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!

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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.

California Alliance for Golf Board Member Richard Harris and Bo Links—a Stellar Team in Support of Public Golf

 CAG Board Member Richard Harris is co-founder, with his fellow-San Francisco attorney Robert D. “Bo” Links, of the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance.  Since 2007 that non-profit organization has made exceptional contributions to the game of golf by its all-volunteer grassroots advocacy on behalf of the City’s municipal golf courses, including scenic Lincoln Park and the Alister MacKenzie-designed Sharp Park, the charming seaside links located in the San Francisco suburb of Pacifica.

Links and Harris have deep roots in California golf.  Harris is a member at Gleneagles GC, Sharp Park GC, and Stanford GC. He was a caddy at Stanford in the 1950’s, and later captained the Stanford Varsity Golf Team in 1968. After graduation, Harris served in the U.S. Army, 82nd Airborne Division and 25th Infantry Division, South Vietnam (1969-1971). He graduated from Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley in 1977 and has practiced law in San Francisco ever since. He was instrumental in the “Save Stanford Golf Course” campaign in 2000, and founded the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance with Links in 2007. 

According to Harris, the Alliance is dedicated to educating and galvanizing public support for the benefits of municipal golf. “The fight to preserve Sharp Park and our other historic courses is an ongoing effort,” he says.  “Golfers and the golf industry must continue to be vigorously engaged within the public arena, to help preserve golf’s role as a safe and valued place where the broad public can meet, recreate, and enjoy nature together.” 

Bo Links is a San Francisco native and graduate of its Washington High, where he played on the golf team at nearby Lincoln Park.  He then graduated from UC Berkeley and UCLA Law School.  After taking his first case out of law school to a victory in the United States Supreme Court, Links has practiced law in San Francisco since 1974. Links is also an avid golfer and a dedicated golf historian. He has written three golf books, Follow the Wind and Riverbank Tweed & Roadmap, Jenkins: Tales from the Caddie Yard, and Golf Poems: The Greatest Game in Rhythm and Rhyme. Over the years he has served on the USGA Section Committee and also volunteered as a historian for the S.F. City’s golf courses. He was active in the major project to renovate and restore Harding Park GC. Links has been honored by the Alister MacKenzie Society which has twice awarded him first prize in the international Lido Design Contest.

Links’ greatest golf endeavor is his leadership role in co-founding the SFPGA, and always with immense talent, energy and focus on saving Sharp Park. Links and Harris continue to help secure funding for the environmentally sensitive restoration of the cherished MacKenzie-designed course. Both gentlemen continue to keep others informed about the issues surrounding SPGC, evidenced by their presentations to allied golf associations.

Due to the pandemic in 2020, the annual Alister MacKenzie Fundraising Tournament had to be cancelled which was unfortunate as the tournament has always been quite popular and served as the primary event to raise much needed funds to help protect and restore SPGC. In its place, last year the Friends of Sharp Park created a new, virtual year-end fundraiser which was also highly successful.

The national golf media – including Golf Digest, Golfweek, and Golf Advisor – have on several occasions, recognized Sharp Park as one of America’s outstanding municipal courses, and at the top of national “most worthy of restoration” lists.  While Covid-19 has put immense stress on government funding, the good news is, golf in 2020-2021 has experienced a significant uptick in rounds due to the sport’s naturally built-in social distancing factor, positioning it as a healthy recreational activity.  Since Sharp Park re-opened for play in May 2020, its rounds (May through December) surpassed play at all other SF municipal courses. 

In recent years, several projects have emerged at Sharp Park, including tree work to reopen historic seaside vistas, a hole naming and signage project, and the beginning of a campaign to restore the greens to their original Opening Day size (they are huge!), shape, and contours, consistent with a 1931 construction map which Links and Harris found in the basement of the SF Rec & Park Department.   

Sharp Park supporters designed a historic photographic display for the Clubhouse entryway walls which will be installed once the Clubhouse reopens. According to Harris, a leading hydrology consultant has been retained to help develop a drainage plan and the folks at Hart-Howerton kindly donated their design services on the recently-opened Sharp Park sea wall Coastal Trail improvement and beach access project.

Much remains to be done for municipal golf and Sharp Park in 2021, and you can count on Harris, Links, and the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance to be involved and get it done!

To learn more about the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance, visit:


by Dec 15, 2020 | Kate Hiebert

Golf coalition’s advocacy work making an impact in California

Lawrence, Kan. (Dec. 15, 2020) – California Alliance for Golf (CAG) has earned the 2020 Excellence in Government Affairs Award from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) for their productive and ongoing efforts in advocating for the golf course management profession. GCSAA annually recognizes a chapter, coalition or superintendent for outstanding advocacy or compliance efforts in government affairs.

