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Harding's Crunching Numbers

hardingpark18.jpgIn America's Sweethearts, John Cusack's character watches the bizarre new Hal Wideman film as it is being screened, turns to Billy Crystal's publicist character and whispers, "sometimes you look at a film and you say, where did the money go?"

Some are looking at Harding Park today and asking the same thing.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, an audit revealed that not only did the city managed to lose $141,619 on the recent American Express Championship, but the overall cost of the course renovation project skyrocketed to $23.6 million, $7.6 million over the original (and excessive) $16 million cost.

The audit also shows how funds meant to improve park and recreation programs for lower-income San Franciscans were borrowed to reinvigorate the public golf courses.

According to Rose, the renovation of the 18-hole Harding and nine-hole Fleming golf courses at Harding Park, which began in 2002, wound up costing $23.6 million, which was $7.6 million, or 47 percent, over the original estimate of $16 million.

The project wound up being a "significant opportunity cost to the rest of the city's recreation and park system," Rose wrote.

In 2001, the Arnold Palmer Golf Management Co., which had reached a deal with the city to carry out the project and then manage the courses, withdrew. Officials tapped state bond funds that had been awarded to San Francisco and that were earmarked for recreation and park projects in underserved or economically disadvantaged areas.

In 2002, the Board of Supervisors authorized the Recreation and Park Department to use the state funds for Harding, provided that the money was repaid with interest from golf course funds within 25 years.

But, according to the audit, city courses lost money in fiscal year 2004-05, needing a $536,000 subsidy from the city's general fund to cover their expenses.

The auditors may get their wish on this next suggestion, based on the Tour Championship setting up shop at East Lake and the WGC events locking in to Tucson, Doral and Firestone.

Citing the losses on the American Express Championship -- which featured the world's top players and was won by Tiger Woods -- Rose recommended renegotiating the city's agreement with the PGA Tour or terminating the deal.

The contract currently calls for five tournaments over 15 years.

Agunbiade, citing broader economic benefits to the city from PGA play, said terminating the agreement would be shortsighted.

William Strawn, a spokesman for the PGA during the tournament at Harding, said the event brought at least $55 million in tourist spending to the Bay Area.

"Although difficult to quantify," Agunbiade wrote, "the benefits to the city go far beyond the dollars and cents which accrue to the Recreation and Park Department."

You may recall that I wrote a Golfobserver column on the high cost to renovate the $16 million figure.

Sadly, this revelation may doom future municipal course restoration projects.

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Reader Comments (4)

Sandy Tatum is very accessible and direct. Perhaps you can call him for his thoughts. Despite the alleged cost overruns and what it might mean for the future of muni restorations, you only had to be there for half an hour on any of the four days in October to experience the civic pride that the locals had in seeing everything come to fruition. The world's best players having a great time, praising the course that a few years ago you would lose a ball in daisy fields on the fairways, enthusiastic but not over the top galleries, perfect weather and a heavyweight playoff (despite the outcome). It was certainly worth $30 of my taxpayer money.

Remember that this is San Francisco, the most expensive place to live in the country with a local government that is more concerend about uncovering internal video spoofs, airport parking passes and dog leash laws than clearing homicides or fixing potholes. Despite what this clown says or recommends, when the mayor is preening for the cameras walking inside the ropes all weekend, the only way the City alters its agreement with the Tour is for them to come back more often.

When Seattle, LA or Atlanta take the plunge on their munis they can point to Harding and congratulate themselves for being only 25% over budget. SF did it and did it right, better than a half-ass job, an upset Tour and people blaming it on a lack of funding. I don't care if somebody got a new Benz or put their kid through college as a result of the deal.
01.13.2006 | Unregistered CommenterNRH
NRH and the above post is so far off base it barely deserves a response. He is congratulating the city for be only 25% over budget? Doesn't anyone think that $23 million for a restoration is a little excessive? Look at some of the other restorations (Torrey Pines as an example) and we are talking a total budget of less than $10 million.

The entire civic pride is crazy considering half those people in attendence are members of surrounding clubs and the half people who want to see Tiger Woods. Nobody cares about the golf course, its more of a civic/social happening. If anybody did care about the golf course, the people would be screeming how Chris Gray destroyed a classic golf course trying to modernize it.
01.13.2006 | Unregistered CommenterNRH2
My take is similar and while I understand what NRH is getting at, it's just hard to accept these numbers. Not only did the city get ripped off by someone, but it will kill the chances of future projects like this. A Sharp Park or a Griffith Park or North Fulton will come up and people will now point to Harding and say, nope, no way. And you know what? At those figures, I would not blame them. $23 million would be acceptable for renovations of all the city courses combined, but one?
01.14.2006 | Registered CommenterGeoff
I was away for the holiday weekend and just read your post. Congratulations are in order for your creativity on the screen name and spelling acumen. However, my comments about being over budget were tongue-in-cheek and a glass half full take on Geoff's thoughts of pending doom for future muni remodels. By nature, everything is that much more expensive and fouled up in San Francisco so it will never be that bad in other cities.

How could you possibly think that Harding has been 'destroyed'?

Tiger is certainly no stranger to Bay Area crowds. Yes, many of the people there are indeed members of other clubs who had a significant helping hand in getting the job done and conducting the tournament proper. Beyond Bethpage, which was the USGA, where else has such a renaissance taken place for a Tour event? Please do not try to compare it to East Lake. Of course there was civic pride involved and as for your comment about a social happening, isn't that what keeps them coming back to Pebble, Phoenix, Cromwell (oops), Las Colinas, Grand Blanc, Ponte Vedra, etc.?
01.17.2006 | Unregistered CommenterNRH

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