Tuesday, April 5, 2011

South Pasadena Nature Park vs Golf Course Woes: More Complicated than it Looks

This Wednesday night, the South Pasadena City Council will be considering a proposal to move the Arroyo Seco Golf Course inland and extend its current footprint southward into open space that is currently part of the South Pasadena Nature Park.

Nature Park lovers and local environmentals are understandably upset about this proposal but, as usual, there is more to the problem than casually meets the eye.

The Arroyo Seco Golf Course is a publically owned Par 3 course that was established in 1955. Its location next to the beautiful Arroyo Seco stream, its charming mid-century club house/grill, and its reasonable greens fees has made it popular over the years with golfers of all ages and skill levels. In fact, ASGC has been rated as one of the Top 10 Los Angeles Area Par 3 Golf Courses by Hemispheres Magazine. As a golfer, I agree with their assessment that the only thing it lacks are grass tee boxes.

For years, the City of South Pasadena has contracted out golf course and tennis facility management to a vendor who runs the operations. That contract is now out to bid...and here's where the trouble begins.

One potential operator has requested that the City allow them to extend the current driving range about 100 yards or so southward into currently natural land of grasses and Sycamore trees since, according to reliable sources, men now like to drive 200 yards or more off the driving range tee and the current range is too short for that.

Friends of the South Pasadena Nature Park are understandably alarmed with this encroachment into current open space with the seemingly sole goal of revenue enhancement for the City and course operator.

But here's where things get a little complicated. For a number of years, several arroyo lovers and City officials have been looking for ways to extend a riverfront greenway along the Arroyo Seco through South Pasadena to allow walkers, bicyclists and equestrians connectivity northward with trails along the river in Pasadena. Discussions called for a 20-foot setback from where the driving range currently is aligned next to the stream, which was deemed possible to achieve at the time the Golf Course management contract came up for renewal, which is now.

While Wednesday night's proposal does not directly tie the driving range relocation inland and extension southward with the establishment of the green trailway next to the Arroyo Seco, the greenway was definitely the impetus for initial discussions for moving the driving range inland to accommodate a trail linkage.

Now, a good intention is becoming linked with potential loss of open space.

But here's the curious part. The Arroyo Seco Golf Course is only 2,185 yards long. It also has a 9 hole mini-course (think putt-putt) that has attracted families for years. I play this course because I don't have a long drive swing, I can score well on this Par 54 course, and I love the natural brook that flows through the course.  In addition, I can enjoy vistas to the York Blvd. bridge to the south and the San Gabriel Mountains to the north.  Best of all, the wideness of the river channel contour next to the Golf Course makes it imminently feasible for major restoration, including access to the grassy island on the west bank.

Instead of lengthening the driving range, the South Pasadena City Council should be more concerned about preserving this historic gem, designed by William H. Johnson, American Society of Golf Course Architects. Johnson, who died in 1979, designed several golf courses in Southern California including De Bell Golf Course in Burbank, Alondra Park Golf Course in Lawndale, and South Gate Municipal Golf Course.

Rather than taking up more land for questionable revenue (a large bucket of balls costs $8 for the driving range), South Pasadena would be better served  by contracting with an operator who 'gets' how to successfully market this special facility, seek Historic Landmark Status for the course, and lose 20 feet of the driving range so the Arroyo Seco Greenway can be completed.

Let the 'long drivers' go hit balls on full size course driving ranges. Let me still have a place where I can 'birdie' a hole. Let the community enjoy a round of golf in one of Southern California's prettiest settings.


  1. You are such an articulate authority, thanks for this! Great suggestions, all of them!

    I hope you can join us at 7:30pm at the Council meeting so you can share your thoughts. The item is early in the agenda so you can get out of there early.


  2. Do you happen to know any of the details about the golf course's use of water from the Arroyo to water the greens? Is this safe, let alone legal?

  3. As I was reading this blog post, I heard myself saying, "She sounds like a golfer." Next sentence I read, "As a Golfer..." Hahaha!


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