4 Tactics for Saving The Muni (Subtitle: “Without Being The Prototype Upper Class Golf Prick”)

A rarity in the Bethpage Black Metal world! A post dedicated to honest social good, and not just absurd hypotheticals! Assuming you consider “social good” to include saving municipal golf in America’s biggest cities. And we do. 

The inspiration here comes from a nice article in Golf Digest, highlighting the successful rejuvenation of Houston’s Gus Wortham Municipal Course. It’s a good read, and honestly the most likely of the aforementioned four tactics to work for your municipal. We’ll get to it in a minute.

We won’t beat around the bush too much today. Municipals are essential for the game to exist in any sort of way. The no. 1 knock on golf is not that it’s for the white elite. The white elite just tend to dominate things that have high costs of entry. Municipals are the gateway. Some people will never be able to afford a round at Pebble Beach. But they also can’t afford an $125 bottle of scotch. They’re still happy to sip Jack Daniels from a flask while playing the local route. The logic here is a little “let them eat cake,” but it’s a great start. Especially to attract all the demographics golf needs to survive: Young people. African-Americans. Latin-Americans. Women

Man. Using the word “rejuvenation” is really gross for a metal fan. But we’ll power through, for the kids. Here are four options for rejuvenating your local municipal.


Photo Cred: Gus Wortham Municipal Golf Course


1. The Legal Version (Houston)

The biggest problem with city municipals is that they aren’t big returners on investment. This is no fault of their own…there’s just not a lot of money to be made in operating parks, and most of the profits made don’t actually come from golf. I have reviewed the Columbus Metro Park system’s monthly finance reports for this year to confirm, and indeed: If I am reading the numbers correctly, the system’s courses have made a 1.02 percent profit on $750,000-plus spent. This could obviously be worse…it could be losing money. But it’s not exactly inspiring the park system to put additional funds into its operation.

Houston took the problem out of its park system’s hands. By founding a 501(C)(3) non-profit corporation to handle the city’s golf courses, qualified “activists” took more firm control of the system’s finances. No cash leaves the system in the form of profits, so the only reasonable place for it to go is in the form of self-investment. The training facilities used by the First Tee of Houston might not be on the same level as Pebble Beach’s…but it exists.

There will be both a rightist and leftist rant in this post, both in response to Golf Digest articles. Here’s the rightist one: Look at the international airline industry. Many nations are realizing that governments are simply not great at operating airlines in the black. This is twice as true with municipal golf courses.


Photo Cred: Chicago Parks Golf Alliance / Tiger Woods Design


2. The Celebrity Version (Chicago)

This one comes with a big asterisk, in that there’s plenty of controversy behind it. Although we ultimately disagree with The Chicago Tribune’s Eric Zorn at the end of the day, it’s not because he’s wrong.

Chicago’s Jackson Park project aims to combine two fairly straightforward courses into one big, tournament-worthy golf course designed by…Tiger Woods. Supposedly the course will remain playable (or at least affordable) for locals—again, supposedly, less than $50—and free for 17-and-unders.

Zorn’s complaint is essentially the price tag (budget-wise) and he’s not wrong. Supposedly in the $60-million range as is, the course is not going to turn much of a profit. I would expect a big-name private investor to come in and save the city’s butt…because Chicago has an epic streak of bad budgeting. New York fell into the same trap with Trump Ferry Point, where the now-President swooped in to clean up. Fortunately the city kept rates relatively low for a Trump property ($150 for residents) by negotiating with the “master negotiator.” Zorn suggests dumping Woods, but we disagree strongly here: That name is going to bring golf tourists. Dubsdread is a great play in the Chicago area, but not the same variety you can get in, say, Dallas or Pittsburgh(?!?).

The Coores and Crenshaws, the Gil Hanses…they’re great for dedicated enthusiasts and BPBM readers. Chicago needs downtown CEOs to have business rounds downtown, and not at any of the city’s vast collection of Golden Age privates. It just would have been nice if they could have secured Woods’s participation at a more charitable rate.

