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**Update 11/29/2011: Federal Judge Susan Illston  issued an Order Denying Plaintiffs’ Motion for a Preliminary Injunction at Sharp Park Golf Course.  The plaintiffs, “a collection of non-profit conservation groups” led by the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, had sought an order to halt mowing on Holes 9-18 and to halt winter flood-relief pumping at the 80-year-old golf course.  Noted architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr. submitted a declaration to Court, saying that if granted, the relief sought by the plaintiffs would effectively mean destruction of the Alister MacKenzie-designed course. In a 15-page ruling, Judge Illston said she denied the motion because she found that the plaintiffs ”failed to establish the likelihood of irreparable harm” to the California red-legged frog or the San Francisco garter snake.

Here’s a copy of Judge Illston’s ruling: Order_denying_PI (68 kb)

Although this is great news, Sharp is not fully in the clear.  The preliminary injunction has been denied but a full trial will commence summer 2012.


People not intimately familiar with California golf probably haven’t heard of Sharp Park.  In 1917 the City of San Francisco was bequeathed 400 acres of coastal real estate by the widow of George Sharp, a local attorney.  With Harding and Lincoln Park golf courses overflowing with enthusiastic new golfers, the city agreed to construct a 3rd public golf course on the brackish coastal land donated by Sharp.  Alister MacKenzie, having  just completed a couple of goat trails known as Cypress Point and Pasatiempo, was hand selected as architect.

Flash forward 80 years and Sharp Park is thriving.  An evolving coastline forced adjustments to MacKenzie’s original layout but 14 of the original holes survive today with 12 original greens.  As a result, Sharp Park has remained available and affordable, drawing an ethnically, economically, and age diverse group to its cypress lined fairways.  It’s your classic muni: popular, a little beat up, accommodating, and fun.  I have played there about 20 times, often walking on and getting quickly paired, even in peak hours. There are some courses that, no matter the quality of your play, you are ensured to have a good time.  This course is one of these and truly one of our historic gems; perfect length and environment for persimmon and blades.

The back nine at Sharp hugs the shore of the Pacific Ocean and a sea wall was constructed to keep back the water.  A freshwater wetland supplied by rain runoff from local hills eventually replaced the saltwater lake.  An ecosystem sprouted up around the freshwater ponds that included the San Francisco Garter Snake and the California red-legged frog.  Now endangered and threatened, respectively, due to coastal erosion and other mechanisms owing to climate change, environmentalists have manufactured a faulty war on Sharp Park Golf Course itself.

A series of flawed arguments have been presented in San Francisco courts recently assaulting everything from the course’s alleged financial drain (the golf course has made a profit in recent years despite the economic downturn and the city’s “overhead” charges which are basically subsidies taken from course revenue and redistributed to other facets of local government) to erroneous allegations of environmental negligence (Sharp has been working with city biologists and continuously implementing policies to protect and preserve the ecosystem that the course itself created).  A working group recently concluded that the course, with minor rerouting in accordance with MacKenzie’s original hole layouts, could coexist with a healthy and sustainable wetland.

I may be biased as a golf lover but I took the time to research both sides in this case and there is no doubt in my mind Sharp Park has been mis-branded as a historically insignificant country club full of rich yuppies pulling the strings of society between martinis.   Like minded golfers, conservationists, and rational citizens of the Bay Area have united to fight to save Sharp Park by forming the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance.    Arguments and counterarguments were heard this week in court and the case is currently under consideration.  A written decision should be provided within a week.  The fate of Sharp Park now rests with one judge.

While we wait for her decision, I strongly recommend reading the attached essay, composed by Richard Harris and Bo Links and presented here with permission.  Inside, you’ll find a detailed origin of Sharp Park, a hole by hole description of the course as it plays today,  Dr. Alister MacKenzie’s original layout, and contributions from Jack Fleming (Fleming Course at Harding Park).

Sharp Park Under Siege (1.94mb)

Photographer Bill Fields filed a beautiful black and white photo spread for Golf Digest in support of Sharp Park.  Here’s  my favorite shot and a link to the 30 slide set.

Sharp Park, Black and White


5 Responses to “Sharp Park: A Classic MacKenzie Gem Under Siege”

  1. Avatar of Paul C Paul C says:

    I’ve read a bit about Sharp Park and you have a jewel on your hands there. I hope it is preserved and continues to run. Most of the golfers who play there have been coming to Sharp Park for many years and closing it would hurt the psyche of the community . It should be designated a U.S. historical landmark. The photo you posted looks like the work of Ansel Adams–beautiful!

  2. I’m guilty of not following this story closely enough. I didn’t realize how things had escalated and thought common sense would prevail. I’ll be following it now for sure and will keep you all posted. It is a special place and it’s where I love playing with all my “twice a year” golfer friends. Fun to stand on the seawall and knock an old balata into ocean as well! Trying to keep things in perspective and remember it’s just golf and I am lucky to even have the means to play at all but losing Sharp would really disturb me.

  3. What a shame about Sharp Park. I’ve played there and it’s a top notch muni. Let’s hope the judge has more sense than the misguided environmentalists. Golfers are environmentalists too. They are after the wrong crew.

  4. Let’s plan a day to get out there for a hit..!!

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