think; act today!

More Information

Q&A with Jeff Jensen, GCSAA Southwestern Field Representative

What attracted to working with the GCSAA?

I started working in the golf industry in 1994 with Golf Enterprises and then proceeded to work for American Golf, KSL, Black Mountain Golf & Country Club and OB Sports before leaving the golf business for 6 years to run the day-to-day operations of a marketing and public relations firm. 

When GCSAA advertised the position, they were looking for someone with golf experience and public policy experience, so the fit was pretty natural, and I was looking to get back into the golf industry. Having some familiarity with GCSAA was a big factor and CEO Rhett Evans had a mission and vision that I truly believed in, so I went through a lengthy process and was hired for the position five months after I applied.    

How long have you been with the GCSAA, and what is your role and primary responsibilities?

I have been with the GCSAA for nearly 10 years and my primary role is to serve as a liaison between the 10 GCSAA affiliated chapters in the Southwest Region and our corporate headquarters.  My responsibilities include working with our chapter executives and boards to assist them in the operation of their chapters, provide government advocacy and public policy services, work with allied golf associations to address challenges and grow the game, provide education via speaking engagements and to assist members with various aspects of their membership experience. 

In addition to California, you serve three other states. How many golf and sports turf facilities are located within the SW Region?

There are approximately 1,350 courses located in the GCSAA Southwest Region encompassing Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada.  There are 10 chapters in the region. 

What is a typical day for you?

The best thing about the position is there is no typical day.In a normal year, I spend approximately 110-120 days/nights on the road attending chapter functions, board meetings, allied golf events, speaking engagements, golf tournaments as well as site visits to golf courses.In between the travel, I spend a lot of my time working on issues related to government advocacy, addressing member issues, promoting GCSAA products and initiatives and working with all of our great partners throughout the Southwest.And of course, a lot of meetings!!

As part of your work assignment, besides CAG what other organizations do you work/collaborate with on a regular basis?

The Arizona Golf Alliance, Nevada Golf Alliance, Coachella Valley Golf Industry Water Task Force, Cactus and Pine GCSA Water Task Force, California Turfgrass and Landscape Foundation, California Golf Course Owners Association, various PGA chapters, numerous state, regional and local government entities and state legislatures.  I am probably most closely associated with the Southern California Golf Association and their Government Affairs team of Craig Kessler and Kevin Fitzgerald.  Our two organizations are joined at the hip in regard to fighting many of golf’s battles throughout California. 

What do you view as the greatest challenge/s facing the golf and turf maintenance industry?

From an overall perspective, I think perception is a huge challenge facing the golf industry moving forward.  We have long been seen as a white, old, rich, elitist game and it has been exacerbated in today’s political climate.  It is a message that needs to be taken seriously and addressed properly. 

From a maintenance perspective, water and labor are the two greatest challenges in my opinion.  Water sources in the western United States are overallocated and we are facing longer periods of drought than in the past.  Less supply and rising costs are a bad combination, and as an industry, we need to look into partnerships and efforts that reduce potable water use.

Labor will continue to be an issue moving forward as it is in most industries.  Golf is facing challenges with not only finding hourly help, but finding the next generation of qualified superintendents, assistants, and equipment managers.  Facilities will need to pay more competitive wages, provide better benefits and provide a better work/life balance for their employees.  One of GCSAA’s main functions will be recruitment to the turfgrass industry as well as diversity in the workplace.  Additionally, we are going to have to look at some non-traditional pathways to becoming an assistant or a superintendent.     

The GCSAA is committed to sustainability, what is it doing to reduce, reuse and recycle?

As of Dec. 31, 2020, each of the 50 states now has established state specific Best Management Practices (BMPs) featuring agronomic practices that support environmental stewardship. This program launched in 2017 and took nearly four years to complete.The BMPs are a blueprint for managing a golf facility in a sustainable manner and cover key areas such as water management, integrated pest management, energy, cultural practices, maintenance operations and pollinator protection. A PDF of the California golf industries BMP is available at

The next step in the BMP process is to have individual facilities adopt their state specific BMP guide and edit it to fit the needs of their facility. The guide is free of charge for golf course facilities and the goal in California is to have over 300 facilities adopt the guide.

