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In the time of Covid, the Presidio Golf Club has become the Presidio People’s Park. Children have repurposed the sand bunkers as sandboxes. People running, biking, walking, and rolling with strollers and wheelchairs have taken to the miles of paved paths previously only accessible to golf carts. Families are resting under the shade of century-old cypresses.

Every San Franciscan can now visit the depths of this formerly gated natural wonderland and ask the question: Why haven’t I enjoyed this amazing park before?

It is often in times of crisis that we lift our heads from life’s daily buzz and have an opportunity to question the status quo. The Covid crisis has San Franciscans thinking perhaps there is a better public use for a nearly 150-acre limited-access park in the heart of our city.

The original Presidio Golf course and country club were built in 1895 when the army general Wiliam M Graham allowed a group of San Francisco businessmen to create a nine-hole course on military land. The course was expanded to its current size in 1910

Photo: Zach Klein
Photo: Zach Klein

In other times of crisis, this land served emergency uses. The golf course was used as a military staging ground in 1903. And in 1906 the course was used as a camp for earthquake refugees.

But for the majority of modern history, over 100 years, this golf course was private and exclusive.

The course opened to 'public' play in 1996. That means, outside of the current Covid crisis, these 150 prime acres in our small 7x7 mile city are reserved for an exclusive few who pay to play golf.

The cheapest admission is $38, to play during the twilight hours of a winter weekday. On any summer Saturday, when one has trouble finding room to kick a soccer ball at Dolores park, it costs from $87 to $150 per person. And, of course, one is limited to a single activity: golf, which is experiencing a massive decline in popularity. Golf participation in America peaked at 30 million participants in 2003. Since then it has declined to 24 million in 2018, a drop of 20 percent.

And according to the National Golf Foundation, only 23 percent of America’s golfers are women.

Photo: Zach Klein
Photo: Zach Klein

Clearly, the adjacent, members-only Presidio Golf & Concordia Club has an interest in maintaining the status quo. Their members get unlimited golf access included in their membership fee. Membership fees are not disclosed. From the pictures on their website, the membership of this club doesn't appear to represent the diverse San Francisco I see three blocks away on Clement street in the Richmond district.

For comparison, Golden Gate Park registers 24 million annual visitors to its 1,017 acres. That's nearly 24,000 visitors per acre, per year. No entrance fees required. And there is no adjacent members-only club that gets exclusive access.

The Presidio Golf course counts 180,000 annual visitors. At 149.6 acres that is only 1,200 visitors per acre, per year. To gain access one has to pay $50-$150 per visit or pay membership to an exclusive club.

Is the land operated by the Presidio Golf course serving our diverse community with its highest and best use? I think the Covid crisis has taught us the answer is clearly “no.” This land should be open to bird watchers. To families picnicking. To children playing in sandboxes. To people of all abilities and interests strolling and rolling in nature.

We should adapt the programming of this special 150 acres of land. Perhaps on weekends the land will be open to all types of recreation at no charge. Weekdays can be for Concordia club members and $50-$150 golf participants. Or perhaps we return the golf portion of this land to its historic, nine-hole past, and convert the other nine holes to a park accessible to all San Franciscans at all times?

And no matter how we re-purpose this jewel, it should pay homage to the Ohlone Native American people of the Northern California coast, the original human stewards of this special public land.

Maybe someday soon we can welcome all San Franciscan's to their new park.

The Ohlone People’s Park.

Matt Brezina, Organizer of the @PeopleProtected Bike Lane

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