Save the golf courses

Improved public recreation cannot come by tearing down one sport to benefit another
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OPINION Public golf is a historically vital part of San Francisco life. Imported to the city by immigrants from Scotland around 1900, golf here has retained its Scottish character as recreation for all types and ages. This is fostered by one of America's outstanding collections of municipal courses, from the flagship Harding Park to Sharp Park — designed by Alister MacKenzie, golf's Frank Lloyd Wright — to Gleneagles, hailed as one of the country's finest nine-hole courses.

Of all the city's courses, Lincoln Park is the oldest and most charming — a signature San Francisco landmark like its neighbor, the Golden Gate Bridge. Beginning in 1902, Lincoln was built on a hilly former cemetery by Tom Bendelow, who was known as the Johnny Appleseed of American golf, and Jack Neville, designer of Pebble Beach. Ansel Adams took some of his earliest published photographs there. Every national poll recognizes Lincoln as among America's top 10 most-scenic public courses.

But today Lincoln needs help. After years of deferred maintenance, it's now unplayable for much of the winter due to the lack of a modern drainage system. The ancient clubhouse is dilapidated. So play at Lincoln has declined. Some detractors now call for Lincoln to be bulldozed and replaced by skateboard and BMX bike parks, a soccer field, a driving range, and an events center. Such high-intensity uses are unrealistic, incompatible with Lincoln's extremely hilly topography, and unacceptable to the course's neighbors in the quiet residential precincts of the Outer Richmond.

Those who attack golf as an elitist male pastime misrepresent the reality of public golf in the city and ignore Lincoln's importance to our youths. Lincoln is the home of the city's high school and junior golf programs; the course's alumni include US Open champions Ken Venturi and Johnny Miller and LPGA stars Jan Ferraris and Dorothy Delasin. The First Tee program, based at Harding and with plans for a new learning center in the Sunnydale neighborhood, uses golf to uplift the lives of hundreds of children from the city's most disadvantaged neighborhoods. The city's high school golfers now on university teams across the country — including Domingo Jojola (University of San Francisco), Katrina Delen-Briones (San Jose State), Keiko Fukuda (Brown University), and Elaine Harris (Indiana University) — are anything but male elites.

That the city's golf courses need outside expert management is not seriously debatable. At the zoo, we hire professional zookeepers; at the museums, professional curators. What's needed at our public courses is not more "wait and study the problem to death," as some politicians advocate, but an immediate injection of golf management expertise to prevent the terminal deterioration of the courses.

Improved public recreation cannot come by tearing down one sport to benefit another. We need to work together to improve all public recreation — including restoration of Lincoln and our other storied public golf courses. Visionaries of prior generations created these great civic assets. It is now our duty to preserve them for generations to come.<\!s>*

Lee Silverstein, Terese Cronin, and Tom Weathered

Lee Silverstein is a special education teacher and golf coach at Lowell High School. Terese Cronin is a fourth-generation San Franciscan who spent her youth at the city's public golf courses. Tom Weathered is secretary of the Lincoln Park Golf Club.

Next week: why the city should look at other uses for Lincoln.