News

Palo Alto considers new features for golf course

Activities for seniors, women and kids considered for revitalized course

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.

Comments

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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 31, 2011 at 10:05 am

For months we've been hearing from our city leaders about the budget crisis, dire financial outlook, and the worst economic time in decades. Essential city services like public safety and infrastructure needs dealt with cuts, but yet we keep hearing about multi-million dollar upgrades to city parks, bike bridge construction, and now a revamped golf course. The words of our city leaders do not match their actions and priorities. If the city is in a financial crisis, we should not even be discussing these projects, especially at the expense of public safety as well as sidewalk and street repair. Unreal.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2011 at 10:07 am

It would be wonderful if this makeover could include the Baylands Athletic area around the baseball fields. I could see this as being a wonderful sports complex with many sports facilities. Good dining with a couple of excellent restaurants would certainly make this a great recreational destination.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2011 at 10:09 am

Marrol

I do agree with you although I also like the idea of upgrading our city facilities to encourage Palo Altans to stay within the city for recreational needs and even to win outsiders in to spend their dollars too rather than, as at present, we go outside to get decent recreation and shopping.

I am interested to hear how the city plans to fund this before I run the idea down completely.


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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 31, 2011 at 10:28 am

I'm all for upgrading city facilities when we can afford it. Judging from their prognosis and cuts that were made in essential city services, I can't believe these luxury improvements are even being discussed. Is the city in a budget crisis or not? If we are not, then we need to fund public safety and complete other infrastructure projects before we start talking about bike bridges, park improvements, and most of all, a golf course make-over.


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Posted by commonsense
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 31, 2011 at 10:38 am

a public/private partnership could cut the cost to the city in half. furthermore, a viable, nice golf course could more than support itself, especially in a place like Palo Alto. Go for it!


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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 31, 2011 at 10:45 am

Not saying it's not a good concept. Just saying that in these dire financial times it makes no sense, Common Sense. Even cutting the cost in half will undoubtedly involve a multi-million dollar investment from the city. That's millions that we cannot afford, and that needs to be allocated for essential city services. When we are facing budget deficits and cutting essential services, that's not the time to go out and spend millions on luxury items.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2011 at 10:52 am

Marrol

Sometimes it is more prudent to spend on investment on infrastructure that will produce more income.

Money spent on improving our facilities will reap financial and emotional rewards. Money spent on fixing potholes won't do the same. I don't think this should be an either/or situation, but budgeting for both is a very necessary part of good husbandry.

The money spent on improving recreational and shopping facilities in Palo Alto is more than just spending dead money. If it can be seen to improve our lifestyle, our image to outsiders, and our ability to generate more income for the city, it is a different thing than just improving our potholed streets which will need to be improved again.

We must do both.


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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 31, 2011 at 10:55 am

Paul Losch from the Parks and Recreation Commission here.

Separate financing decisions from spending decisions.

The Joint Powers Authority, which controls SF Creek, has decided to modify its route and its levees. This has impact on the part of Baylands that includes the golf course.

JPA is doing the financing here. It is all well and good to question the spending options, but this is not something that will be funded exclusively by the City of Palo Alto. And it is going to happen, so we should focus on how best to re-develop this large footprint of land.

May I respectfully suggest that those weighing in on this matter focus on the possibilities for the future of the golf course and other things that could be part of those nearly 200 acres?

How things that are financed in public sector matters are, admittedly, very confusing. That is not part of this issue. JPA is paying for this, as a consequence of the 1998 floods.

The question is what will JPA "purchase," and what do we as community request?


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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 31, 2011 at 11:25 am

Mr. Losch,

Thank you for the kind response. One question however. You state that the JPA is doing the financing, and that the funding will not be exclusively funded by the City of Palo Alto. I have to wonder what portion of that funding will be. That's the fundamental issue. I have to believe that the city's portion will involve a multi-million dollar expenditure. Golf courses are not revamped with major development for less even with shared costs.

