Urban Golf Courses: Publicly Subsidized, Privately Enjoyed

City golf courses, paid for by public dollars, are rarely used by the vast majority of residents. Some advocates want to see them opened to the public as parks or repurposed for housing.

2 minute read

November 7, 2023, 9:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


View of Golden Gate Bridge from Presidio Golf Course with tall trees in foreground in San Francisco, California.

San Francisco's Presidio Golf Course sits inside a national park. | cphoto / Adobe Stock

According to an article by Eliza Relman in Business Insider, “Urban and suburban golf courses are one of the least efficient and equitable ways to use densely-populated land. Many urban planners see them as a golden opportunity to address worsening homelessness, a housing affordability crisis, and a shortage of green space.”

In about half of US states, golf courses are heavily subsidized through property tax breaks. In California, a 1960 law ensures golf courses aren't taxed based on their ‘highest and best use’ as other land is, and instead get a special tax break just for being golf courses.

Compared to public parks, golf courses have much lower usage by their nature, Relman writes. In San Francisco, “The Presidio Golf Course has just 1,200 visitors per acre each year, while San Francisco's nearby Golden Gate Park welcomes 24,000 visitors per acre annually.”

With golf’s popularity on the decline—“About a third of public golf courses lost money in 2019”—“Proponents of retrofitting courses note that reducing the number of golf courses would help boost revenue for courses that do survive.”

Relman describes the challenges to converting golf courses to other uses, including the cost of buying the property and the process of rezoning to accommodate housing or other new development, which faces strong pushback in many cities. “Despite what ‘anti-golf Twitter’ says, proponents of redevelopment don't necessarily want to abolish the sport — they just want golf to take up less space in dense places.”

Sunday, November 5, 2023 in Business Insider

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