Garcia: Will S.F. snub world's best? 

When it comes to dealing with issues relating to golf in San Francisco, it appears many of our elected officials have a bunker mentality.

They can see the green within reach, but sand is their constant companion.

That will explain why The City apparently appears poised to bury a deal with the Professional Golfers’ Association Tour to stage four more tournaments at Harding Park Golf Course in the coming years. And if ever there were a case where the Board of Supervisors can’t see the forest through the trees at San Francisco’s premier golf course, this is it.

Last week, a budget committee recommended a thumbs-down to a plan fashioned by Supervisor Sean Elsbernd to lock in four PGA Tour-related tournaments to Harding by 2019, including the Presidents Cup and a tour playoff event.

The primary reason cited by opponents of the plan is that the last time Harding was host to a nationally televised PGA Tour event in 2005, it cost The City more than $142,000 in unanticipated expenses.

And while I can applaud the board for this rare attempt to mind the bottom line, this is the official equivalent of a quadruple bogey. For even if The City had to pony up that amount each time the PGA Tour comes to town, San Francisco would make 20 times that amount in sales taxes and hotel taxes, not to mention the free marketing for a city that would be on televised display in more than 100 countries.

Of course, one must realize that the issue here isn’t just about golf or finances — there’s always the ever-present ideology about socio-economic justice and whether San Francisco should go the extra hole for a bunch of rich, pampered touring pros. Several supervisors are still steamed over voting to approve the plan for Harding’s celebrated fix-up in 2002, a project that ran more than $7 million over budget.

Yet it hardly makes sense for San Francisco to shun the PGA Tour, since the whole point of Harding’s resurrection was to bring it up to the tour’s standards so it could hold professional events. And if the board doesn’t approve Elsbernd’s plan, it seems more and more likely that the tour could back out of its previous agreement with The City, something it can do if the condition of Harding deteriorates according to the terms of the existing contract.

"My main concern is that without the carrot of a top-level tournament that The City won’t put the resources in to keep Harding maintained at a standard the PGA demands,’’ Elsbernd told me. "But no matter how anybody feels about the fiscal health of golf courses in San Francisco, the PGA Tour deal is absolutely necessary.’’

Personally, I yawn whenever anybody mentions golf, though I must admit that any sport that allows an open bar during play deserves at least minimal recognition.

But there was no denying how much excitement there was when the PGA Tour held the American Express Championship at Harding, or how wonderful the course and San Francisco looked on television during our annual October heat spell. The crowds were huge, the best golfers in the world raved about Harding and the tournament ended in thrilling fashion with a playoff between Tiger Woods and John Daly.

But the bloom fell not long after Harvey Rose, The City’s budget analyst, came out with a recommendation last year that San Francisco either renegotiate or end its contract with the tour based on more than $500,000 in losses at the municipal golf courses.

If San Francisco officials do that, however, they would, in the parlance of the day, badly miss the cut.

The PGA Tour pays $500,000 to San Francisco for each of its events — not the ordinary course for most cities that fork out millions to lure professional golf’s best to their locales. And all those Tiger Woods wannabes who were boosted by the tour’s $500,000 contribution to First Tee — the nonprofit program that provides golf instruction and playing time for underprivileged youth — are not going to be thrilled if San Francisco whiffs on a golden opportunity.

If San Francisco loses this deal over a few hundred thousand dollars, it would be the casebook study on how to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. The PGA Tour had forecast that five yearly tournaments at Harding would generate at least $30 million in taxable income. And for a board that spends money like drunken sailors for pet programs on behalf of small special interest groups, this is one undeniable place where all of San Francisco benefits from a relatively small concession.

Holding your breath in hopes that the board will do the right thing probably carries a sizable risk of injury. But in politics, as in golf, there’s always a chance of a long shot.

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Ken Garcia

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