So for those suggesting a prudent approach, I have to believe that the prudent step is to not continue to spend millions of dollars on luxury items like parks, bike bridges, and golf courses when the city leaders themselves claim that we are in the midst of the worst financial crisis and budget deficit in decades. It doesn't add up. If someone is having trouble staying on budget, providing for their household, and paying their bills, it is not the time to buy a new car, spend a fortune on a luxury remodel, and take a vacation. The city is essentially doing the same thing.


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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 31, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Marrol,

My understanding is that JPA is funding the golf course modification in order to address its responsibilites around the SF Creek.

The City of Palo Alto is part of JPA, and like the other cities and counties that adjoin the creek, has an financial obligation to the JPA. Modification of the creek and its levies is what each member of the JPA has paid for. This is not a discretionary project, and IMHO should have happened already, not 13+ years after El Nino hit us hard.

Your speculation is well intentioned, but from what I know, without foundation. Nevertheless, I will make sure to ask during future PARC hearings around this matter what financial obligations, if any, the City has around this item.

Keep in mind that this is going to happen. Not doing it will not free up funds for other things that you cite as being more or less important from your perspective. That is why I encourage you and others to focus on how best to re-develop the land on which the golf course sits.

I don't like tripping over uneven sidewalks when I walk from my home to and from downtown PA. JPA funds are not available to remedy that issue, and I shudder to think what could happen to all those trees whose roots have grown over the decades since the sidewalks and steets were first paved.

You and everyone else in town has opinions about what is a discretionary or "luxury" expenditure and what is an essential part of what is spent in town. I merely am pointing out that as regards the re-routing of the SF Creek at the Baylands, the funding for this has no bearing, as I understand it, on the CPA budget, and we should not be distracted by raising this as an issue.

I think you and I have a philosophical difference of opinion around the likes of our parks, bike bridges and other things you cite, but that is a separate conversation.


Like this comment
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 31, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Marrol,
Like you said, it's an investment, not an expense. Without the investments PA has made over the decades we would have passed on parks, libraries, excellent schools, junior museums, arts, etc. and we would be just like any other town. Instead we have all of those wonderful things and a property tax base most cities only dream of. We need to continue to invest, wisely for sure, in the good times and the bad.


Like this comment
Posted by Sandy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 31, 2011 at 2:40 pm

I thought that the City was in debt and we, the citizens, have to pay more for water, utilities, garbage, etc. But yet the City has the funds to hire an outside consultant and architect and at what cost to us. As I have said in the past, let's start cutting within the City - start cutting at the top - those that make over $100,000 take a 10% pay cut. Also let's look at the enourmous benefits package these employees get - let's cut there also. I have had enough of the City wasting our money and we don't have a say in it.


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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 31, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Mr. Losch,

Again, thank you for your response. We may indeed disagree on the notion of discretionary and essential expenditures. I also understand that the JPA drives the funding for the rerouting of the creek and levee improvement. The City of Palo Alto has a financial obligation and for that I have no issue. What I do take exception to are the other proposed improvements to the golf course area. Any proposition that would involve spending millions of dollars on a new golf course configuration, additional athletic fields, or other non-essential use must be viewed with tremendous discretion. The capital improvements to the creek and levee should be made without have having to completely make-over the golf course.

We have been hearing from our city leaders that we are in the midst of an unprecedented budget crisis. It has been described as the most difficult financial times in decades by our city manager and council. Essential services in public safety and the city infrastructure have had to make repeated sacrifices and cuts, and yet, we hear of what sounds like another luxury investment. The words and action do not match what we're being told. If these are indeed the most challenging financial times our city has experienced in decades, the city leaders' words not mine, then why do we keep hearing about millions of dollars being spent on park upgrades, bike bridges, and now a potential golf course remodel. Why? Because if we believe our city leaders, we can't afford it.


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Posted by PA Sports Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 31, 2011 at 3:03 pm

What a great opportunity for Palo Alto! With the future of Cubberley's fields in jeopardy, what about using the land for multiuse fields, specifically softball and soccer? Doubling the Baylands Athletic Center would be a perfect designation. Other cities have beautiful facilities; why can't Palo Alto?