The guide will play an integral part in showcasing golf’s commitment to environmental sustainability and will be a tool that we can use to communicate with golfers, media, and our regulators and lawmakers. 

Legislative Update

Article Provided by Craig Kessler, SCGA

We have reached the point in the 2021 legislative calendar where bills have to have passed their house of origin in order to remain active.  That means they have to have passed muster with whatever committee or committees to which they were referred and passed on a full floor vote.  Those bills that successfully traverse the same process in the other house by September 10 are then sent forward to the Governor for signature or veto.  Upon signature, bills become law, most on January 1 of the following year, a few immediately through an emergency process containing stricter thresholds. 

The California golf community “watched” a lot of bills but dealt directly with only two this year – AB 672 (Garcia; D-Bell Gardens) and AB 1346 (Berman; D-Menlo Park and Gonzalez; D-San Diego).  Here’s how they stand in the process.


To be more specific, AB 672 never got placed on the agenda of either of the Assembly Committees to which it was referred.  Since today was the deadline for bills to pass through committee and advance in the 2021 session, that means that no further action can be taken on AB 672 the remainder of 2021, although many of its particulars are amenable to incorporation into one of the many housing bills very much alive this session.  However, the bill’s author (Garcia; D-Bell Gardens) has made clear her intention to resurrect it in January 2022.  AB 672 is on mere hiatus, not dead, albeit failure to get heard in committee is never an encouraging sign for a bill author.    

AB 672 was the very definition of legislative overreach.  Its failure to gain traction this year was in part due to that but in larger part due to the reaction the bill engendered from so many of the state’s individual golfers who took the time to write, call and E-mail their legislators.  Formal opposition from SCGA, NCGA, CAG, PGA Sections, GCSAA Sections, First Tee Chapters, and myriad other golf organizations mattered to be sure.  But nothing ever matters more than real live constituents who take the time to contact their elected leaders.  Those who did take the time should take satisfaction that their efforts mattered.  Those who didn’t should be grateful to those who did and perhaps consider joining them when this bill goes live again in 8 months.

For those whose memories require refreshing, AB 672 proposed to facilitate the development of California’s municipal golf courses (22% of the total courses in the state) as “affordable” housing tracts by:

  • Removing them from the protections of the Public Park Preservation Act (Public Resources Code Section 5400-5409).
  • Providing certain exemptions to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
  • Mandating a one-size-fits-all zoning element.
  • Singling golf as the ONLY open space/recreational activity for which these exemptions and facilitations apply, literally targeting them for development to the exclusion of all other open space/recreational activities.

The percentage of California golf courses that are municipally owned may only be 22%, but roughly 45% of golf play every day is on that 22%, and roughly 90% of golf’s myriad junior/family/developmental programs takes place on that 22%.  The municipal sector has served as the growth and sustenance engine of the game for more than 100 years – its base as it were.  The base fails, and the rest shrinks over time. 

The bill may have taken direct aim at California’s publicly owned golf courses (22% of the total), but its passage would have put golf’s blood in the water in such a way as to jeopardize the position of golf’s private sector clubs as well.  Just as the Public Park Preservation Act is the public game’s backstop against residential/commercial development, ARTICLE XIII, Section 10 of California’s Constitution establishing “open space” as the property tax basis for private golf clubs is the private sector’s backstop against residential/commercial development.

The Public Park Preservation Act is not just parkland golf’s backstop against commercial development; it is every parkland amenity’s bulwark against development.  Golf is just the canary more deeply positioned in this proverbial coal mine.  Soccer, baseball, bike paths, hiking trails, swimming pools, equestrian centers, nature centers, tennis courts, pickleball, and land trusts/conservancies are very much in the mine with us whether they all know it or not.  Their park departments know it.  Some of them are coming to know it.  Golf cannot tolerate being separated from this much greater recreational community, and this much greater recreational community has a powerful interest in keeping us in the fold.

