SCGA Public Affairs

Too much land that uses too much water to serve the too few who have received too much for too long

Thursday, November 4, 2021

That’s the way too many view the golf courses in their neighborhood. Whether the golf course is a private club that restricts access or a municipal course that begs it matters little. Truth be known many persons who live in neighborhoods with municipal golf courses in close proximity think those courses don’t welcome them. If they play golf, of course they understand that they’re not only welcome, but desired. But 90% of the population doesn’t play golf, and what they see are the same perimeter fences, the same exclusive use, the same clubhouses, the same driving ranges, and the rest of the accoutrements that adorn all golf properties. Often, they see a sign that identifies a municipal golf course as a “country club.” What else are they to think? What do you suppose AB 672 author Cristina Garcia thinks?

That’s also the language used to open the Governmental Affairs offering in the fall issue of SCGA’s hard copy FORE magazine. The language is incendiary, prejudicial, distorting, and downright misleading to be sure. And that’s exactly why we employed it – not to practice the low arts of sophistry, but to grab the attention of an apathetic golf community that thinks that when the facts of the matter contradict the prejudices of the matter, somehow the facts automatically prevail. To which we would only reply – in what parallel universe might that be true?

The only plausible answer to that question would be the universe of the echo chamber, which is a pretty good description of golf’s national communication strategy. Insular and narrow – sermons to the already converted, tactics to improve marginal rates of return, and marketing schemes to make the game look and feel like something different than the attributes that have driven its enduring popularity for more than 500 years. But rarely a nod toward anything that might persuade the many who believe the incendiary words atop this Update that their belief is unfounded – that the golf course in their neighborhood, public or private, brings value to them and their neighborhood, whether or not they play golf.

For a fuller explication of what animates these prejudices click here to read that FORE magazine offering on the SCGA website.

By the way, what animates those prejudices is more the fault of golf’s failure to connect the virtues of the game to the non-golf beneficiaries of those virtues than it is the non-golf beneficiaries’ failure to understand what has never been explained to them.

For a quick recitation of what some of those “facts” about the game that the game could package into a grand narrative about the game’s community value proposition – package and then disseminate widely, loudly, and persistently with the same marketing heft (resources) that the game commits to efforts like “Make Golf Your Thing,” here’s a quick rundown:

  • California’s golf courses preserve open space, sequester carbon, provide habitat, promote biodiversity, and allow rainwater to get into groundwater basins.
  • In times of global warming and record high temperatures, golf courses reduce temperatures in their surrounding areas, many of which are in densely packed urban environments where they are most needed and in communities disproportionately identified as “park poor.”
  • California’s golf courses use less than 0.73% of the potable water consumed in the state.
  • 40% of California’s golf courses irrigate with non-potable water, a percentage that the game is committed to raising as fast as feasible.
  • California’s golf courses represent 3.5% of the total turfgrass in the state.
  • California’s golf courses have eliminated millions of square feet of turf and replaced it with California drought tolerant species.
  • California’s golf courses have eliminated water consumptive overseeding practices where climatological conditions permit.
  • California’s golf courses have replaced water consumptive cool season grasses with drought tolerant warm season grasses where climatological conditions permit.
  • The golf industry has invested millions of dollars in maximally efficient irrigation systems that permit superintendents to control one-half of one irrigation head from a smartphone.
  • California’s golf courses make routine use of soil moisture meters, wetting agents, and irrigation audits to ensure that they are firm, fast and deficit irrigated.
  • California’s golf courses are in the process of developing and then implementing the water savings technologies of the future capable of taking more golf courses off the potable grid in those areas that can’t be reached by traditional recycled water connections – e.g., onsite recycling.
  • 73% of golf played in the United States is on public facilities.
  • Those who play California’s golf courses reflect California’s diversity – gender, ethnic, racial, lifestyle, and religious diversity in addition to economic and class diversity.
  • Twenty-two percent (22%) of California’s golf courses are owned by public agencies (governments); they are part of the same park systems that provide soccer, baseball, swimming, picnicking, biking, pickleball, tennis, walking/riding trails, and myriad other recreational amenities that but for their provision by government would NOT be part of a comprehensive recreational life in a California city, suburb, or exurb.
  • California’s golf community delivers $364 million annually in direct and traceable charitable contribution and to the degree to which golf courses are staging grounds for the charitable giving of myriad non-golfing communities, the indirect number is substantially greater.

