By Chris Roberts
By Joe Eskenazi
By Albert Samaha
By Mike Billings
By Rachel Swan
By Erin Sherbert
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Last month S.F. Recreation and Park Department General Manager Elizabeth Goldstein, along with two park staffers, attended a golf tournament at Pebble Beach.
"They went down to look at how it was set up; they got to meet people at the PGA and that sort of thing, to get a feel for how it will work at Harding," says Recreation and Park Department spokeswoman Becky Ballinger. "They were going, you know, fact-finding."
So San Francisco's in the golf tournament business?
Not quite yet.
It seems that while lengthening and resculpting Harding Park Golf Course, the city-hired PGA architect helped spend all the allotted money before a clubhouse could be built. And it seems that you can't hold a PGA golf tournament unless Tiger Woods has a fancy place to change his clothes.
So on Feb. 10 the Board of Supervisors considered a measure to spend $3.5 million of state parks grant money on the first phase of a $7 million clubhouse project, bringing the total cost of the touted $16 million Harding renovation to $23 million.
"There were project cost overruns," notes Ballinger.
The Park Department is in an awful hurry to get this thing under way, as our multimillion-dollar tournament deal depends on it. Park officials finalized bidding instructions on the initial clubhouse work late last week, and bids were due Feb. 11. Supervisor Hall has prepared a resolution for the Board of Supervisors to authorize the renegotiated PGA deal. But there is no PGA deal. When asked about the S.F. tournament last month in Phoenix by a Chronicle sports reporter, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said, "It may be a couple of more months before we definitively announce what we're going to do."
The clubhouse is a sticking point. And if the Board of Supervisors approved diverting the $3.5 million in state money on Feb. 10 -- my deadline was too early to know if it did so -- the city's still an additional $3.5 million short. Yet I'm told that in order for the PGA deal to come through, the city has to be able to guarantee by June 1 that a clubhouse will be built.
The nonprofit group Friends of Parks and Recreation has put itself to work trying to raise some of the money, but it's not the type of outfit that can conjure up a few million dollars on a moment's notice. Enter Willie Brown.
According to Sean Elsbernd, who had been helping baby-sit the golf deal as an aide to Supervisor Hall, the heavy-lifting portion of the fund-raising is in the hands of the ex-mayor, who evidently wasn't too burdened by the task of also raising money for his Willie Brown Public Policy Institute. I wanted to ask Brown about that, but he didn't answer my call by deadline.
"Mayor Brown is not a golfer at all, but he really got into the project to restore Harding Park. It's a project close to his heart," said Elsbernd, who last week became Mayor Gavin Newsom's liaison to the Board of Supervisors. "The money must be raised by approximately June 1st."
And if it isn't?
"That's not an option," Elsbernd explained.
So to reprise: In order to consummate a deal with the PGA -- something boosters were touting as near-done three years ago -- the city must spend an extra $3.5 million in state grants that could have gone to other local park facilities. Our retired mayor must come up with a couple of million bucks in three months. Or the $23 million tournament/golf course renovation scheme gets whacked.
"That's a very well thought out, risk-free position," notes Peskin, facetiously.
Actually, it's a scary, seat-of-the-pants position that doesn't bode well for the 15 years of our proposed contract with the PGA -- if there ever is a contract. It's a position typical in San Francisco, where pols and boosters cook up half-baked, get-the-city-rich-quick schemes, then leave taxpayers to pick up the pieces.
It's a position that reminds me of the sound of Mark Grendahl's flat, lifeless, defeated voice when I'd call him on a day he had to watch golf.
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