CAG is a non-profit corporation that serves as a unified voice for its members in front of various legislative and regulatory bodies that affect their common interests in the game and industry of golf. The Alliance was formed initially to deal almost exclusively with water issues, then grew to include more environmental issues. CAG is involved with legislative and regulatory issues at local, regional and national levels of government.

The Alliance is governed by a board that includes the state’s amateur golf associations, PGA sections, GCSAA chapters, California NGCOA chapter and others within the California golf industry. The Alliance is further supported by a legislative committee that elicits the participation of additional leaders in the California golf community.

In the previous decade, CAG collaborated with California’s Department of Water Resources to create a golf separate chapter of the state’s Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance. CAG developed a protocol with the state’s largest water provider, Los Angeles Water & Power, for allowing golf courses to maintain absolute control of their irrigation regimens during various stages of drought, and they retained a lobbying firm to give the golf community ongoing presence in the capitol and quick access to legislators. CAG has helped reduce the industry’s water footprint and greatly contributed to a more positive perception of the game of golf.

In the 2019-2020 session, CAG has developed a provision of substantial relief in the legislature’s codification of new law for independent contracting for PGA golf professionals desiring to

continue working as independent contractors instead of employees. CAG also developed comprehensive white paper regarding the impact of envisioned changes to the state’s property tax structure to four varieties of golf course property. It will provide them with the accurate and unbiased information conducive of making informed choices.

“The allied associations that make up the California Alliance for Golf have worked together for years to combine their separate interests and constituencies into a coherent whole, capable of representing the statewide golf industry with one voice, with one message and one mission, all focused on what’s best for the game, industry, and especially those like golf superintendents who labor in it,” said Jim Ferrin, CGCS, vice president of CAG.

In addition, CAG played a significant role during the COVID-19 pandemic in restoring golf activities to California residents during the early stages of easing restrictions. They worked statewide and with individual counties to make the case for golf to be the first outdoor activity reinstated and sustained. A unison effort between various counties and CAG resulted in the development of county-specific Back2Golf protocols capable of meeting political muster in their locales. CAG lobbied for updates and amendments to the original health orders that restored the game as circumstances changed and permitted.

“GCSAA is fortunate to the California Alliance for Golf advocating at all levels of government for the game, which helps golf course managers use best practices,” said Rhett Evans, GCSAA chief executive officer. “Their advocacy efforts advance the game and help bring golf to the front of legislative priorities. I thank them for their positive impact on the game and congratulate them on this well-deserved honor.”

CAG will be formally recognized Feb. 2 at the 2020 virtual Golf Industry Show. They will also be featured in an upcoming issue of GCSAA’s official monthly publication, Golf Course Management magazine.

“Together we have advanced the cause in what are probably the roughest political waters in the nation. We are honored by GCSAA’s recognition,” said Ferrin.

Nominees for the EGA Award were judged by the GCSAA Government Affairs Committee based on how their efforts best serve the interests of the golf course superintendent profession and the golf course management industry.

Click here for GCSAA article.

Golf Returns to California’s 58 Counties

Craig Kessler, Director of Government Affairs, SCGA asks a question of a fellow speaker as seen at the 2016 USGA Pace and Innovation Symposium at Brookside Golf Club in Pasadena, Calif., on Wednesday, January 20, 2016. (Copyright USGA/Mariah Tauger)

Article Provided by Craig Kessler, SCGA

May 12th, 2020 – The weekend just past was the 1st one in many weeks in which golf was played in all 58 of California’s counties.  Unlike the “recreational” golf that was played in the days immediately following the Governor’s statewide “stay at home” order, the golf played this last weekend in Southern California’s counties was for the most part an orderly display of strict social distancing and common touch point control.

There is nothing like a 6-week hiatus to discipline the starved golfer!  The trick is going to be maintaining that level of discipline in the coming weeks.  Or as the Los Angeles Times opined in a Friday Editorial about the opening of trails and golf courses – “reader, don’t screw it up.”

Last to be eliminated; first to come back.  That was the strategy; that was the result.  And it was a “result” premised entirely on the game’s ability to convince public policy makers and an often skeptical public that the central component of golf is entirely recreational, amenable to a level of social distancing and common touch point control second to none among outdoor recreational activities.  We forget that at our own peril.  Overreach, and what was granted can be rescinded.

There are business components to golf to be sure, and they will return when their parallels in the marketplace are reintroduced during the next five phases of Governor Newsom’s reopening paradigm.  Not one day sooner; not one day later.