AB 672 may be an overreach thrown into a legislative hopper stuffed to the gills with well-conceived and artfully crafted competitors in the housing space, and as a result a non-starter in 2021.  But today’s Codes are full of bills that started out just as clumsily but got refined over time into laws capable of eliciting widespread support.  As important or arguably more important than the grisly details of AB 672 is the thinking behind it – thinking that posits the notion that golf is no longer a legitimate component of urban parkland systems – a disfavored activity replete with its own legislative finding of such. 

That thinking isn’t going away any time soon.  As long as that remains the case, golf can expect the animus underlying AB 672’s predicate to come back in the form of other bills, other regulations, and other policies, some of which may be artfully and narrowly crafted.  If golf uses AB 672’s temporary demise as the breathing space necessary to replenish its resolve and restock its arsenal of advocacy tools, it will have learned the right lesson.  If golf luxuriates in some kind of “victory dance,” it will have learned the wrong lesson.

When we termed AB 672 the most consequential bill re golf to be filed in a generation, we weren’t exercising our capacities for exaggeration; we were dead serious.  And we hope the allied California golf community remains dead serious too. 

AB 1346 Passes Assembly

AB 1346 (Berman; D-Menlo Park and Gonzalez; D-San Diego), a bill that would require all new small off-road engines (SORE) sold in the marketplace to be zero-emission by 2024 or whenever the California Air Resources Board (CARB) determines is feasible, has made it through the Assembly committee/floor process successfully and moved forward to the Senate, where the golf community anticipates it will also find success before being sent forward to Governor Newsom, who is highly likely to sign it into law. 

Gas powered SORE equipment is of direct interest to the golf industry because the SORE category includes products such as lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and other tools the golf industry routinely uses to maintain golf courses.   Battery powered equivalents are simply not commercially available at this time if one defines “equivalents” as machinery fit for intended use.  The California golf industry has a long history of substituting electric powered equipment for gas powered equipment as battery powered technologies capable of performing to industry standards/needs become commercially available.  And incurring healthy costs to do so.    

The California Alliance for Golf (CAG) has taken a position on the bill almost identical to the following comments drawn from the Legislative Analyst’s formal comments on the subject:

Within lawn and garden equipment, there is wide variation in the availability and utility of zero-emission equipment depending on the use. For residential uses, rechargeable electric lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and string trimmers have been available for years and have significant market share. For commercial uses, there is very little market for zero-emission equipment as today’s technology is relatively expensive and requires multiple batteries and/or frequent recharging and replacement.

In other applications, such as pumps, generators, and chainsaws, current zero-emission SORE technology may be inadequate even if money is no object, particularly when used in rural areas without convenient access to recharging.

Banning sales of new combustion engines under 25 horsepower could have a few unintended consequences. As long as there are no statewide registration requirements or use restrictions for SORE equipment, banning new engines may lead to prolonged use of older, dirtier engines, increased manufacture, and sale of engines over 25 horsepower, and purchase of non-compliant engines out of state for use in California.

Much of the discussion that suffused consideration of the bill vote focused on these feasibility issues.  This gives us optimism that when all is said and done re AB 1346, the legislature will direct CARB to adopt a Rule that doesn’t put consumers of this equipment in the position of having to choose between neglecting their golf course or being non-compliant with a CARB regulation.  In other words, adopt a Rule that coordinates the phase-out of one technology with the commercial availability of a viable alternative. 

Members of CAG’s Legislative Committee did meet with Assembly Member Berman’s Office to emphasize the importance of keeping language in the bill directing CARB to proceed with a rule-making process that is sufficiently flexible to incorporate feasibility and cost into any final rule cutting off the sale of equipment prior to its commercial availability.  That Office concurred.  That language is in the bill as it moves to the Senate for consideration.  CAG and GCSAA have already submitted comments along that line to CARB, which the industry believes was well received.  Both will continue to do their best to ensure that this language makes it all the way to the Gubernatorial finish line in September.

