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March 2018

Grooming ‘The Goat’


Outside of Pebble Beach or Torrey Pines, you’d be hard pressed to find public golf on a prettier piece of real estate. That is what makes Goat Hill Park Golf Course in North San Diego County, just steps from the Pacific Ocean, such an eye-raising paradox. A round of golf there costs just $26, and players can hit the course in whatever they want to wear, including Levi’s and a Harley Davidson t-shirt if they like.

“Our whole motto is world class, working class,” says course owner John Ashworth, known for the clothing brand that bore his name as well as his recent foray with Linksoul apparel. “We’re trying to provide a really good product that’s fun to play and in good shape. We don’t have a dress code. We have music playing. People really like the vibe up here.”

That vibe includes dogs walking alongside golfers; no clubhouse (and no plans for one), only a revitalized pro shop the size of the average Californian’s living room where balls and a beer can be purchased at a single stop; and the constant beat of everything from Justin Timberlake to Johnny Cash coming through speakers. It’s only 4,454 yards with no rough but terrific agronomic conditions.

That’s much different than a couple of years ago when the place was the City Center Golf Course, a run-down public facility with a collared-shirt dress code, dirt-patch fairways and splotchy greens. The only music you ever heard came from the blaring speakers of passing cars. No dogs were allowed, either.

After one year under Ashworth’s ownership and vision (the price he paid is a unavailable), “The Goat” is showing positive cash flow, proving that blue-collar golf can be profitable if the experience is fun and the course is in good condition.

Because City Center Golf Course sat on breathtaking real estate—which Ashworth estimates would be worth about $75 million on the open market—everyone from sports stadium owners to condo moguls looked at it. “Developers were coming up here,” Ashworth says. “We thought, ‘Let’s put our own proposal in, fix it up, have it be the home of North County Junior Golf.’ We never thought we’d get it.”

Ashworth’s Oceanside experiment will soon include a three-hole kids’ course between the pro shop and the driving range, designed by Gil Hance. And while not every worn-out golf landmark has a benefactor who can save it, reimagining such facilities can inspire communities.

“That’s exactly what we’re doing at Bobby Jones Golf Course in Atlanta,” says Whitney Crouse, chairman of Mosaic Clubs and Resorts, which is partnering with the city of Atlanta (which owns the course) to convert the cramped and tired 18-hole city facility into a nine-hole reversible course with a state-of-the-art range, a short course for beginners and a clubhouse that will house the Georgia State Golf Association, the Georgia PGA and the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame.

“The course will be kept in excellent condition,” Crouse says. “It will be a place where everyone will feel welcome.”

Post World War II America was full of welcoming, blue-collar courses built by the owners of mills, factories or mines. They were places where workers could recreate. Most are gone. “I think this part of golf is important and kind of missing right now,” Ashworth says. “I’m trying to talk to the USGA about how we can take some of these ideas and roll them out.”

If Goat Hill Park shows an operating profit again in year two, that might not be a tough sell.

—Steve Eubanks



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March 2018 Issue

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