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Room 263 at San Francisco city hall overflowed last Thursday, forcing the fire marshal to divert a few score of interested parties to a ground-floor conference room with closed-circuit TV screens. Four hours later half the spectators—the golfers—left unhappy. Frog and snake advocates had won another round.
With three ayes and nary a nay, the Government Audit and Oversight committee of the Board of Supervisors had voted that a motion that could lead to the closure of city-owned Sharp Park Golf Course be presented to the full board. Environmentalists want to expand the habitat—on which the course sits—of an endangered species, the San Francisco garter snake, and a threatened one, the California red-legged frog. The ardor of those opposed is heightened by the fact that Sharp Park was designed by the Frank Lloyd Wright of golf-course architects, Alister MacKenzie, who was, moreover, an adopted son of San Francisco, having been based in the Bay Area after emigrating from England.
Sharp Park Golf Course opened in April 1932, eight months before the debut of another MacKenzie gem, Augusta National. Not that Sharp Park reminds you of the home of the Masters: Belying its name, Sharp Park is rough around the edges, ridiculously underfunded by the city and has severe drainage, maintenance and irrigation problems. But several holes bordering the Pacific are breathtaking, and its $24 green fee (for residents, on weekends) attracts a loyal clientele to the poor man's Pebble Beach.
Soon, though, Sharp Park may be a frog pond. "I'm a golfer myself," says Justin Augustine, a spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the leaders in the fight to decommission Sharp Park. "But no matter how much you love the game, there's no valid reason to elevate golf above the future well-being of an endangered species." On the other hand, the little snake and the big frog wouldn't even be at Sharp Park if the golf course had not been built. A seawall constructed soon after MacKenzie's death in 1934 changed the water in the hazards from brackish to fresh. The San Francisco garter snake and the California red-legged frog are freshwater creatures.
"These people want to destroy golf," says Dave Diller, a former school principal who is the president of the 370-member Sharp Park Golf Club and who has been a golfer there for 45 years. "It's not about protecting the environment at all. They have this perception that all golfers are rich white men, while Sharp Park is completely the opposite. Men, women, children, all races—we're as diverse as anywhere.
"You know, we're hosting the Presidents Cup this year [at another San Francisco muni, Harding Park], and we'll be bragging about how we support public golf," Diller continues. "Will we also say, 'Oh, by the way—we're closing down an Alister MacKenzie course?'"
But the Sharp Park debate is not as simple as greens versus golfers; other parties are being heard from. Although the course is owned and operated by the city of San Francisco, it is located in the southern suburb of Pacifica, whose mayor, Julie Lancelle, darn well wants to keep the course. "There's no reason it couldn't be a golf course and still address the environmental issue," she says. "Golf actually treads very lightly on the environment." Meanwhile, San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Ross Mirkarimi wants to turn over the course to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, an almost certain precursor to shutting it down, and last week's vote moves that fate one step closer. Yet another supervisor, Sean Elsbernd, has taken the golfers' side and asked the city attorney to investigate making Sharp Park a historical landmark.