Anti-golf bill must never rear its ugly head again

As I steered my car past the “Welcome to California” sign on that hot summer day so long ago, I knew I was about to see something special.

I was a 22-year-old kid from Chicago with a dream and the drive to find a new job and a new life in the Golden State, no matter what people back home said about it. It was the place for me.

I wasn’t disappointed on my initial trip traversing almost the entire coast.

After interviewing for a position at a Southern California newspaper, I reveled in the San Diego Zoo.

I drove north and actually saw celebrities as I tooled up and down the streets of Beverly Hills.

I headed up Highway 1 to Monterey and delighted in walking the 18th hole at Pebble Beach and playing Spyglass Hill.

I was amused by the distinctive people and even weirder sights at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

And in every part of the two-week journey, I saw golf courses. Everywhere, there were happy people teeing it up. At Griffith Park near Dodger Stadium. Along Highway 101 in the San Fernando Valley. All around Monterey and Carmel, naturally. And then at numerous locations in the Bay Area.

They are a major attraction for so many people. Even someone who has never enjoyed our great game has to admit that golf is extremely popular in California. They couldn’t be that blind.

Or maybe they could. There’s no other way to explain the insanity that was Assembly Bill 672, which proposed to convert municipal golf courses into affordable housing. It sailed through two committees but died in the Appropriations Committee on Jan. 20 before it could give even more people reason to flee to more clear-thinking states.

What was so wrongheaded about the bill is that it almost certainly would have targeted munis in major metropolitan areas, where golf has worked so hard to build a newfound rapport with minority populations. The First Tee and other success stories would be trampled if the courses close to those people’s homes were bulldozed.

And golf is growing, too. The numbers were way up last year and show no sign of losing their momentum. Getting rid of golf courses makes about as much sense as turning city parks into concrete mazes, and this bill didn’t say anything about parks – just golf courses, which actually make money in most places.

It comes down to how people want to live their lives. They need open spaces, no matter whether they want to hit a little white ball or just go for a walk. Even the largest cities have reserved sizable tracts of land that provide solace from the hustle and the bustle.

When I heard about this bill, my mind immediately went to my memories of a golf course not far from where I grew up. It was beautiful, covered with stately oak trees. I couldn’t imagine it ever going away.

And then, just like that, it was converted to a housing development along with another course nearby. Every time I drive by, I am sad – and saddened even more when I see the outlines of several holes that never got filled in with houses.

People moving into that area today will never know what they missed, but they missed a lot. It will never be the same for anyone who knew its grandeur.

I predict that the same will be true if something like AB 672 ever becomes law. There will be an outcry at first, and then over time it will dwindle as newcomers arrive and the old-timers move on.

Six months after my initial journey to California, I interviewed for another job, this time in the Bay Area, and got it. I never looked back. It indeed was the place for me and for my reverent devotion to golf.

But times have changed. The state has lost a lot over the years, and it would have lost a lot more if the Assembly had passed this bill.

That’s why it’s so important to fight to make sure it never is revived by its sponsor, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens). Give thanks for that nearby municipal course. Do what you can to save it, and that starts with playing it. You never know how good you have it until you don’t have it anymore.

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