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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 31, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Because Sports Mom, the city can't afford it. The way our city climbs out of this budget deficit and gets back on track is to not spend money on projects we can't afford. I'd like to have a second-story on my house, a Lamborghini, and a vacation home in Maui. Other people have those. Why can't I? Because I need to balance my budget and can't afford it, just like the city can't afford this.


Like this comment
Posted by Really?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 1, 2011 at 8:08 am

Well, surprise, surprise - a golf course architect's advice is to redesign the existing golf course. Give it a big expensive makeover. Of course, we're going to have to pay a golf course architect to do the redesign.


Like this comment
Posted by Davey-o
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 1, 2011 at 9:41 am

I guess the redesign will happen no matter what, because it is tied to a required levee change. But, I am not really in favor of anything that is going to make the course any shorter than it already is (or needs to be based on available land), as any change that includes adding a soccer field or multiple "upscale" restaurants, surely would be. The course is already pretty short for serious golfers, who, as you point out, mostly play elsewhere.

However, due to it's convenient location right here in Palo Alto the course does have a chance to increase it usage. In my experience, players will play where they practice. Upgrade the practice facilities and players will practice and play there more often.

Right now, the driving range has a mix of 5 or 6 different kinds of mats, none of which are newer than 3 or 4 years old. The balls seem to be purchased used -from ranges like Stanford. Heck, the scrub brush at the club-cleaning station predate the Eisenhower administration. The "clubhouse smells worse than the men's rooms at Candlestick Park! Ever been in one of those? It is no wonder people golf elsewhere.

As an experiment I suggest they spend a year keeping items like these current. Then see how the number of rounds played responds. The one layout alternative might be a layout that reduces it to 9 holes (while keeping the length the same or longer) played twice, although that cuts the available tee times in half.

I personally, won't play an 18-hole course that is a par 54 or so but is only 3 or 4 thousand yards in length. Just take a look at Mariner's Point, up in Foster City.

Another alternative, what about relocating the airport businesses to unused nearby comercial space and use the new land for restaurant, clubhouse and practice facilities allowing the course to keep a reasonable length.

Please invoke some creative thinking to avoid completely killing this course off.


Like this comment
Posted by DZ
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Nov 1, 2011 at 10:26 am

With the amount of airplane noise pollution in the course, it is just not a place to enjoy golf.


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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 1, 2011 at 12:18 pm


I just think it is clear and a no-brainer than partitioning off Palo Alto for the flying and gold enthusiasts so they can dominate the precious bay real estate the city has does not serve our city and most of the people here.

Putting in recreational and entertainment centers, for example, like Mountain View does only makes sense if we plan and devote resources and though to the development, and having the noisy airport out there really makes it impossible to be serious about putting in facilties to enjoy nature and the bay.

I wonder if we poll golfers how they like the constant noise out at the baylands when they are trying to have fun and golf?

Or the people hiking or biking at the baylands ... how do you like the constant roar and occasional crash of these planes that often just circle around the area or fly over Palo Alto spreading their noise pollution to the maximum number of people.

Palo Alto ... we have a really great resource out by the bay. If we got rid of the airport and cleaned up the smell from the sewage treatment plant we could do more with it than just use it as dead land for industrial plants.


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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 1, 2011 at 12:23 pm

>> With the amount of airplane noise pollution in the course, it is just not a place to enjoy golf.


BINGO ... and this goes for every other thing a human being or animal might want to do as well. The airport is albatross around the neck of the city locked in place by a minority of self-important people with status symbols who want to exert their political power. There is just no reason to have so many small airports in the same area, and the facilities and staff of whatever is the best airport to keep in this area would be better served and more professional if the total airplane inventory was moved to some larger more consolidated and efficent location ... oh, and let's not forget SAFER too.


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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 1, 2011 at 12:27 pm

We don't need creative thinking Davey-O, we need logical thinking. The capital improvement project can be completed without major changes being made to the existing golf course. The city is currently not in a position to be expending funds, likely millions of dollars, in upgrading the current facility much less adding athletic fields, club houses, etc. If you want those luxuries, join a country club. Only necessary changes should be made to the golf course based on the impact of the levee/creek project. To spend a nickel more during these very difficult financial times would be irresponsible.