The discerning among you will notice the bullet that’s missing here. It’s the one that informs that the California golf industry is a $13 billion enterprise comprising $4.3 billion in direct wage income, 128,000 jobs, and considerable economic multiplier effects, including enhanced property values. It’s missing on purpose. Golf has long suffered from the assumption that if only the non-golfing public were to understand the business and economic value of golf, they would view golf courses through the same lenses they view all businesses and industries in their communities. But if they were really to do that, they might understand that 150 acres taxed as open space can be put to much better and higher economic use were that acreage to be dedicated to uses considerably more economically productive in terms of revenue, jobs, and taxes. In boxing they call that leading with your chin. For these purposes let’s just call it setting oneself up to be judged by a standard that doesn’t lead to one’s desired outcome.

The economic theory of golf’s case works well when the comparison is an invidious one between golf’s encumbrance of open space and other recreational amenities’ use of it. Indeed, when golf can highlight that its use of publicly held land can help fund valuable uses that are incapable of supporting themselves, the case for golf’s place in the public sector is well made. But when the challenge to golf’s use is from other commercial and/or residential uses, again, there’s that leading with one’s chin problem.

So, let’s lead with our best case, and that best case is that combination of community, recreational, environmental, and social benefits embodied in the long bullet list above.

And by “lead” we mean dedicate the same resources, energies, and passions the game routinely focuses on marketing campaigns like “Make Golf Your Thing.” We’re hardly against making as many folks make golf their thing as we can. We just want to make sure that to the degree to which they do, the industry will still have the golf facilities where they can give us a try.

It’s hard to grow a game if there’s nowhere to grow it. And unless the game can develop proactive responses to the challenges posed by drought, predations of its space, bills like AB 672, and an environmental narrative that says to golf in California what Governor Newsom said to the state’s oil industry a couple of weeks ago about having no place in California’s future, all the slick national marketing campaigns in the world aren’t going to enable the game to maintain its current numbers, let alone grow. A little more of SCGA’s more eclectic marketing fare might help, but this isn’t the only area where SCGA is a most definite outlier.

The good news here, and there is good news, is that we do believe that the game’s large leadership organizations, large ownership/management groups, and other large stakeholders, both profit and nonprofit, have come to understand the visceral need for the overarching positioning effort we suggest here – understand and financially support.

# # # # # # # # # # #

We thought we were through with COVID updates. While we are with respect to how the game can be played totally unencumbered on course, we’re not quite through with respect to how the game’s clubhouse and other indoor activities are to be conducted.

While Los Angeles and other Southern California counties continue to recommend but not mandate that indoor events of 1,000 or less persons require proof of full vaccination or negative test, the City of Los Angeles has determined to exceed its county standard by requiring proof of vaccination to enter the following indoor places effective next Monday (November 8):

  • Establishments where food or beverages are served (e.g., restaurants, bars, coffee shops, breweries, wineries)
  • Gyms and fitness venues
  • Entertainment and recreation venues (e.g., movie theatres, music and concert venues, museums, shopping centers)
  • Personal care establishments (e.g., spas, nail and hair salons, barbershops)
  • City of Los Angeles facilities

Although not applicable to standard golf course clubhouse events, the City of Los Angeles has also determined to apply a stricter standard to “large outdoor” or mega events by requiring proof of vaccination for any event that exceeds 5,000 persons as opposed to 10,000 persons.

As with so much else that has characterized the COVID experience, this will no doubt cause confusion, as private indoor golf clubhouse events for roughly 35 golf courses in the City of Los Angeles will be hewing to different standards than the many more immediately surrounding them in different cities within Los Angeles County. Whether the stricter standard persuades Los Angeles County to allay the confusion by following suit remains to be seen. Los Angeles County and the other Southern California counties have thus far all aligned perfectly with the state minimum standards with respect to mandates, albeit not always with respect to recommendations, and that has gone a long way toward obviating much of the confusion. Until now, anyway.

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