The Golf Course as a Shared Space?

Golf Course Opting for Multiple Use – How Will That Work?

Yes, it is a shrinking world, and perhaps we all have to do our part to make public spaces healthy and efficient. It is, however, an odd concept for a golf course. The tennis courts in my home have half converted to pickleball, a sort of big version of ping-pong. For seniors, they (we) don’t have to run so far. Many of the parks have set up frisbee golf apparatus, and it doesn’t seem to bother anyone much. But golf?

Golf is the temple for a particular game. We have adjusted them to be more ecological, and shared them with the animal kingdom, on land and in water. That’s different. They were here first, haven’t read the USGA rules, and know nothing about St. Andrews and its rich history – poor things. Even with that, we do get some interesting stories between deer, elk, bear, or elephants strolling into the picture when someone’s trying to putt.

Sharing golf courses with people who have no interest in it really changes things.  There are a few places where everyone seems to understand the drill. I used to play a course in Memphis that bordered the art museum on one side, and the zoo on the other. There, you can take a moment to dash in and see a Monet before hitting your drive. The zoo is forward, and I have learned from the experience that one just can’t explain to an elephant that they need to be quiet while you’re taking a shot. Between that are the strollers, people taking nice walks, but not always on the outer perimeter or the cart path.

Where it becomes a problem is when a course is totally open to public space at the same time. Hit your drive next to a group of birdwatchers who have just spotted a blue-beaked oriole. That’s interesting. Walk down the fairway with a frisbee crossing your line of sight, step over the picnic, grab your wedge and try not to interfere with the kid flying his kite. Watch the bunker. There’s a person asleep in it, and you’ll be in big trouble if he gets hurt. What I’m describing is the Presidio in San Francisco, where the sharing of the golf space is being considered.

What I hope is that they intend to share the schedule, not the space at the same time. The Presidio is a national space, not just intended for golf, after all. One idea is to set aside one day per week so that families and others can use the space without someone yelling “fore!” at them. It would almost have to be a weekend, where parks are used more than at any other time. The complaint among those who run the courses is, of course, financial in nature. There is a certain amount of revenue that comes from the golf course, and taking one-seventh of it away is a concern.

Of course, this whole idea must apply to municipal or government golf courses. Watching street vendors, performance artists and Cub Scout outings pour onto the fairway while trying to play the Masters? Now there would be a war for the ages. Jokes about croquet on Augusta’s 16 green aside, there is a question of course maintenance.  Golf courses are a lot more fragile than they look. Bunkers, greens and tee boxes need repair. Fairways are easily damaged, and even the rough isn’t there because that’s just the way it grew. Non-golfers don’t know that, and there’s always the sort who doesn’t care. And, speaking of that, there is the ever-present human habit of litter. How do we like that on our golf courses?

A certain kind of organization can make this work, upper level and private courses excepted.  Mankind is not always aware of his fellow humans. His sense of neatness is erratic, and he treads heavily on delicate things. It’s going to take a lot of discipline to share the golf course efficiently.

Oh, and litterers? Mandatory caddying and driving the range ball collector.

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