As for Zorn’s claim that a tough course scares away players…we’ll never agree with this argument (Jackson will also have a “family-friendly” six-hole course, for the record). But we also dig both Bethpage and Black Metal, so we’re biased against your softness.


Photo Cred: San Francisco Recreation & Parks


3. The Native Version (San Francisco, kind of)

So here comes the leftist rant. Ultimately I agree with Golf Digest’s Jaime Diaz on the importance of preserving San Francisco’s Sharp Park…I just thought he sounded like an elitist tool while he did it…which is ironic, because he’s trying to help the little guy here.

There are many black-and-white humps that golf and the community need to get over. In this case, it’s the notion that golfers are haters of all things environmental (if you’re an environmentalist) or that environmentalists are haters of all things golf (if you’re a golfer). Some of the shitty, misleading verbiage Diaz used: “Alistair Mackenzie creation against environmentalists”…”ideological agendas”…”zealots”…and he laid heavy on the species that needed protection—frogs and snakes—because clearly these are undesirable creatures. Which of course pisses off noted snake-endorsers but whatever*. 

* = The author wrote his final yearlong Masters Project on the financial impact of the ball python ban in New York City, while he was being a conceited tool himself at Columbia University. 

We said it in our last post: If you aren’t trying to get Audubon-certified when building new courses, you’re an asshole. If you already exist, working with environmental groups to benefit the environment IS THE BEST PLAN YOU HAVE FOR SURVIVAL.

Diaz made the mistake of lumping “commerce” in as on the same side as the Sierra Club (“entities who hate golf courses”). In reality, the two are on radically different sides of the argument, and golfers need to take advantage of this. Do you know how much Sharp Point is worth to developers in the nation’s most expensive city? Do you know how much good housing and office developments do for the environment? ABSOLUTELY NONE. Golf courses, on the other hand, can be flexible and protect native species. They also have the whole carbon-wiping thing going on. Golf courses  do not increase flooding. Buildings and parking lots do not do any of these things (and in the latter case, they increase the floodplain).

Environmentalists will absolutely choose a lesser evil, and we all win.  


Photo Cred: The Cultural Landscape Foundation (Lorenzo DePaolis)


4. The Historic Option (Austin)

I don’t hate Jaime Diaz. Usually, in fact, I agree with him. But one more dig at the logic behind Sharp Park. Yes, Alister Mackenzie is the greatest, and anyone with any appreciation for the architectural aspect of golf adores him. That said, claiming something deserves existence simply for having any name attached to it is silly. We, as Americans, have a tendency to over-preserve everything that’s not a tree. I call this the “Hallmark” effect; we pine to preserve stuff simply because it’s old. A fictional example actually comes straight from Hallmark (and my wife will confirm that I bitched throughout this movie): During Love, Once and Always, the protagonist aims to stop her soon-to-be beau from selling an abandoned Gilded Age mansion and developing it into a golf resort. As with every other Hallmark film, this takes place in a small town where such a resort would create un-literal billions of jobs. Fortunately they both win in the end, BUT STILL. I’ve never met anyone who has agreed with me on this approach to life, so I know I’m barking up the wrong tree here, but applying historic status to things just for being old is a literal Monument to Time End.

Dystopian rant over. Here’s the important part: There ARE structures and golf courses that deserve protection because they represent ACTUAL RELEVANT HISTORIC EVENTS.

Austin’s Lions Municipal Golf Course is the perfect example. Historians generally consider Lions to be the first golf course in the South to desegregate, doing so in 1950. Considering the game’s spotty record with race, throwing this card on the table almost guarantees a strong renovation movement. It helps that local Ben Crenshaw—two-times Masters winner and designer extraordinaire—also brings the “Celebrity” card into play.

Anyway, long post this week. If you’re Jaime Diaz or otherwise have an angry rebuttal to this piece, you know where to find us. @BPBlackMetal

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