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 Harding...at the $16 million figure.

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