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Critically Speaking: Meet me on the back nine

When the Golf Advisory Commission cancels, you go down the rabbit hole.

Critically Speaking: Meet me on the back nine
Col. Charles Heartwell suggested the purchase of the land that is now Heartwell Park and Heartwell Golf Course and was one of the founders of the “Country Club of Long Beach’. Photo by Jason Ruiz

Long Beach has numerous commissions and committees where issues are vetted — sometimes for political cover — before the City Council votes to approve a new policy or project.

These smaller bodies help decide things like if a mural can go up in a public building, whether the Trees on the Bay will be converted to solar and even more controversial issues like if the council should support a ceasefire in Gaza.

They also help decide how the city’s golf courses will be run.

I’ve wanted to attend a Golf Advisory Commission meeting for months, which is about how long I’ve known of its existence. Past agendas are hard to come by but from what I can tell the body has existed since at least 2012 and I’d never been.

So, I trekked down to El Dorado Park this week to get a front-row seat to see who’s helping ensure the future is bright for the city’s municipal golf course network.

Jason Ruiz has been on strike from the Long Beach Post since March 21, yet he’s still covering city hall without pay. Thank him for his reporting.

I settled into my seat inside of the Parks and Recreation conference room that was lined with brand new baseball helmets still in their plastic wrap, buckets of tennis balls and other random equipment and readied myself to hear about how the food and beverage rates might change this year.

The problem was not enough commissioners showed up for the meeting and it was canceled due to lack of quorum. A recent city policy change requires a majority of positions on a commission to be present for a meeting to start rather than a majority of the seats that are filled and the golf commission is still onboarding new members.

My plan to sit in on my first golf advisory meeting sliced right into a bunker. I guess we’ll try again next week.

Long Beach has five municipal golf courses and they’re relatively big business for the city. Its lease with American Golf Corporation, which has managed the city’s courses since the 1980s, brings in about $6 million annually, according to city budget documents.

That’s good enough to rank it #19 in the city’s top 40 general fund revenue sources above things like the fees you pay if you’re ever in the unfortunate situation of requiring an ambulance ride (#32) or metered parking spaces (#40), which brings in about $1.1 million per year.

But it’s a far cry from the roughly $15.9 million (#9) that the city expected to take in via parking citations this year.

And to make sure that all green fees are collected the city’s municipal code gives authority to the “Golf Starter Ranger” to arrest people who are found trying to hit the links for free.

I don’t play golf and the closest I’ve been to an actual golf setting that didn’t involve clowns and holes cut into the bottom of replica windmills was when I went to Top Golf for my birthday last year. I have a mean slice, but I figured it out after a few beers.

A lot of people do play golf in the city and they’ve been doing that for longer than you might imagine.

The oldest golf course in the city is the 18-hole course at Recreation Park, which originally opened in 1910. However, the city’s first and very short-lived golf course opened in 1899 at the intersection of Alamitos Avenue and Ocean Boulevard. According to the Golf Historical Society, the first tee was across from the Villa Riviera.

That course was operated by a group of residents who called themselves the “Country Club of Long Beach” and included the Virginia Country Club founder, Arthur Goodhue, and the city’s treasurer, Charles Heartwell, who now has a golf course and park named after him.

Known as the “Long Beach Municipal Links,” that course only stayed in operation for about a year and the club eventually relocated to Recreation Park and eventually to Virginia Country Club in 1920, which remains the city’s only private course and the priciest to play at.

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What happened this week

This week is what we call “slow” in the biz. When you combine a federal holiday and the city’s off week when it comes to meeting schedules newsworthy events can be hard to come by. But when I heard that the 100-year-old tree down the street from my house was being recognized by the city, I had to walk over and check it out. The century-old pepper tree sits on the south parkway of Stearns Champion Park and the city put in a lot of work (roughly eight months) to prove that the tree is at least 100 years old. Aerial photos and a council member’s childhood memory contributed to dating the tree to at least the 1920s. And now it has a plaque and a place in history as likely one of the oldest trees in Long Beach today. Enjoy it, though, as city experts say that the lifespan of this species is roughly 150 years. Feel free to reach out with any story tips, on busy or sleepy weeks like this one.

Something to keep an eye on

Last week, we told you that state authorities are looking into the possibility of adding bike lanes to a stretch of Pacific Coast Highway between the Traffic Circle and the Los Angeles River in Long Beach. It’s one of the deadliest roads in the city and has proven dangerous for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists alike. CalTrans is looking for community feedback on what type of bike lanes are supported by residents and users of PCH in the area and next week they’re hosting a community meeting to talk about the proposed changes. The meeting is being held at The Guidance Center, which is at the intersection of Pine Avenue and PCH. The meeting is expected to start at 6 p.m. If you can’t make it to the meeting, CalTrans is also soliciting feedback through an online survey.

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