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Close to Home: Golf course is an ‘asset in the rough’

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

Santa Rosa’s tourism economy has been devastated over the past 12 months. Just when it is about to turn around, one of our key attractions — the Bennett Valley Gold Course — is in danger of being bulldozed.

This is a popular, beautiful and self-sustaining golf course. It offers our diverse community an affordable place to gather, practice and play golf. It is a training course for students and serves sport teams of all ages throughout Sonoma County and beyond.

The municipal course is owned by the city of Santa Rosa, with the mission of providing an outdoor recreational experience. In essence, it is a park that generates revenue.

Laura Whiting
Laura Whiting

City Manager Sean McGlynn’s staff recommended that the City Council pay $150,000 to CBRE, a Dallas real estate firm that specializes in turning golf courses into housing, to study the Bennett Valley Golf Course and recommend a future plan for the 175-acre facility. That future could theoretically range from leaving the facilities intact to full-scale destruction and redevelopment.

A majority of the council approved the expenditure, which is scheduled to be finalized soon. Given the Feb. 2 staff report and the accompanying presentation prepared by CBRE, it appears that the fate of the Bennett Valley course may already have been sealed.

Closing the golf course now would be a missed opportunity for the city.

The clubhouse, a city-built restaurant and event space adjacent to the golf course, numerous soccer fields and tennis courts, is presently closed. It’s an asset in the rough, burdened with debt due to building costs that went over budget by $4 million. With the correct operator, this facility could generate significant revenue and be a premier destination venue for the North Bay.

Tourism is one of the highest revenue- and tax-producing industries in Sonoma County. In 2019 alone, revenue generated by tourism was $203.5 million. Tourism dollars fund Sonoma County arts and culture, education, affordable housing, public safety, regional parks, beaches and recreational amenities. Bennett Valley Golf Course is a shining star among them.

Now is the time to preserve revenue-generating recreational venues in Santa Rosa, not destroy them.

The driving range at the Bennett Valley Golf Course in Santa Rosa. (JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat)
The driving range at the Bennett Valley Golf Course in Santa Rosa. (JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat)

As stated on the city’s website, Bennett Valley Golf Course has been chosen by Press Democrat readers as “Best of Sonoma County” for the past seven years. It is unconscionable that the City Council would even consider a $150,000 expense that puts the future of the golf course in jeopardy.

City staff work should work with our passionate community to find an operator for the clubhouse and use the $150,000 earmarked for the study to pay down the debt owed by the city.

Laura Whiting is a former executive director of the Santa Rosa Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

You can send letters to the editor to letters@pressdemocrat.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

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