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Golden Gate Park golf course takeover has regulars worried

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Takeover: First Tee, a nonprofit program that teaches children life skills with golf, may assume ownership of the park’s course. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • Takeover: First Tee, a nonprofit program that teaches children life skills with golf, may assume ownership of the park’s course.

Jeff Kod is a member of the Olympic Club, but three or four times a week he goes to Golden Gate Park to play golf on the course there with his son.

The 63-year-old San Francisco resident, however, fears that the new managers of the nine-hole par 3 course will change in a way that will prevent him from spending quality time with his 9-year-old, Elliot.

“I think if they’re going to come in and operate this facility they should add something to San Francisco rather than cannibalizing it,” Kod said during a community meeting this week with more than 60
golfers.

Kod is not the only one who worries the golf course will lose its charm. The concern stems from the potential operations takeover by First Tee of San Francisco, a nonprofit that teaches life skills through golf to underprivileged kids. First Tee won the right to manage the course last fall after a competitive-bidding process, which is required by law.

The Recreation and Park Commission is expected to discuss a new lease agreement with First Tee in September. Then, it would go to the Board of Supervisors for approval. If the contract is ultimately approved, First Tee would take over operations in November.

The organization created a separate nonprofit, the Golden Gate Park Golf Foundation, to run everyday operations and even hired Kyle Winn, current manager at Half Moon Bay Golf Links, to operate the facility in hopes of calming the fears of regular golfers.

But the entire situation has its skeptics. Many golfers worry the course will be overrun by beginners, maintenance will suffer and regulars will be pushed out.

Dawn Terrell said many people are just afraid of change. She plays at Golden Gate park each weekend with a group of four women, and Terrell said the change could be good.

“There’s an automatic assumption that change is bad,” Terrell said. “I think some things could be improved.”

Terrell referred to First Tee’s use of the nine-hole Fleming Course in Harding Park as a working example of how the Golden Gate Park links could be run.

“Fleming has not been ruined,” she said. “There are strong attachments to the assumption that bringing in First Tee will ruin the golf course, but we have an example.”

Tom Klein, president of First Tee’s board of directors, said the goal is not to push regulars off the course, but to offer more chances to play. To reach that goal, the organization hopes to have set tee times to create a more regular schedule for players. The organization also hopes to make improvements to the aging course, including a new putting green and chipping area.

First Tee students, however, would have set tee times on evenings and weekends.

But for Kod, the changes could spell disaster for the youths and seniors who already use the course.

“There’s no other course in San Francisco like this,” he said. “We don’t need a tee time. Part of the draw is we can talk about what we want to do for the day and go down and play a round without having to sign up in advance.”

akoskey@sfexaminer.com