In the meantime, there are a few rough edges to some of counties’ protocols to be cleaned up.  We are working on those and remain optimistic on both counts.  No doubt there are other “rough edges,” and if past is prologue, many of you will bring those to our attention in short order.

The pattern in every county has thus far been to gradually loosen restrictions as Public Health Officers gain confidence in their golf communities’ capacities to hew to the letter and spirit of their social distancing admonitions.  That happens sooner than later in direct proportion to golfers’ behavior.  So, please “do your part, play safe” to cite a familiar phrase (

The “recreational” game may be back.  The “business” component will follow in due time.  But the across-the-board economic devastation caused by the hard economic stop will linger for a long time.  How long is anybody’s guess.  How deep is anybody’s guess.  But as the federal government heaps many trillions upon current debt and deficit loads, California’s Legislative Analyst predicts $20 billion + deficits through 2024, unemployment hits 14.7% on its way to a much higher number next month, and certain businesses are not likely to be fully functional until sometime in 2021. Golf, no matter how lucky it has been in being among the first activities reintroduced, will not escape unscathed.

But before pivoting to the challenges of the next five phases of the state’s return to normality, which is likely to be a very new normal, there are a few details of Phase 1 to wrap up.


Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)

The Small Business Association’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is more grant program than loan program.  It is aimed at companies with 500 or fewer employees for the primary purpose of enabling those companies to retain payrolls during closures by literally turning loans into grants so long as the companies spend roughly 75% of the “loan” on keeping employees employed for the 8-week period of the envisaged closure.  While 501(c)(3) and (c)(19) nonprofits are eligible, other (c) Chapter Corporations are not.  Since (c)(6)’s are the classification of most of the nation’s amateur golf associations and PGA Sections, and (c)(7)’s are the classification of most of the nation’s private golf clubs, the industry’s national organizations have continued to lobby for their inclusion in amended versions of the Program; thus far without success, although momentum for accommodating certain kinds of (c)(6)’s has been growing.

The nation exhausted the first $349 billion Congress appropriated for PPP.  When Congress added another $310 billion to it April 27, most expected the well to quickly run dry again.  However, as of Friday, 40% of those monies remain in the PPP coffers.  There are many reasons.  Due to what some, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, have called a “loophole” in the PPP legislation, many large corporations have been “shamed” into returning their “loan/grants.”  In addition, many small firms, particularly restaurants, are burdened more by expenses other than payroll and thus cannot qualify for forgiveness.  They have shied away from the program.  Bottom line:  There are grants to be had in PPP for those small golf businesses and sole proprietorships whose business models are amenable to the 75% payroll requirement that triggers loan forgiveness.

Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL)

Small business owners, sole proprietorships, independent contractors, 501(c)(6) and (7) corporations, and self-employed individuals are eligible to apply for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), a longstanding U.S. assistance program that was enhanced to the tune of $70 billion by the CARES Act.  Like the PPP, monies remain in this pot of largesse as well, although preference has been given to agriculture as the well begins to run dry.

The CARES Act allows for an EIDL cash advance of up to $10,000, without repayment. Interest rates are 2.75% for most categories, 3.75% for certain types of businesses; 1st payback installments are delayed 12 months.  The funds are intended to support temporary loss of revenue businesses and self-employed individuals are experiencing due to COVID-19.  The rest of the already-established EIDL loan program caps out at $2 million, and although it is not forgivable, it may provide more flexibility than PPP in the types of expenses it covers, including a range of operating costs.  The EIDL loan amount that can be requested is based on the amount of “economic injury” the applicant has sustained as a result of COVID-19.  One can determine that “injury” (or loss) by comparing this year’s economic results to those in 2019.

Akin to PPP, the applicant will need to submit necessary documentation to establish eligibility, such as payroll processor records, payroll tax filings, or Form 1099-MISC, or income and expenses from a sole proprietorship.  Bank records will suffice if the borrower does not have other forms of documentation.

Eligible entities and self-employed individuals may apply for both PPP and EIDL, to the extent the EIDL is used for purposes other than those permitted for PPP loans.  But, if the entity took out an EIDL loan between Jan. 31, 2020, and April 3, 2020, and used that loan funding for payroll costs, the borrower is still eligible for the PPP, but the borrower must then use the PPP to refinance the EIDL loan.


Congress turns next to relief for the nation’s states, counties and cities.  A combination of factors – the inability to print money, the inability to declare bankruptcy, a requirement to balance budgets, plummeting tax receipts, and costly COVID-19 burdens – has rendered the nation’s municipal governments financial basket cases.

