In March, the city rejected all proposals vying to operate the Presidio Hills Golf Course. This was a harsh blow to the Friends of Presidio Hills Golf who spent a lot of time and money crafting a $6-million-dollar community-funded plan to restore the course to its 1932 glory, including revival of junior golf programs that thrived when the Abrego family operated the course (1932 to 2003).
The Friends non-profit group formed in 2017 over dismay at the course's condition since the current operator took over in 2010.
John Vallas spearheaded the Friends proposal. He said the city refused to state their reason for rejecting their proposal. "They said the only thing they can tell us is they will clarify language in a new [request for proposals] — and we'll know then."
Vallas said their proposal included building a community center with classrooms, a pro shop, and snack bar. The community center entrance would showcase golf history for San Diego and Presidio Hills. The group has budgeted $1-1.5 million toward possible environmental process or archeological investigations.
Pro Kids/The First Tee of San Diego has partnered with Friends to operate Presidio Hills and bring back junior golf programs. Pro Kids has a track record in this arena locally since 1994.
As far as the Seventeenth Century adobe house on site, Save our Historic Organisation has partnered with Friends to return it back to its circa 1810 configuration which includes the pear orchard. It would be reopened as a museum and include history of the Kumeyaay Indian nation.
The golf course's 28-space parking lot used to be for "golfers only." A few years ago, it turned into a paid public parking lot. When I took my niece golfing at Presidio Hills last Saturday, I got caught in a parking lot traffic jam. There were only two other golfers on the course.
When proposers asked for financials regarding parking revenue, the city stated they did "not have the specific current or past revenue from paid parking" but stated it was included under "sales" in a provided profit and loss statement.
The parking rate is $5 (hourly) to $30 (daily). A conservative estimate for weekend parking revenue is $75,000 annually. Depending on the current operator's cut, this could be a significant percentage of their revenue ($113,000 was the average annual reported revenue 2013 - 2016).
The lure of parking revenue may explain Cinco de Mayo 2013 when the current operator turned the golf course into a paid parking lot. The current irrigation system is thought by Vallas to have been destroyed at this time. Shortly after this incident, a public parking sign appeared advertising $10 to park all day.
Via city communications, all proposals were rejected "based upon questions and concerns which were not adequately addressed." The city won't be "disclosing any additional information" until they release a new request for proposals in two months. The city stated their primary goal is finding "the best possible business partner, who can successfully restore and operate the golf course."
Jo Pastore, attorney for Friends, said, "We are the best possible choice to restore and operate the course. I think if the process was more transparent we could have addressed all their concerns and we would be moving forward with the project. I would highlight that no one, in my orbit, is happy with the condition of that course or how it is being operated. When the city did not award the proposal to us they, in actuality, gave their stamp-of-approval to the current operator — who was the only other applicant."
Pastore said after their proposal was shortlisted, they asked the city if they had any questions or concerns so they could adequately prepare for their oral interview (in January). "Their answer was they would not give us a list of questions and for us 'to guess.'"
When Carol Hartson Jensen met some old junior golf buddies at Presidio Hills a few years ago, she was shocked. "Are you kidding me? It's a cow pasture. There are really no greens." She has much fonder memories when Presidio Hills had a vibrant junior golf program. She won her first tournament there in the 1950s and went on to become a state champion.
Hartson Jensen was dumbfounded when the city rejected the Friends proposal. "I understand the city has priorities, but this was a gift. We're not asking for money. How can they say no to investing in the city, to investing in programs for kids?"
As my niece, Brooklyn, golfed for the first time last weekend, she saw dead trees lying on the course, hoses coiled around sprinklers, yellow "crime scene" caution tape along the Juan Street side of the course, and an active anthill.
Many question the logic of the city's real estate assets division being in charge of Presidio Hills instead of the city's golf division.
Last spring, the golf division wrestled with that question. Presidio Hill's "limited revenue potential" and the high unlikelihood of a return on investment, if improvements are made, were noted concerns. With their estimation of $907,113 in needed annual expenses versus an estimated $125,000 in revenue (based on 12,500 rounds of golf), the golf division determined there was "no possibility to ever breaking even" in a course that serves "significantly less residents" than other courses.
Courses operated by the golf division include Balboa Park, Mission Bay, and Torrey Pines. The latter is the money-maker and the only one to host one of the four major golf tournaments. In 2008, it hosted the U.S. Open when Tiger Woods won. Local legend Phil Mickelson has never won the U.S. Open but holds the record for the most times as a runner-up (six times). The city will host the U.S. Open again in 2021. The city plans to spend about $7 million on Torrey Pines in anticipation of this event. Friends was anticipating unveiling a made-over Presidio Hills in 2021.
For golf royalty like Woods and Mickelson, Presidio Hills is important. Woods won his first junior tournament there and Mickelson used to golf there all day as a kid. This week, Presidio Hill's alumni Woods and Mickelson played a practice round at the U.S. Masters tournament in Georgia. The U.S. Masters is one of the big four tournaments — founded in 1932, the same year as Presidio Hills.
Vallas said the group will be in front of the city council on April 24 to discuss Presidio Hills.
The current operator, Justine Lee, did not respond to interview requests.
So far the city has not responded to the pleas of Save Our Heritage Organisation to give attention to nearby Presidio Park, the "Plymouth Rock of the West Coast" before San Diego's 250th anniversary in 2019. Considering Balboa Park's failed centennial, hopes are not high.