Last week the San Diego Union Tribune wrote an article about Presidio Hills Golf Course, a par 3 in the heart of Old Town, pleading for the city to help this dying relic. And it provides a snapshot into the issue so many short courses are facing as their inexpensive greens fees do not generate enough revenue to cover rising water and maintenance costs.
As the article discusses, Presidio Hills and short courses across the U.S. have served as the spot where countless number of kids have gotten their first exposure to golf. Places where families could go spend a few valuable hours together regardless of the skill level of each member.
But Presidio has an 80 year old irrigation system that would cost $100K+ to replace. It's on historically-designated land so doing any work to it will be close to impossible. And it has no money.
I applaud the author, Tod Leonard, for bringing awareness to this story and presenting a viable solution of putting the course under the county's Golf Enterprise Fund, which uses the excess revenue generated from Torrey Pines' high non-resident rates to finance several of the other golf municipalities throughout the county. That's why you'll find one of the country's best public golf systems in San Diego. But Presidio is not part of that fund, at least currently.
I bring this up because I have a vested interest in player development, not only because anyone in the golf industry should, but because my company TGA specifically uses facilities like Presidio to transition our students to after introducing them to golf at their schools. Short courses are critically important components of golf's ecosystem as they provide the most approachable experience for beginners, children, families, women and seniors. With participation declining 13% over the past few years, we need more approachable facilities, not less. However, the National Golf Foundation reports that short courses are closing at a faster rate than their 18 hole counterparts, and Presidio shines a microscope on this problem.
But there is good news. I am fortunate to sit on the Southern California Golf Association's Government Affairs Committee, the only such committee in the U.S., and this is where I learned about Presidio. The reaction by industry members throughout Southern California and beyond who sit on the board with me was swift and major. Suggestions included: a) creating a fund with all major industry organizations pitching in a healthy amount to save this course and others like it; b) locating recently replaced irrigation equipment and donating it to Presidio; c) integrating different types of programming (like TGA) into the facility; d) organizing a fundraiser, perhaps with Mickelson, to raise funds; and more. These suggestions/offers were made by the folks with the money and authority to execute on them, and they were made immediately.
It was an uplifting email thread to read as it demonstrated that leaders from all facets of the industry place a high level of importance on facilities like Presidio, and I agree wholeheartedly. The paradox is that these courses hold many of the keys to addressing golf's participation challenges, and yet they're disappearing at an alarming rate.
As the greenskeeper Bob Grady says, "it's like leasing a car without an engine."
That's the Presidio Hills Paradox. And we need to work together as an industry to figure out a viable solution.