Note:  The envisaged Rule sets a date certain when the sale of SORE equipment is no longer permitted; it does not proscribe its use past that date.

Kessler is California’s Clean-up Hitter of Government Affairs

By John Reitman
June 18

Craig Kessler has established a career advocating for public golf courses in Southern California. Photo of Rancho Park Golf Course by City of Los Angeles Golf.

When it comes to defending Southern California’s golf industry, no one carries a bigger stick than Craig Kessler.

A former attorney, Kessler has spent the past 11 years as the director of government affairs for the Southern California Golf Association and before that he was the executive director of the Public Links Golf Association of Southern California. That background adds up to many years of experience working on labor issues and public affairs, including nearly a quarter century of government relations and advocacy on behalf of golf. A skilled player who loves the game, Kessler is especially passionate about defending the merits of municipal golf.

Passion for the game is one thing, helping save it from politicians and those who view golf courses as apartment complexes in waiting is another. It takes a special kind of person not just to go into battle every day to protect the game you love, but to have the necessary tools and the skills to wield them is another matter entirely.

“Some people are like a fish out of water. They’re not comfortable in that realm,” Kessler said. “I’m comfortable in that role as a strategist and all the skills that go into advocacy.

“Years ago, if you would have told me that I would be working in the golf industry, I would have laughed you out of the room.”

The SCGA and PLGA merged in 2010. At that time, SCGA executive director Kevin Heaney stayed on in his position and Kessler, who already had considerable experience working with the media and elected officials, took over the role of director of government affairs. Today, he advocates on behalf of the SCGA’s 160,000 members and golfers throughout California.

“What people don’t see is what he does behind the scenes,” said Jim Ferrin, a former superintendent in Roseville, who worked closely with Kessler on California Alliance for Golf issues. “His work is essential to the California golf industry, and he is one of the best at what he does.”

Kessler’s background includes experience as a USGA committeeman, chairman of the Los Angeles Golf Advisory Commission, member of the Ventura Golf Advisory Group, member of the Los Angeles County Junior Golf Foundation Board of Directors and the First Tee of Los Angeles advisory committee.

Through the years, he has worked closely and regularly with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, one of the country’s largest utility providers, on establishing water use 

When California was in the throes of one of the worst droughts in the state’s history, which eventually resulted in state-mandated water-use restrictions, golf courses around the state came under heavy fire. No other place in California has a love-hate relationship with golf quite like the Coachella Valley. With about 120 golf courses, the Coachella Valley relies on golf for its very economic livelihood, if not its very existence. But not all residents see it that way. 

 The most challenging things I have worked on have been attacks on the very legitimacy of municipal golf. In the state’s highly populated urban areas, land is precious. Cities are park-poor, and the interests competing for land are incredible. There is a serious housing shortage here, and many people have nowhere to go, so when people drive past a golf course in an area where there is a need for affordable housing they see a solution.

The golf courses of the valley were squarely in the crosshairs of the local media and residents, And those golf courses were painted as water use abusers by many of the nearly 400,000 people who chose to live in a desert.

Kessler played a key role in working with the Coachella Valley Water District, members of the local golf community and others to form the Coachella Valley Golf and Water Task Force that developed smart water use protocols for golf courses and established the cash for grass rebate program that paid golf properties for converting irrigated turf into non-irrigated.

Mike Huck, a Southern California-based irrigation consultant as well as a former superintendent and USGA Green Section agronomist, was part of that group that helped found the task force in the Coachella Valley.

“Craig is the clearinghouse of everything in California on how to work with these water districts and how to develop plans for your golf course,” Huck said. 

“I don’t know if there is another association doing what the SCGA has going on with government affairs.”

For all of his accomplishments, Kessler has a special affinity for protecting municipal golf. Taking up for public golf also has been among some of his most challenging work. He has been a vocal detractor of AB 672, proposed legislation in California that targets municipal golf courses as potential sites for low-income housing units and open space. The bill died in committee in April, but probably will be introduced again in 2022, Kessler said.

