SCGA Public Affairs


Tuesday, October 26, 2021

As the statewide golf community prepares to cope with the twin onslaughts of drought and a bill that proposes to chop 22% of California’s golf courses into residential developments (AB 672 – Garcia; D-Bell Gardens), we’d like to take a moment to put what will necessarily be some very tactical short-term responses into an overarching strategy capable of getting beyond tactical reaction toward strategic proactivity.

In plainer terms, SCGA and its allied partners in the California Alliance for Golf (CAG) have landed on a legislative strategy to deal with AB 672 – that portion of the game’s strategy to deal with AB 672 calculated to resonate in the Capitol and with the allies the industry hopes to attract. Click here to read the simple but impactful 1-pager that CAG has put together for the rest of us to use in aligning our own “legislative” efforts with our own unique stakeholders and members.

That is but half the “strategy.” The other half is the one SCGA and its allied partners in the Alliance are in the process of putting together to engage our respective stakeholders and members in playing the part that they and only they are capable of playing – encouraging constituents to find it worth their while to let their legislators know what they think of AB 672. The tool is simple – a widget that allows persons to type in their address and be taken straight to the E-mails of their respective individual Assembly Members and Senators. Many of SCGA’s rank-and-file golfing members used it when AB 672 was first introduced in January. SCGA and its allied partners in CAG are working on an effort to convey in the simplest of terms why it behooves rank-and-file golfers to do so again, now that this “chopping block” bill has been amended to make it much more politically palatable and thus saleable.

Those of you reading these words are interested in the details of public policy; the rank-and-file golfers indispensable to success in any “political” effort are not. This space will continue to provide the details; the much larger space of SCGA’s various different mass communication organs will focus on engaging the rank-and-file with the lesser level of “detail” that is the much better currency of their engagement.

Before getting back to the strategic proactivity that is the subject of this Update, a word about that second prong of our immediate challenge – drought. As we have shared on more than one occasion, with respect to the game’s standing with water providers, public utilities and regulators, golf has a well-earned reputation as a maximally efficient irrigator that is not content to sit on that laurel in pursuit of further water footprint reductions. But when push comes to shove, otherwise known as crisis-driven mandatory water cutbacks, it’s the rank-and-file public whose opinions matter much more than the “experts.” And that’s driven much more by perceptions than it is by facts, not to mention some of human nature’s coarser inclinations like envy.

And there are two indisputable “facts” about golf that when added to some of the many false perceptions about the game’s use of water exacerbate the game’s problems in a drought: Golf’s encumbrance of 150 plus acres makes it visible to public view in a way that almost all other water consumptive enterprises are not, and golf consumes that water for an activity formally deemed “frivolous” in California law in a way that, for example, oil refining and agriculture are not.

Or as James Carville, were he divining strategy for the California golf community might shout at us – it’s the land, stupid. No matter the issue – e.g., housing, higher and better economic uses that produce infinitely greater economic multiplier effects and/or property tax yields, water consumption – there is no escaping the fact that golf requires a lot of land. We can and do now use much less of it than we used to. We can and routinely do irrigate much less of the less land we use. And we can and routinely do pursue much more environmentally protective practices thereon. But in the end, golf requires some measure of expanse. It’s part of the game’s enduring allure. Certainly, COVID made that clear. But it’s always going to be one of the game’s ongoing challenges. And that is why something more strategically powerful and enduring than ad hoc responses to ill-conceived bills and reactionary conservation mandates is not only in order, but long overdue.

Many of you no doubt either know or know of Ted Horton. In addition to driving the creation of the California Alliance for Golf (CAG), founding the California Chapter of the National Golf Course Owners Association, pioneering golf’s move into the advocacy space during his long tenure at Winged Foot in New York and long tenure with the Pebble Beach Company, setting up multiple U.S. Open sites, and receiving the USGA’s highest agronomic honor, Ted has for 50 years been consistently years ahead of his peers in understanding what the game needs to do next and in the process been one of its consistent leaders in moving it forward.

The following is what Ted shared with us over this last weekend. It’s an excerpt from a much longer piece he is working on for publication in one of the game’s periodicals. It struck us as an excellent introduction to the kind of “overarching strategy capable of getting beyond tactical reaction toward strategic proactivity” we offered at the opening of this Update – a comprehensive strategy capable of defending the game’s use of large tracts of irrigated land by making that use proactively supportive of quality lives and communities for both those who play golf and just as importantly, for those who don’t.

Excerpted therefrom, courtesy of Ted Horton, two prongs of just such a strategy:

  • Environmental stewardship and resource management – The Pebble Beach Company philosophy of “Responsibility, Compromise and Trade-offs woven together to formulate an approach to Environmental Stewardship” is a model of leadership and response to environmental issues on golf courses.
    • Adoption of GCSAA Best Management Practices (BMPs) to maximize the use of a variety of natural environmental control measures, coupled with sound agronomic principles, to combat turfgrass disease, and keep pest control populations below levels that are economically and aesthetically damaging.
    • Seek Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary certification.
    • Incorporate drought tolerant plantings utilizing indigenous plants where possible.
    • Use care in selection and application of products to the golf course & grounds.
    • Practice current knowledge for water quality, conservation and use of recycled water.
    • Develop pollinator and butterfly habitat opportunities.
    • Foster programs to enhance indigenous bird, animal, and insect species habitat.
    • Docent &/or golf personnel led educational tours of the golf course – grasses, trees, birds, insects, soils, golf course design and maintenance facts.
  • Promote a community-minded golf facility - Be important to the neighboring community – For years, golf courses have been stereotyped as unfriendly neighborhood amenities. I believe that we need to position our golf courses (public and private) as assets within the communities. During times of crisis, it would be invaluable if the public is insistent that local golf courses are valuable neighborhood assets. As we reposition for the future, consider the following possibilities:
    • Make your course a learning laboratory by conducting field days or providing seminars and discussion groups about grounds maintenance, environmental characteristics and wildlife that might be spotted.
    • Open green space for events.
    • Develop a perimeter trail system for member & community fitness.
    • Open 9 holes for supervised community walking, children cycling, skateboarding on golf cart paths, etc. Coordinate with the beverage cart. Saint Andrews Golf Course is noted for its Sunday strollers.
    • Community programs about grounds maintenance, welding, tree management, etc. held at the golf course maintenance center.
    • Set aside a location for a neighborhood vegetable garden.
    • Fishing derbies on golf course ponds/water ways.
    • Assist in the maintenance of community athletic fields,
    • Attract the community youth to enjoy golf related activities. Open door policy high-school golf team opportunities to practice and compete, as well as junior golf programs.
    • Take a look at foot golf, disc golf, impact golf, fling golf and other opportunities to promote golf and the course to local youth.
    • Coordinate winter use of the golf course for cross country skiing, sledding, skating, etc.
    • Educate the local communities about the economic value a golf course brings to neighborhood properties in terms of both property values and quality of life and ambient air quality.

We don’t think Ted has lined up a publication yet. If anyone reading this has a thought about that, contact Ted. If you don’t have Ted’s contact information, we’d be happy to connect you.

Golf’s publications, particularly its business publications, could use a little more in the way of strategies capable of taking the game beyond narrow tactical responses that simply taken together won’t necessarily move the game’s needle. Or as a much greater strategist than we put it much more eloquently more than 2,000 years ago: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory; tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat” [Sun Tzu]

A little less “noise” and a little more “victory.” What say you?

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