California is the home of superheroes and action figures, thanks to Hollywood. Heck, we even had one as governor. But while superheroes are singular forces, fighting the enemy tagged as the “Public Golf Endangerment Act” (or formally “AB-672 Publicly owned golf courses: conversion: affordable housing”) will take thousands to kill. That effort is underway, and it’s a lesson about what action looks like.
I wrote about this in November 2021, and I thank NGCOA for being the first national publication to publish what’s identified as an existential threat to public golf. Other publications have since picked up the story, including here, here, and here. I haven’t seen it in the Daily Planet yet, but there’s still time.
For most of the time I’ve been in the golf industry, political action was not a concern. If it was, it was at local levels, with things like taxes, zoning, chemical use, and maybe water rights. It wasn’t until 2009, 13 years ago, that the American Golf Industry Coalition (formerly WE ARE GOLF) was formed and created the first iteration of National Golf Day. The industry organized to make its presence and issues known in Washington, D.C., meeting and conversing with national elected officials and their staff. We didn’t want to be, nor should we be, ignored as a multi-billion dollar industry. National Golf Day is a day for advocacy, but a relatively passive process.
Not so for the movement to bring down AB-672 and its evil provocateur, Assemblyperson Cristina Garcia, the Lorena Bobbitt of golf. She who threatens to cut off the head of where and how golf grows (get it?).
Jumping into action faster than Superman in a phone booth was the Southern California Golf Association (SCGA) Public Affairs department, led by Director and political savant Craig Kessler, and his young protege Kevin Fitzgerald. They first flashed their Bat Signal across California’s golf landscape, summoning other critical golf organizations and associations: The Southern California and Northern California PGA sections, the Northern California Golf Association, the California Golf Course Owners Association, and the statewide Golf Course Superintendents Association of America sections, all members of the California Alliance for Golf (CAG), California’s golf Justice League.
Kessler and CAG have spent years cultivating relationships in Sacramento with state legislators with help from a hired lobbying firm. Learning to thread the halls of law is an arduous task, not for the faint of heart nor the uninitiated to lawmaking. But in a decidedly blue state, darker blue than any other, 22% of the state’s golf stock was imminently threatened with destruction in favor of housing, “affordable” or other, and maybe commercial use.
More was needed than just pleadings from golf industry folks to change lawmakers’ minds, under pressure for myriad issues, from countless angles. The existential threat to golf required a mass of golfers – voters - those on the ground in every district who play and love the game. And it had to happen faster than a speeding bullet. So email was the messaging weapon of choice to reach and mobilize the state’s 2.5 million golfers.
The SCGA led the charge, creating an informative and interactive website that pleaded for golfers to contact their local state assembly and senate representatives to vote down AB-672. SCGA weaponized the website to make it easy for anyone to connect with just a couple of clicks. Here is your local assemblyperson’s email and phone number. Here is your state senator’s email and phone number. And here are several suggested messages you can easily cut and paste into the body of the email. Bam! Boom! Holy mass movement, Batman.
The result was announced on January 20: “The Public Golf Endangerment Act (AB 672) died in the Assembly Appropriations Committee today in large part due to the thousands of California golfers who took the time to send letters and make calls to their legislators – that and the usual behind the scenes work and solid argumentation that always accompanies any successful effort in the public arena.”
Ms. Garcia didn’t have enough kryptonite to repel golf’s super effort. The danger is abated but not vanquished as long as she and those who support her target golf’s green spaces. The SCGA says it best in its triumphant email: “Golf…forgets at great peril the maxim that only to the degree to which the 90% of the population that doesn’t play golf finds the golf course in their neighborhood a boon to their neighborhoods and their family’s quality of life, can the game really be protected against predations like the ‘Public Golf Endangerment Act.’ Upping the social, political, and environmental value proposition of the game to non-golfers – that’s the work the golf community needs to get about doing and doing now. The good news is that at long last, we actually believe that the game’s leaders and organizations are coming to that conclusion.”
Postscript: Don’t you hate it when the popcorn is gone, and you think the villain is terminated, only to have it rear its ugly head with a veiled threat that screams, “Sequel?” Just as CAG was victoriously folding its cape for the night, Ms. Garcia took to Twitter to announce what amounts to a weak, last-ditch effort to destroy California’s municipal golf. The tweet unmasks her identity as one who hates golf. If this was about housing, wouldn’t a better picture be a young family standing in front of a small bungalow and “Sold” sign? Check the replies to her tweet (above) and see what her constituents think and understand why her sequel will likely flop, like “Superman III.” Or worse, “Godfather III.”