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Sharp Park Lawsuit Endangers Golf Courses

The Lost Links of golf in Northern California may be adding a new chapter, with a bizarre twist. This time a public golf course would not slip silently away. This time the link is profound.

A lawsuit that seeks to close this course would endanger every golf course in America.

The Center for Biological Diver-

sity, based in Arizona, filed a lawsuit on March 2 to close Sharp Park Golf Course through the Endangered Spe- cies Act. CBD claims that the golf course is killing off the California red-legged frog and the San Fran- cisco garter snake, two animals listed as endangered species by the federal government. The irony here is that this particu- lar snake and frog never appeared on

the land where the golf course resides until the land was developed into a golf course. The suit does not mention that the snake eats the frog, but com- mon sense tends to take its leave when lawsuits of this nature are filed. At first glance, an environmental

group invoking the Endangered Species Act is nothing new. But his- torically, the Act has only been used to halt construction on new projects. Sharp Park has existed for nearly 80 years. This is the first time that

44 / NCGA.ORG / SUMMER 2011

the Endangered Species Act has been used to close an existing park or golf course. “The nasty turn is that this law- suit seeks to establish a precedent that would leave every golf course in America vulnerable, and subject to closure, should the suit prevail,” said San Francisco attorney Richard Harris. “We know of no other case where the Endangered Species Act has been used in an attempt to close an exist- ing public golf course, as opposed to preventing new construction,” said Harris. “In an urban area such as Pacifica, of course the golf course is precisely where any wildlife is going to be attracted. If the golf course had not been built, the land would have been developed like the surrounding land, and there would be no frogs and snakes there at all. So the CBD is now attempting to use the Endan- gered Species Act to punish the golf course for having preserved the frogs and snakes in the first place. This is a perverse use of the law.” Sharp Park Golf Course is a rather

unpretentious public course that sits on the Pacific Ocean just down from San Francisco in Pacifica. This course may have escaped the notice of many golf- ers, but it holds a secret, a heritage that has slipped through time, a history that deserves national recognition. Sharp Park is the only public

seaside golf course designed by the legendary Alister MacKenzie in the United States.

The fight to keep the course open

started as a relatively minor municipal quarrel, with a history. The City of San Francisco, which owns the course, was ready to close all of its municipal courses a decade ago. Former USGA president Sandy Tatum eloquently stated the case to save Harding Park GC, and he succeeded. Money was borrowed from park funds to restore Harding to its former glory. But Harding did not generate enough income to repay the loan. That provoked the ire of many park support- ers, who saw golf as a game of the rich and powerful, and viewed the money used to save Harding as a subsidy to wealthy special interests. Those park supporters sought retribution through the closure of Lincoln Park GC and Sharp Park GC. It is noteworthy that most “daily

fee” courses, which had opened in the boom years prior to 9/11, had market- ed themselves as equal to country clubs in their level of service, which was a mistake. The value of true public golf courses was misconstrued by the way that these new public courses marketed their courses. San Francisco attorneys Harris and Bo Links picked up the fight to save public golf where Tatum left off. They formed a group to save Lincoln and Sharp from closure called the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance. The SFPGA quickly enlisted more than 4,500 members, who sought to educate people about public golf. The quarrel escalated, which opened the door for national environmental groups to enter the fray.

SFPGA filed a motion to inter-

vene in the CBD lawsuit, claiming the rights of area golfers were not represented. On June 24, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illstone found that

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