“The most challenging things I have worked on have been attacks on the very legitimacy of municipal golf,” Kessler said. “In the state’s highly populated urban areas, land is precious. Cities are park-poor, and the interests competing for land are incredible. There is a serious housing shortage here, and many people have nowhere to go, so when people drive past a golf course in an area where there is a need for affordable housing they see a solution.

“If you ask people in this business how they got started, most would say they started in municipal golf. Now, it has reversed course. Even if a golf course is successful, people don’t care about that million dollars. They want another use for that land, and golf isn’t it.”

Those challenges of advocating for public golf have done little to dampen Kessler’s enthusiasm for helping to save the game he loves.

“When it comes to government affairs, Craig Kessler wields a pretty big sword,” Ferrin said. “So, when he talks, people better damn well listen.”

1.3 : 1 or it’s tough to grow a game without places to grow it

Article provided by Craig Kesser, SCGA

One and one-third human beings is what a maxed-out golf course puts on one acre of open space under current COVID restrictions, a 1.3 to 1 ratio that has been the game’s ticket to spectacular success during the pandemic.  It’s the unshakable fact about the game that persuaded public policy makers that golf is among the safest forms of outdoor recreation; indeed, the safest when one considers that unlike other outdoor recreational activities, the business model of golf involves strict control over ingress and egress. 

To be 100% accurate, golf doesn’t place 1.3 persons all by themselves on that 1 acre.  Four persons share a hole, which does put them in proximity on tees and greens, but if there is an easier place to guarantee 6 feet of separation than a tee or a green, we’d like to know. 

For all of these reasons golf never ceased play in some of California’s counties, most notable among them Sacramento County, and where it did cease, it was interrupted for no more than 4-7 weeks, and less out of concern for safety than politics.

Everyone knows the numbers.  Golf is up 30% across the nation.  With less competition from other activities and a fresh reminder to those who forgot the intrinsic virtues of a good walk enhanced, the game’s biggest problem at the moment is where to put all the persons who want to play. 

Nice problem if you can get it says the industry!  The NGF and others are downright giddy at the game’s sudden reversal of fortune, and all talk is about how to keep as much of the unmerited bounty as the industry can once things get back to some semblance of normality. 

But in what can only qualify as the very definition of irony, the 1.3 to 1 ratio that is the driving force behind all this giddiness is the very force behind what is the game’s biggest challenge.  One and one-third persons per acre may be ideally suited to life in a pandemic, but from the vantage of those concerned with affordable housing, homelessness, park poor neighborhoods, open space, soccer fields, little league diamonds, nature preserves and other acute needs in the state’s urban/suburban areas, one and one-third persons per acre of limited publicly owned space is too much space dedicated to too few persons.  And when the “persons” are often mischaracterized as “elite” and/or “rich” the public space is seen as being reserved for a subset of a subset. 

Up until now the challenges to municipal golf courses have come from the myriad constituencies interested in repurposing them for other recreational purposes.  Golf’s ace in that particular hole has been its financial superiority.  While all other recreational uses hemorrhage money, golf, at least in the urban areas where these challenges are most acute, either recovers costs of operation or generates revenues over and above those costs.  And then there are the substantial sums it takes to convert a golf course to another use; policy makers don’t really understand those enormous costs until they have a reason to know them.

Why “up until now?”  The simple answer is the filing of AB 672 last week (Garcia; D-Bell Gardens).  It’s a placeholder bill in the sense that it begs certain actions in order to achieve its aims, which are outlined at the top of this story but bear repeating again:  

It is the intent of the Legislature to enact subsequent legislation that would enable the use of underutilized golf courses for open space and affordable housing.”       

The “open space” provision is a red herring – a sop really to distract attention from the aim of the bill.  California’s Surplus Land and Park Preservation Acts already permit the conversion of municipal golf courses to open space uses; indeed, all public recreational uses.  “Subsequent legislation” in the form of municipal golf courses being made an exception to the Park Preservation Act is the aim of this bill, a form of which was introduced two years ago before being pulled back upon the receipt of initial opposition from legislative committee staffers. 

