The Palo Alto Golf Course will have to offer more than just golf if it is to be profitable in the long run, a consultant and architect hired by the City of Palo Alto said on Tuesday (Oct. 25).
Palo Alto's aging course, which was built in the 1950s, hasn't had a design makeover in decades, city staff said. But the city will have a chance to turn the site into an attractive regional destination when the San Francisquito Creek Flood Protection project builds a new levee next year.
City Parks and Recreation commissioners got a glimpse of several potential designs for a vibrant and economically viable course that would have amenities to attract non-golfers, seniors, women and kids.
Those options could include a possible sports playing field, revitalized club house and restaurant with sweeping baylands views, a pedestrian and bike trail and a wedding venue, an Arizona golf course architect Forrest Richardson told commissioners.
The proposed flood-control levee would directly impact six and possibly seven holes and is being built in response to the 1998 flooding of San Francisquito Creek, which caused $28 million in damage to Palo Alto homes and businesses. Several other holes at the course would be affected due to the need to maintain minimum distances between fairways for golfer safety, according to an Oct. 3 city staff report.
The San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority (JPA), a joint-action agency that includes the City of Palo Alto, hired Richardson's firm to develop both a simple plan adjusting the course's holes and a master plan that would consider the site's entire potential.
Richardson has experience working with high-saline turf conditions, such as those at the baylands course, staff said.
The current 18-hole course on 184 acres of flat, former salt marsh and bay fill was designed by William R. Bell of Pasadena, a noted golf-course architect, Richardson said.
Renovations to the buildings and four holes were done in the 1970s, and in 1998 eight greens, four tees and five fairways were rebuilt. A new storm-drain station, with drainage, 35 catch basins and a new irrigation system were installed.
But it lacks a "wow" factor that is unlikely to attract more golfers, Richardson said.
In the last 10 years the course has struggled financially. Play has gone from 100,000 rounds to 70,000 annually, said Rob DeGeus, recreation department division manager. And only 20 percent of users are Palo Altans.
Richardson said the golf course represents "one of our largest parks," and as such, he envisioned an area that could attract many other users.
One concept would add an NCAA-size soccer field to the site (by reconfiguring 75 percent of the course); another adds a trail system along Embarcadero Road that leads to the clubhouse and restaurant, increasing revenue from non-golfers.
A short-game practice area, public putting green and flexible yardage for women, beginners and seniors who don't want to play 18 holes could attract more users, particularly as Palo Alto's population ages, he said. A fun and attractive children's area could also introduce youngsters to the game. Revenue drivers could include a wedding lawn and improved driving range. Each of the city's six driving-range bays produces $30,000 in annual revenue, he said.
The designs have excited the golfing community and non-golfing commissioners.
Golfer Craig Allen said he played the course in 1956 and soon thereafter switched to the course at Stanford, he said.
Commissioner Ed Lauing, another golfer, admitted he uses Shoreline Golf Course in Mountain View more often.
Commissioner Jennifer Hetterly said she is not a fan of the current golf course. "I know many golfers, none of whom would ever choose this course," she said.
The city should invest enough money to create an option that would attract more people, she added. "It's a great opportunity to produce a lunch place for people out at the baylands," she said. And Commissioner Deirdre Crommie said she was excited by the dual-use concept. The goal is to bring more people in, and she couldn't see residents supporting expensive renovations to a facility where only 20 percent of users are Palo Altans, she said.
Golfers at an Oct. 24 public-outreach meeting "were blown away" by some of the options Richardson presented, Allen said.
Getting the wow factor built in, including configuring some of the holes, "can provide an asset to draw more golfers and revenue for the future. Going a little extra with city money at this time is important," he said.
Richardson's team also presented renovations for the structures, including the clubhouse developed by Joseph Eichler, and restrooms.
The existing clubhouse and two other buildings would be renovated in the Eichler style, with warm wooden exteriors. A renovated clubhouse with glass-and-stone clerestory windows would have sweeping views of the surrounding landscape.
It reminded Commissioner Sunny Dykwel of structures by Frank Lloyd Wright.
"It could be a magnet," she said. "But can we afford it?"
The JPA-funded mitigations for the levee work would strictly address reconfiguring the holes impacted by the flood-control work. A $3.1 million budget for design and construction has been established, JPA Project Manager Kevin Murray said.
Option D, the most popular among golfers at the outreach meeting, could cost $8.2 to $8.9 million.
Raising that money could require some creativity in the current economic climate, commissioners agreed. Potential ideas included public-private partnerships and even a monetary exchange with Stanford Medical Center, which will be looking for a place to park all of its excavated soil from the hospital expansion project.
The commission expects to discuss Richardson's potential designs in November. Several other public meetings are planned in coming months. Construction of the portion of the golf course affected by the levee is scheduled to commence in December 2012.