At about the time
the USGA brought the 2002 U.S. Open to Bethpage State Park, it announced that
the '08 Open would be held at Torrey Pines, a municipal course. Presumably the
USGA picked these venues to counteract the belief that golf is an exclusive
sport; the nation's open championship should be played, at least occasionally,
at a public venue.
is that at Torrey the USGA's decision has had the effect of limiting play for
the citizens of San Diego. Fifty years after a public vote mandated that Torrey
be operated on behalf of the city's residents, who own it, Torrey Pines is now
less accessible physically and financially to San Diegans.
Last month, after
long and contentious debate (Golf Plus, June 13), the city council voted 7--1
to change the way the two courses at Torrey are operated. The council raised
resident greens fees, eliminated the majority of tee times for the men's and
women's clubs, increased slots for tourist play during prime-time hours and
allocated millions of dollars in greens-fee revenue for multimillion-dollar
capital projects of questionable need. Overwhelming opposition from most public
golfers in San Diego was all but ignored.
In taking such
actions, a city desperate for money has effectively handed the courses to
private interests--primarily concessionaires and the tourism industry--eager to
cash in on the U.S. Open bonanza. So much for the USGA's decision to bring the
Open to muni golfers.
This is not all
the USGA's fault, but the association should feel some obligation to help. Thus
far, the USGA's only contribution has been a tacit threat from senior director
of competitions Mike Davis, who said, "If the USGA collectively feels we
didn't get cooperation from the city and the community, then that would be seen
as a big factor going forward [in awarding future Opens]."
(including the USGA) have acknowledged that compromise on the access and cost
issues was easily attainable, but every position offered by the public was
rejected by the city. Instead of dropping ominous quotes, the USGA should stand
behind its own rhetoric about supporting golf "at all levels" and use
its influence to right the wrongs that have occurred here.
Diego's mayor and city council need to take note of the USGA's threat about
future U.S. Opens. The state of New York handled similar pressures at Bethpage
by keeping in mind that residents are their main customers. Unlike at Torrey
Pines, capital projects at Bethpage are privately financed, resident greens
fees are kept remarkably low and access for resident golfers is paramount. Such
civic-mindedness and lack of turmoil helped smooth the way for the USGA to give
Bethpage another U.S. Open, in 2009.
Can the USGA and
the politicians in San Diego work together to give muni golfers everywhere
something to truly celebrate, or will the U.S. Open's arrival at a stellar
municipal course remain a hollow victory for all of us?
is a former San Diego City Council member.