San Mateo’s grand plans for Sharp Park

Frogs, snakes and golfers, listen up: San Mateo County has put together a plan to take over Sharp Park Golf Course in Pacifica as soon as this fall, with eyes on an ambitious $10 million renovation by 2016.

San Mateo County is looking to receive SF Board of Supervisors approval by June to take over interim operation of the 86-year-old golf course, San Mateo Assistant County Manager David Holland told SFBay:

“We are hoping for approval for a short-term interim management and a longer term 30-year lease that will allow San Mateo County to restore and manage Sharp Park Golf Course. We would like to be managing by late fall.”

Holland said the two counties have been working on a deal to transfer operations of the park for more than a year.

Though extensive golf renovations are planned, Holland said any deal is contingent upon addressing long-standing environmental concerns:

“The most critical factor for the future of Sharp Park will be maintaining and improving the habitat for the red-legged frog and San Francisco garter snake.”

A lawsuit filed last year by the Sierra Club, the Wild Equity Institute and other environmental groups accused The City of violating the federal endangered species act by killing threatened frogs and endangered snakes in operating the golf course.

Brent Plater, executive director of the Wild Equity Institute, said he is dubious of any plan that maintains a golf course on Sharp Park property:

“Any plan that keeps the golf course in its existing footprint is not consistent with long-term sustainability. I don’t think there’s anything new here.”

SFBay has learned details of San Mateo county’s renovation plan, including their strategy to address concerns about animal habitats.

San Mateo County would allow Sharp Park’s controversial seawall to erode and deteriorate away. A key demand of environmentalists, removing the seawall would restore the natural flow of water to and from the park’s lagoons and ponds.

Allowing seawater to flow freely means the course’s 12th hole — a tricky par-3 tucked between the lagoon and the seawall — would be flooded. The county is exploring options to realign this and several other holes, perhaps even including an island-style green at a realigned 12th hole.

While no final course layout or plans have been designed, the county is looking to other Alister MacKenzie-designed courses and holes for inspiration on any new or realigned holes.

Changes wold also be likely to the course’s final five holes, including possibly inserting a new par-3 to accommodate a larger, deeper natural lagoon.

Plans also call for up to eight streams that run across the park — many currently buried underneath fairways — to be restored to their natural, exposed states.

These streams will establish thoroughfares across the park for snakes, frogs and other wildlife, while undoubtedly maddening golfers with new, challenging water hazards.

The general golf concept would be a smaller, shorter and more difficult course with more links-style elements. Mature trees, water hazards and layout changes could transform Sharp Park from a tired, second-tier muni course to a distinctively tricky Bay Area attraction.

Holland said San Mateo County would look to raise private funds to foot the $10 million-plus bill for the renovations:

“Private funding will provide the opportunity to keep golf rates very reasonable so that especially youth can afford to play.”

If all goes to plan, a new, greener Sharp Park would emerge along the Pacifica coastline by 2016.

Lots of things can still disrupt that plan, including the pending federal lawsuit (PDF). A trial is scheduled for June to hear the case in federal court.

Plater said he will continue to oppose any plan that includes golf at Sharp Park:

“It’s an eviction plan for the frog and the snake so we can keep a money-losing golf course. It’s malarkey, it makes no sense.”

Sharp Park is known as one of the Bay Area’s more affordable golf courses. Playing rates — known as greens fees — are $28 for residents of San Francisco and Pacifica (with special golf resident cards from The City) and $41 for everybody else.

Holland said the current plan maintains discounted green fees for residents of both San Mateo and San Francisco counties. The goal is for green fees of less than $50 on weekends.