City Beat

This historic Sacramento golf course could be the sport's latest casualty

Sprinklers water the William Land Park Golf Course in 2009. A new deal between the city and Morton Golf would keep the iconic course open.
Sprinklers water the William Land Park Golf Course in 2009. A new deal between the city and Morton Golf would keep the iconic course open. Sacramento Bee file

From high school students to mayors, the golf course in Land Park has been the hacking ground for generations of Sacramento golfers. But suddenly it's in trouble.

The company that operates the William Land Golf Course has told city officials it wants to terminate its lease with the city by the end of June. First Tee of Greater Sacramento wrote in a letter last month that it expects to lose $150,000 this year at the course, continuing a five-year trend of heavy losses brought on by a decline in golfers and revenue.

If the city can’t come up with a deal that absorbs some of the losses, the course could shut down after nearly a century.

Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents Land Park, said city officials will work with First Tee "to see what options there are." The City Council is scheduled to adopt a budget next month for the upcoming fiscal year, and Hansen said there may be money available for the course.

"We can find a solution that keeps First Tee engaged and keeps the course available to the public and the kids," Hansen said. "There’s going to be tremendous community support for ensuring the operations continue at the golf course."

The nine-hole golf course in Land Park opened in 1924 and was the first course in the city. It remains a quirky attraction – known by some area golfers as “the people’s course” – and a round of golf can cost as little as $5 for a tee time late in the afternoon. It's not unusual to see golfers walking the course with their dogs and wearing the kind of casual attire frowned upon at country clubs.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who plays at the course, said, “We cannot shut down city golf courses.

"No way. Can’t do it," he said at a City Council budget hearing Tuesday.

Interim Assistant City Manager Chris Conlin told the City Council that officials have had "very productive meetings" with First Tee.

"We want to keep that as a golf course," he said. "We will figure out a way."

In its letter, First Tee wrote it has invested more than $1.3 million into the course since it took over the facility in 1998. The organization also runs youth programs at the course and others in the region, "providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf."

A golfer refused to stop driving balls as torrential rains soaked the man at C.B. Smith Park in Pembroke Pines, Florida on May 14, 2018.

Golf courses are facing trouble elsewhere, prompting cities to intervene. Residents have raised objections to the possibility that golf courses might be developed instead of remaining green space.

In Stockton, officials are considering closing two city courses to save millions of dollars in necessary maintenance and ongoing costs, a debate that has drawn hundreds to City Council meetings. After a bitter dispute with the owner, the city of Rocklin agreed this year to purchase the former Rocklin Golf Club - which closed in 2015 - and turn the property into open space.

Several well-known public courses across the country – including the San Geronimo Golf Club in Marin County – closed last year.

The golf industry trend was reflected in First Tee's letter to the city.

"Unfortunately, the golf industry is in a national, regional and local economic decline, dramatically influencing the viability of golf course operators," the letter reads.

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