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Posted by Davey-o
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 1, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Well here's a couple of inputs: 1)As an occasional PA Muni golfer, the planes have negligible impact on my enjoyment. 2)If changes are made to only the portion of the course that is required due to levee changes, you stand to degrade many of the few longer holes on the course, degrading it's desirability to the golfing public, further endangering its financial viability. Fine, if that's what the residents want to do. 3)But the golf course is a big draw, particularly for the golfing youth; which I place a high value on.

As for the airport, I go to the Baylands regularly for biking and birding; these too are negligibly impacted by the airport. Never smelled and airplane exhaust, there, EVER. Me thinks someone has an issue with the airport. Me: I don't care either way.

And lastly, 4)Yes, modifying the entire course will have a cost. There is a lot of unused dead space (rock-hard or mushy salty area growing nothing) on the course btwn holes. Perhaps a good course could be made if "all" the area were used.

People (somewhere, I think) study golf course design. Get a student or team of students to do it.

"To spend a nickel more during these very difficult financial times would be irresponsible." ..that's the kind of narrow-minded, short-sighted thinking that many people just don't respect any more~! Don't want any money spent; move to Rockchity, Nevada.


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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 1, 2011 at 8:33 pm

What's short-sighted about controlling spending during what the city leaders have described as the most challenging financial times the city has faced in decades? We are facing a huge budget deficit. Essential services including those in public safety have been cut. The only short-sighted thinking is by those who would choose to spend millions of dollars during this economic crisis, on a golf course no less. We get out of debt and balance the city budget by not spending money on non-essential projects.

It would be terrific to reach a point when the city can comfortably fund park improvements, bike bridges, hiking trails, and yes, a revamped municipal golf course. This isn't the time to even approach luxury projects such as this, especially at the further expense of public safety and vital infrastructure needs. Bottom line, we can't afford it. Let's be smart, wait for the economy to stabilize, and then revisit these plans.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 1, 2011 at 10:33 pm

What makes sense to me is making our city a vibrant and pleasant place to live.

Recreational services are vital to all of us and we have some of the worst in the Bay Area. Any money spent on revamping our crumbling recreation will pay dividends in the fact that we are going to use Palo Alto facilities and other businesses as a consequence which is good for our city.

If we continue having to go outside Palo Alto for these basic services along with basic shopping, then the city will suffer and our neighbors will reap the benefits. Doesn't it make sense for Palo Alto to spend money in Palo Alto and tax dollars going into Palo Alto coffers rather than Mountain View or anywhere else.

The majority of Palo Altans are spending money outside Palo Alto when we shouldn't have to.

Put improvements to our recreational facilities into the budget. Cut out frills and perks for City Hall managers (halloween parties). Cut out fancy titled managers who push paper. But, please do not stop spending money on mending pot holes or on improving our infrastructure and recreational facilities.


Like this comment
Posted by Marrol
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 1, 2011 at 10:57 pm

I'm all for it Resident, when we can afford it. I also agree that any top heavy management positions in city government have to be looked at in our continued effort to balance the budget. The first step in fiscal responsibility however is to spend less, especially on a high price tag, luxury project like a revamped golf course. I don't think people realize how serious the current budget deficit really is. Again, this is a time to be prudent and smart. Dropping millions of dollars into a non-essential project like this is truly irresponsible.


Like this comment
Posted by polk
a resident of Meadow Park
on Nov 2, 2011 at 12:05 am

It would be terrific to reach a point when the city can comfortably fund park improvements, Web Link

nice comments . thanks


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Posted by unknown
a resident of another community
on Nov 7, 2011 at 5:03 pm

It's a little surprising that Palo Alto is using Mr. Richardson as the architect especially since we have so many local golf architects in the Bay Area and he is from Arizona. Furthermore, his previous work to say it nicely has not been well received. Check Peacock Gap in San Rafael where they had to hire another architect to fix his mess. To me, golf architects are like artists and Mr. Richardson is lower level architect. YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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