Those municipal governments own 20% of the nation’s golf facilities.  Those facilities play host to more than one-third of the nation’s golf rounds.  Those facilities are the game’s growth engines and the sites for most of the nation’s developmental golf programs.  The relief envisaged by Congress is not direct relief to the nation’s publicly owned golf courses, but to the degree to which money is fungible and parks departments are always disproportionately cut during hard times, it is indirect relief likely to spell the difference between continued life and death for many of the nation’s publicly owned golf courses.

Washington watchers know that Congressional Democrats are proposing $1 trillion for the country’s state and local governments.  Congressional Republicans are balking at bailing out what they call fiscally irresponsible states, while strongly advocating for blanket business immunity from COVID-19 related lawsuits.  The “fiscally irresponsible” states are pointing out that their residents pay much more in federal taxes than they get back, while the “fiscally responsible” states generally get more back than they pay in.  Cause for alarm for an industry whose fate is so heavily invested in the public sector?  We don’t think so.  Cooler heads are prevailing in the form of a bipartisan effort in both House and Senate that would cut the aid to $500 billion and attach conditions guaranteeing that the states cannot divert or otherwise restrict monies intended for smaller towns and counties.  No doubt it will be accompanied by a set of narrow liability protections in exchange therefore.  The posturing begins this week.

Because the relief envisaged in this package is indirect as opposed to the direct relief involved in the PPP and EIDL components of the CARES Act, the game’s national advocacy effort, We Are Golf, is going to have much more difficulty finding ways to advocate for the game’s interest in this legislation than it did in the CARES Act.  But there’s a narrowly nuanced lane in there somewhere, and we have confidence they’ll find their way to it; the stakes are high.



Task Force + Hard Work Equates to Reopening Success for Golf in Yolo County

YC Covid SD_1IMG_8171

May 12th, 2020 – What happens when you bring together golf advocates from a traditional muni, a 9-hole, a daily fee plus two privates and a resort course? In Yolo County (also known as YOLO: You-Only-Live-Once county), things get done.

When the pandemic hit and it seemed that golf courses in Yolo County would be closed for an indefinite period of time, CAG Past President, Emmy Moore Minister, and founder of Doctor’s Orders: Play Golf, reached out to nearby golf course operators and invited them to join a countywide task force with a goal to reopen golf.

Besides a handful of savvy course operators, the task force included a few resourceful retirees, all local golfers (a former city fire chief, university professor, and hospital administrator) each contributing in a meaningful way to the get-our-courses-open-again project.

And if that wasn’t enough, there were club members, business leaders and ranchers, plus CAG members, Sacramento lobbyists, and loyal muni golfers who volunteered to advocate in behalf of reopening golf in Yolo County.

Due to Covid-19 concerns, the golf-specific task force (which was the first of its kind in Yolo County), quickly got to work in developing a set of operational guidelines which focused heavily on safety, security, and sanitization, with protocols that would be adaptable to all golf facilities within the jurisdiction. Priorities included establishing ways to remove all touchpoints and ensure that golfers and facility employees would be in a safe and sanitary environment, where 6-ft social distancing would be adhered to at all times.

Securing the county’s approval for reopening did not happen overnight, and actually, the first attempt failed. While the committee was focused on establishing ways to get golfers back on the course, the county’s health officer was laser-focused on flattening Covid-19 cases.

Task force members remained patient, and in the meantime, they shared their draft guidelines and supporting collateral with operators in neighboring counties, who were also faced with the dilemma of course closures.

Communication outreach continued with Yolo County and follow-up letters were sent to the county’s executive staff, public health officer, and to elected officials. Additionally, they received a Golf Spatial Consideration Chart which illustrated the excessive amount of open space that golf provides each player, coupled with its naturally “built in” social distancing mechanism.

Community leaders also received factual data from medical experts about the numerous Health Benefits of Golf. The outdoor activity of golf has long-been known to reduce anxiety, improve heart health, strengthen body mobility, burn calories, improve circulation, along with its other wellness attributes.

Complying with social distancing, a Zoom meeting was scheduled with Yolo County officials and task force members, where guidelines modeled after the “Placer Golf Course Physical Distancing Plan” were discussed, slightly modified, and accepted.  Shortly thereafter, the county’s public health officer amended the health order, and a few days later, all six courses were permitted to open their doors to golfers once again.


PHOTO: Golf course operators within Yolo County stand in unison at Wildhorse GC (Davis, CA) all-while practicing 6-ft. social distancing. (L to R) Task Force Chair Phil Marler (Yolo Fliers Club), Mark Hansen (Davis Municipal GC), Randy Thomas (Wild Wings GC), Rusty Seymour (El Macero CC), Emmy Moore-Minister (Doctors Orders: Play Golf), Chuck Klein and Charlie Klein (Wildhorse GC), Chris Sheffield (Yocha Dehe GC at Cache Creek).


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