The Van Buskirk golf course, one of two in Stockton, Calif. that city officials are considering closing amid residents’ protests, has seen 38 calls for police service in the past three months, including several break-ins to the maintenance building to start a fire and steal equipment. Dirt bikes and motorcycles have damaged greens and there was also a report of a vandal using an air rifle to shoot out a clubhouse TV.
While a legitimate debate continues over whether the Swenson Park and Van Buskirk municipal golf courses in Stockton, Calif. have a place in the city’s future, criminals have forced a temporary closure of the latter course on the city’s south side, the Stockton Record reported.
The city has closed nine of the 18 holes at Van Buskirk after “repeated acts of vandalism and theft,” according to a January 25th memo from John Alita, the city’s Director of Community Services, the Record reported.
“Over the past 90 days, there has been a rash of vandalism and theft that makes it impossible to provide a quality golf experience at the Van Buskirk golf course,” Alita wrote.
Five holes are considered unplayable after dirt bikes or motorcycles tore up the greens, the Record reported. Those greens will have to be repaired and given time to recover over the next two to three months before the course can reopen in full, perhaps by May 1st.
Meanwhile, mechanical and irrigation tools have been stolen, prompting the city to look for ways to secure the area “properly,” including new perimeter lights and better fencing, the Record reported.
Alita’s memo documents 38 calls for police service at the golf course, dating to early November, the Record reported. In one case, someone broke into a maintenance building and started a fire. On two consecutive days in January, burglars broke into the same building and stole $3,000 worth of equipment. On January 22nd came a report of dirt bikes or motorcycles damaging four of the greens.
City spokeswoman Connie Cochran told the Record that the decision to temporarily close Van Buskirk has nothing to do with the ongoing discussion about the long-term future of that course as well as the Swenson course, both of which have come under scrutiny because they require subsidies from the city general fund.
C&RB has reported about the discussions that have been taking place about the future for both courses, and about the public reaction, with several reports in the past few months (http://clubandresortbusiness.com/?s=Van+Buskirk).
Fixing Van Buskirk, Cochran told the Record, is mostly a matter of giving the turf time to recover. “As long as everyone stays off it,” she said.
Dozens of golfers could be seen on a recent afternoon on the first nine holes at Van Buskirk, which remain open, the Record reported. Still, the loss of the back nine holes will likely cause a cancellation of organized tournaments — including one that had been scheduled in mid-February, according to Joe Croom, a longtime member of the Van Buskirk Men’s Golf Club.
Croom believes Van Buskirk’s problems are a result of both vandalism and a long-term lack of investment in upkeep and maintenance, the Record reported. He believes the vandals have been entering the course from the San Joaquin River levee that snakes along behind it.
“People are walking dogs or running up there,” Croom said. “But then you get these guys on the motorcycles who say, ‘Let’s go drive across the green or do some wheelies in the mud or on the fairways.’ ”
They may also be entering through holes in the perimeter fencing, he said.
One vandal used an air rifle to shoot a television set in the Van Buskirk clubhouse, Croom told the Record.
He’s disheartened by the treatment of a course that some members of the men’s club have been playing since they were students at the local Edison High decades ago. “We love that golf course,” Croom said.
At a town hall meeting held on January 29th to discuss the fate of the courses, station KCRA of Sacramento, Calif. reported, a clash between Stockton residents and officials arose after residents were told they could only write down questions that the city would answer later.
After the officials made that announcement, KCRA reported, some attendees stood up to shout their concerns, while several others walked out of the meeting.
Before the meeting, KCRA reported, Stockton resident Eugene Fuss put up a “Save Swenson” sign outside the meeting.
“[Swenson] is the crown jewel park of Stockton,” Fuss said.
Higher operating costs and a decline in usage has led the city to consider closing the courses to allow for new housing or a sports complex, KCRA reported, but some residents said that would create a traffic nightmare.
“It’s already horrible,” Keith Harvey said. “You add 500 cars, then what? Then you can’t move.”
While the city has said Swenson Park and Van Buskirk are outdated and unable to compete with more accessible golf courses in Sacramento and the Bay Area, resident Robert Yott told KCRA that while the Stockton courses are “maybe not the best in the world, they’re reasonable for seniors on a fixed income to play golf.”
Many residents want the courses to remain open spaces, KCRA reported. And while the city said the course costs $850,000 each year to keep open, some residents said trust is a concern with the city, because they weren’t notified about the money issues before December.
The city is taking bids for a lease to take over the courses, KCRA reported. If officials don’t receive an acceptable bid, they’ll move forward with other options.
The city collected the written questions from the town hall meeting and will answer all of them, officials said. The city has not said how soon they could close the golf courses.
“Trust and transparency are important and that’s why we’re happy to meet with the community, show them all the information we have and move forward with a decision,” Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs has said.
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