NCGA Golf

FALL 2017

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S harp Park is more than a golf course; it is a test case for how much we care about public golf. It is a referendum on the preservation of history, an experiment in these fraught times to see if private citizens can still come together for the public good. A few years ago it looked like Sharp Park might be left to go fallow, undone by strident environmentalists and the apathy of the larger San Francisco golf community. Now, it has a chance to be restored to its former glory. "From where we were to where we are now, it's like climbing Mt. Everest," says Bay Area lawyer Bo Links, who has been a Sherpa of sorts throughout the process, carrying a heavy load of activism to save a course he loves. Sharp Park has municipal golf's greatest pedigree: it was designed by Dr. Alister MacKenzie, the creator of Cypress Point, Augusta National and Royal Mel- bourne, among other revered courses. He loved the site—10 miles south of San Francisco, hard against Salada Beach—because it reminded him of the links - land of his native Scotland. Before he began construc- tion, MacKenzie said, "The proposed municipal seaside golf course at Sharp's Park will be as sporty as the Old Course at St. Andrews and as picturesque a golf course as any in the world." It opened in 1932 as a par 71 of 6,173 yards. The third and seventh holes ran alongside the beach—but beyond its intrinsic beauty the design is of particular importance to golf architecture wonks because it brought together in one place many of MacKenzie's signature flourishes. Along with Richard Harris, Links has co-written the coffee table book, Alister MacKenzie's Legacy of Public Golf at Sharp Park. The authors write, "The original 8th hole was a version of the signature dogleg-right sixth hole at Royal Melbourne, while the green complex at the orig- inal fourth hole closely resembled another MacKenzie one-shotter, the third at Cypress Point. Most notably, the original fifth and tenth holes at Sharp Park (today's Nos. 17 and 14) were versions of MacKenzie's 'Lido Hole,' which he called the ideal par four." MacKenzie's vision lasted less than a decade. In 1941, after a series of destructive winter storms, the third and seventh holes were sacrificed so a seawall could be built to protect the rest of the course. With MacKenzie having died years earlier, his foreman Jack Fleming built four new holes alongside a canyon on the east side of Highway 1, and the routing was rejig- gered. The course continued to change in the ensuing decades; today only 12 of the original MacKenzie holes exist. Even on these, much of the design elements have been lost or compromised due to neglect. "There used to be these huge, wild, undulating greens," says Links, "but over time they've shrunk so much they've lost much of their character." As Sharp Park began to look like just another scruffy muni it became easier to dismiss its importance. In 2011, a lawsuit was filed by a consortium of environ- mental groups calling on the federal government to close the golf course. They argued that its continued operation endangered local wildlife, particularly the threatened California red-legged frog and San Fran- cisco garter snake. In response, Links co-founded the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance to fight for Sharp Park's survival. The last six years have been an endless series of hearings and studies and contested votes, but the upshot is that the golfers have won and Sharp Park is on firm footing. Now Links and his fellow course advocates have moved on to the next battle: raising $11 million to $12 million to restore Sharp Park to its original design and upgrade the hacienda-style club- house, a Works Progress Administration project. "Bringing back MacKenzie's vision while keeping the place affordable and accessible, that's our Holy Grail," says Links. "That's what keeps us going." San Francisco already has pulled off one successful renovation project with Harding Park—and it doesn't hurt that San Francisco mayor Ed Lee is an enthusias- tic supporter of the plan. "What's been really neat and gratifying about the battle for Sharp Park is that the golfers have come through and made their voice heard and said this is a treasure worth preserving," says Links. "A movement has been created, and the result is going to be this incredible golf course will be reborn for all of us to enjoy." Alan Shipnuck is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated. His introduction to golf came as a cart boy at Pebble Beach Golf Links. He lives in Carmel. 20 FALL 2017 | NCGA.ORG Why Saving Sharp Park Matters BY ALAN SHIPNUCK

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