The beauty of a well-maintained golf course is something we all can appreciate. Golfers see it as a playground, while others simply enjoy the scenic vistas, the trees and the fields of green.
But do we ever stop to think that these amenities exist because they are part of a business enterprise? Yes, a golf course is there to provide recreation, but it also must be economically viable – whether public or private – or it will eventually cease to exist.
As recreational opportunities expand and change, the numbers don’t lie – fewer people are picking up golf clubs. And this has had a big financial impact on golf courses everywhere.
According to the Southern California Golf Association, one million golfers across the country gave up the sport in 2014, while a million more quit the year before. The fact is the number of people playing the sport has been dwindling for more than a decade.
And the North County has not been immune to this trend. Over the past couple of years, golf courses in Escondido, Bonsall, Fallbrook, Poway, Rancho Peñasquitos and now, Oceanside have all experienced financial hardship – and many have been forced to close.
A recent newspaper article reported that taxpayers in Oceanside will be asked to shell out nearly $100,000 next year to subsidize the city’s withering municipal golf course, where rounds of golf have dropped by more than half since 2003. The situation is worse in Escondido, where taxpayers are currently subsidizing the Reidy Creek public golf course to the tune of more than $300,000 a year.
This changing landscape has raised all sorts of questions. Do we continue to tax the general public for facilities that are no longer in demand? Do we transform these courses into something that is more beneficial to the community in general?
Business closures of any kind impact the community. Jobs are lost, recreational or commerce opportunities vanish, and with a golf course, the natural beauty is at risk.
While change brings challenges, it also presents opportunities.
We can’t pave over paradise, but we can embrace modern planning techniques, environmental requirements and community desires to meet this challenge. It might seem odd, but it is future growth and community revitalization that will improve our regional transportation, air and water quality, while providing for more efficient energy use. New building standards, fire safety requirements, energy and water efficiency rules and required road improvements will benefit everyone.
As chairman of the Escondido Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Committee, I hear concerns from business owners and major employers about the region’s housing shortage and their inability to recruit qualified employees because homes are unaffordable. I hear concerns from school board members about possible school closures because we’re not replenishing our communities with housing options that attract younger families with children. As a result, the quality of our schools suffer as do property values in the surrounding area.
As we plan for the future, we must ask ourselves a very fundamental question: where do we want our children and grandchildren to live? Here in the North County where they grew up? Or up in Riverside County or other far-away places where they can afford to buy a home?
As a community, we need to work together to seize the opportunity that comes when a golf course closes. We should focus on creating amenities that are in greater demand – like parks, trails and housing choices for the next generation of North County families.
A future without change is simply not possible. Together we can – and should – embrace change, work collaboratively to create stronger communities, and ultimately build a brighter future for this special place we call the North County.
Cowan is a former Mayor of Escondido and currently Chairman of the Escondido Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Committee.