For years now, I wake up at the crack of dawn every Monday and Tuesday and dial into the L.A. city golf reservation system with one phone in my left hand and one in my right.
Sometimes I get straight in when the system opens at 6 a.m. but more times than not it takes me dozens, even hundreds, of redials before the recorded voice says: “Welcome to the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks teetiime reservation system….to reserve a teetime press one…”
It’s so bad that Francois our cockatiel does perfect imitations of a busy signal. But I am an expert at making reservations and almost always able to get one of the earliest teetimes for Saturday and Sunday for me and my pals.
I am not an expert golfer. In fact, I’m terrible and I cheat all the time. But I do love the game. It gets me out of my head, connects me with the birds and the trees and the sky above and with my friends for a few hours.
There’s a fraternity among golfers, and that’s especially true among municipal course golfers, a camaraderie that comes from playing on working class facilities where the sand traps are like concrete, the greens bumpy, and the fairways covered with bare spots and muddy patches even in the heat of summer.
I’m not complaining, a cowpatch would be fine with me. But that’s not true for all municipal course golfers, the ones who take it seriously and have the skill to hit the ball straight and far. They are given to bitching about the marshals who drive around oblivious to slow players, the condition of the courses and the soaring fees the city is charging.
Right now, with City Hall paralyzed by its financial mismanagement, they are up in arms over plans to price city courses out of the market, cut back in maintenance and give away a contract for golf carts that fails to maximize revenue to the treasury.
Their concern is that the Rec and Parks Commission is about to award a 10-year contract for golf cart services to Ready Golf which runs the concessions at the Encino/Balboa courses in Sepulveda Basin and doesn’t do a very good job of it.
The biggest problem there is that there aren’t enough golf carts to go around so by 11 a.m. on busy weekend days, golfers are standing around waiting for the early birds to finish playing so they can get a cart.
Activists like Ted Winship, head of the Hansen Dam Senior Men’s Club and a member of the city’s golf advisory board, have done a lot of research and believe that the city could have new carts, enough carts for everybody and make a lot more money by running the cart business themselves.
Two million dollars extra is the number Winship puts on it.
He points to the small Harbor Park course where the city does manage the cart busiiness as a model and does a good job of it without adding a lot of costly extra staff to the city payroll.
But when Rec and Parks people looked at self-operation, they of course padded the payroll costs with management that would get regular step raises and benefits packages that made the idea unworkable.
Craig Kessler, head of the Public Links Golf Association, has a different idea.
He believes the city should go the way of the county which contracts out the whole operation of its courses to a private company, American Golf, which maintains the courses in far better shape than the city’s and delivers a lot more money to the county treasury than the city gets.
I raise this issue because, well, I am a golf fanatic and because it shows exactly what’s wrong with the way City Hall operates.
When the city provides services, there’s too many managers and too much staff paid too much and the services they deliver are all too often inferior.
And when the city contracts services out to private companies, it’s all too often on the basis of connections without regard to the quality of the services provided to the public or the revenue generated to the city.
So here’s a chance for the Rec and Parks Commission, which keeps putting off a decision on the golf carts contract, to make a stand for the taxpayers and the golfers by doing the right thing: Either privatize the whole operation or have the city run it smartly.
Surely, that isn’t asking too much and just might start a trend throughout city government to put the public interest first. Isn’t that why we have government in the first place?