The turnaround can largely be credited to Touchstone Golf, hired to run the city-owned course after its deficit in 2011 threatened to take away over $1 million from funding for core city services, like the police department and the library.
Turning its first profit in many years, the course made $30,000 in the fiscal year ending in June — a big change from 2011-12, when it lost $450,000. The year before that — while the city was still operating the course — there was a $600,000 loss.
The operator has had to do more than cut costs — aggressive marketing and improving the course itself have also been factors in breaking even and increasing the number of rounds played, company officials said. Touchstone already had some experience doing this, having successfully turned around Oakland's Lake Chabot course as well.
"The greenskeeper has done an enormous amount of work," said Touchstone's Robbie Gray as she showed off the course on a recent Friday afternoon.
The reputation of the course had suffered from a huge population of geese and coots attracted to its freshwater ponds. The large Canada geese were hard to miss, leaving droppings everywhere, but the American coots were worse. "They would actually eat chunks out of the greens," said greenskeeper Mark Wilson, who has spent hours repairing the turf. That's a challenge, given that the course is built over a clay landfill cap.
Graeme's canine enthusiasm can be credited with keeping the birds from continuing to damage the course's reputation. Six times a day, Wilson leads Graeme around the course in a golf cart while the dog happily scatters the birds, scaring them but never killing them.
"He's like every other dog, except he has a job," Wilson said.
Draining several freshwater ponds helped as well, along with putting up natural and artificial barriers around the edges of the remaining lakes to discourage the birds from coming in and out. A group of regular golfers also volunteer to shoo the birds away, Gray said.
The efforts have been effective. Community Services director J.P. De la Montaigne said there's an average of 250 geese on the course this year, down from 400 last year. Coots are down to 50 right now from 300 last year. That's a dramatic decrease from the 5,200 coots counted in 2008, and 800 geese counted in 2007.
"We hope the word is out among the flocks of coots that Shoreline Golf Links is not going to be the 5-star feeding ground that it has been for them," Gray said.
Thanks to the all the work, the course's reputation is improving, said Gray. Players are returning after years of playing elsewhere, saying, "We heard Shoreline's really good now," Gray said.
Among the ways Touchstone is promoting the course is a frequent player program to encourage regulars, and newspaper ads promoting events. Gray says there are four times more tournaments and events under Touchstone's management, including nighttime play corresponding with Shoreline Amphitheatre concerts so golfers can hear the show. There's a night golf event set for Oct. 18, complete with glowing golf balls and greens lined with glow sticks. On Oct. 25, the course is hosting a fundraiser and children's pajama drive for the Community Services Agency.
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