The author, whose District encompasses a large number of municipally owned golf properties, obviously finds today’s political climate more favorable for the conversions made possible by her bill.  Given COVID, skyrocketing homelessness, and spiking housing costs, that seems a plausible conclusion.  Whether the climate is sufficiently hospitable to put something like this over the top and into law and/or whether the opposition remains sufficiently strong to again nix the notion; these are matters that remain to be seen.  Golf certainly has a strong interest in nixing the notion, as well may many of the state’s major municipal golf stakeholders.     

Win or lose re AB 672, the predicate underlying the bill is the 1.3 to 1 ratio.  More specifically, it’s the fact that while a maxed-out golf course may strike golfers as a phenomenon about which to be giddy, it strikes Assembly Member Cristina Garcia and myriad others as the very definition of underutilization.  We’ll bet anything that most of you who read Section 1 of AB 672 concluded that “underutilized” connoted a financially underperforming golf course, not one performing at maximum capacity.  Think again and then consider the implications to the degree to which the thinking suffusing the bill and its backers represents the thinking of a majority of the population.

The immediate danger posed by AB 672 would not be to the municipal golf properties in the tonier areas.  Those neighborhoods tend to defend the virtues of the green space a local public golf course provides.  It’s the neighborhoods that have been categorized as “park poor,” where affordable housing is an acute concern, that’s where AB 672 would cause grief.  And these are the facilities where virtually all of the game’s hopes for broadening and diversifying its base are invested.  Strike that – where the game’s needs are invested if it hopes to remain relevant and growing as demographics change.

But the greater danger to the game, as if the above were not enough, is the much longer term danger posed by the verdict implicit in a successful AB 672 that dedicating 100 plus acres of green space to a golf course represents an underutilization of public space.  It is a straight line from that verdict to parallel challenges in the private sphere.  Not in the sense of expropriating privately held property; there are the small matters of the 5th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution among other legal protections to guard against that.  But to the degree to which these “Updates” in 2020 sought to educate Southern California’s private clubs about the protections regarding the property tax assessment valuation criteria enshrined in ARTICLE XIII, Section 10 of the California Constitution, we trust you understand that while the body politic cannot expropriate, it can levy high taxes for the privileges associated with encumbering large tracts of property.  Just as laws can be amended, so can Constitutional provisions, albeit the latter are much more difficult to execute.   

Lest you think this is a phenomenon limited to financially challenged neighborhoods, please be aware that the City of Arcadia is openly considering how the sale of that city’s longstanding 3-par cum driving range complex could solve much of the city’s pension debt crisis, a “crisis” we might add faced by virtually all of California’s cities and counties to one degree or another:

Arcadia is one of Southern California’s most affluent cities – million-dollar homes, a massive retail mall, plenty of hotels, and a major racetrack among other taxable features.  It is hardly a den of anti-golf animus.  Indeed, Arcadia’s Mayor was practically teary eyed at having to consider the sale of a facility that has brought so much joy to him and his family.  But consider it he must, according to his understanding of the fiduciary duties he assumed upon becoming Mayor.

Arcadia, Pasadena, La Verne, Garden Grove, Carson, Ventura, Fountain Valley, Palm Springs, San Rafael, Santa Rosa, Ukiah, Pico Rivera – just a few of the places where such discussions have been ongoing.  The game has been able to marshal its woefully meager advocacy resources to deal effectively with many of them – sometimes with great results, sometimes with limited results.  But they are coming faster and faster, and they may well start coming very soon without benefit of protections from the Surplus Land Act and Park Preservation Act. 

Old arrangements, old arguments, and old strategies are not going to suffice to calm this storm.  Golf gets its collective act together or it faces the loss of the very facilities it needs to sustain itself over time.  It’s tough to grow a game without places to grow it.

Join Us

Join CAG today and help us establish a strong and dynamic presence in Sacramento so we can participate in regulatory processes affecting the Golf Industry. [READ MORE.]