By Bill Fields
Advocates of public golf in San Francisco, who have fought doggedly the last few years in support of Sharp Park golf course in nearby Pacifica, Calif., were taking a deep breath and looking toward the future Friday following Thursday's dismissal of a lawsuit that threatened the 80-year-old Alister Mackenzie design.
"It's a tremendous victory," said Bo Links, co-founder of the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance, co-defendant in the suit with the City and County of San Francisco. "It now opens the door for restoration plans to move forward in earnest, including the restoration of Mackenzie features on the course and hopefully a Mackenzie museum in a new, restored clubhouse."
Various non-profit conversation groups had sued the city for violating the Endangered Species Act, alleging that the course harmed the threatened California red-legged frog and the endangered San Francisco garter snake. In ordering the dismissal, U.S. District Court judge Susan Illston cited an Oct. 2 biological opinion issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that found golf at Sharp Park "is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the California red-legged frog or San Francisco garter snake."
Sharp Park's maintenance operations must be done under strict FWS restrictions designed to protect the amphibian and reptile. In its report, the FWS said it anticipates over a 10-year period one adult frog and one snake "will be subject to incidental take in the form of death or injury" because of golf operation and maintenance.
"This is a common sense result," said Chris Carr, an attorney representing the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance. "And it should lead to a period of cooperation in which San Francisco and San Mateo County can work together to restore habitat for the species, while preserving historic and popular public recreation."
Sharp Park came close to possibly being shut down in December 2011 when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance that would have transferred the supervision of Sharp Park to the National Park Service. The golf course was spared when San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee vetoed the legislation, writing, "I believe in striving for equilibrium between environmental and recreational needs."
In the wake of the lawsuit's dismissal, Links reflected on the lengthy battle to thwart efforts to close the course.
"I remember being in the Sharp Park clubhouse one evening in 2005 or so, warning people that this stuff [threat] was coming," Links said. "They couldn't believe it and hooted us out of the room. Now, they're saying thank you for warning us. The property is in jeopardy, and if you want to preserve it, you have to fight to preserve it. That's just the way it is.
"In a way, it's a message for anybody who cares about golf," Links continued. "If you care about it, you have to support it. You can't let your guard down. You've got to educate people, become an ambassador of the game and communicate it to non-golfers too so they understand the values and merit of golf. This game has endured for 500 years for a reason."