Thank dog, city's golf course finally breaks even | News | Mountain View Online |


Thank dog, city's golf course finally breaks even

New operator attracts more players, shoos geese and coots away

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At Shoreline Golf Links there are fewer geese causing a nuisance, the turf is in better shape than ever and the course has finally made a profit after several years of being deep in the red.

And part of the credit goes to a very enthusiastic border collie named Graeme.

The turnaround can largely be credited to Touchstone Golf, hired to run the city-owned course after its deficit in 2011 threatened to take away over $1 million from funding for core city services, like the police department and the library.

Turning its first profit in many years, the course made $30,000 in the fiscal year ending in June -- a big change from 2011-12, when it lost $450,000. The year before that -- while the city was still operating the course -- there was a $600,000 loss.

The operator has had to do more than cut costs -- aggressive marketing and improving the course itself have also been factors in breaking even and increasing the number of rounds played, company officials said. Touchstone already had some experience doing this, having successfully turned around Oakland's Lake Chabot course as well.

"The greenskeeper has done an enormous amount of work," said Touchstone's Robbie Gray as she showed off the course on a recent Friday afternoon.

The reputation of the course had suffered from a huge population of geese and coots attracted to its freshwater ponds. The large Canada geese were hard to miss, leaving droppings everywhere, but the American coots were worse. "They would actually eat chunks out of the greens," said greenskeeper Mark Wilson, who has spent hours repairing the turf. That's a challenge, given that the course is built over a clay landfill cap.

Graeme's canine enthusiasm can be credited with keeping the birds from continuing to damage the course's reputation. Six times a day, Wilson leads Graeme around the course in a golf cart while the dog happily scatters the birds, scaring them but never killing them.

"He's like every other dog, except he has a job," Wilson said.

Draining several freshwater ponds helped as well, along with putting up natural and artificial barriers around the edges of the remaining lakes to discourage the birds from coming in and out. A group of regular golfers also volunteer to shoo the birds away, Gray said.

The efforts have been effective. Community Services director J.P. De la Montaigne said there's an average of 250 geese on the course this year, down from 400 last year. Coots are down to 50 right now from 300 last year. That's a dramatic decrease from the 5,200 coots counted in 2008, and 800 geese counted in 2007.

"We hope the word is out among the flocks of coots that Shoreline Golf Links is not going to be the 5-star feeding ground that it has been for them," Gray said.

Thanks to the all the work, the course's reputation is improving, said Gray. Players are returning after years of playing elsewhere, saying, "We heard Shoreline's really good now," Gray said.

Among the ways Touchstone is promoting the course is a frequent player program to encourage regulars, and newspaper ads promoting events. Gray says there are four times more tournaments and events under Touchstone's management, including nighttime play corresponding with Shoreline Amphitheatre concerts so golfers can hear the show. There's a night golf event set for Oct. 18, complete with glowing golf balls and greens lined with glow sticks. On Oct. 25, the course is hosting a fundraiser and children's pajama drive for the Community Services Agency.

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3 people like this
Posted by M
a resident of another community
on Oct 4, 2013 at 9:34 pm

"Thank dog, city's golf course finally breaks even"

Best MVV headline ever.

3 people like this
Posted by USA
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 7, 2013 at 12:46 pm

"The year before that -- while the city was still operating the course -- there was a $600,000 loss."

Ineffective government management and deficit spending. Par for the course, so to speak.

We should replace Obama with Graeme.

3 people like this
Posted by Golfer
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Nice to read about the improvement but the bird droppings are still a big problem. I think they need a few more border collies.

3 people like this
Posted by Dog Lover
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 7, 2013 at 2:31 pm


How can my dog, Jessie, apply for that job?!?! Jessie is a border collie/lab mix who LIVES to chase birds and squirrels. She gladly works for Scooby snacks, but this job I think she would do for free. I guarantee that she poops less than the birds. Nevertheless, she has a human that follows her around and picks up after her.

3 people like this
Posted by Mr. T
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 7, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Man's best friend. Including golfers.

3 people like this
Posted by Steve
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2013 at 3:03 pm

No surprise that a private company can generate a profit instead of a half-million dollar per year loss. The big question is why the city would ever allow operating a golf course to threaten "to take away over $1,000,000 from core city services like the police department and library".

3 people like this
Posted by Sage
a resident of Waverly Park
on Oct 7, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Creative, intelligent solution AND Lucky Dog!
Keep up the great work Graeme!

3 people like this
Posted by Scott Lamb
a resident of Monta Loma
on Oct 7, 2013 at 6:07 pm

I'd never realized that golf course was city-owned. I'm with Steve - this was a strange problem to have. Why was the city ever in the business of operating a golf course, and why does it still own one?

It's great that they managed to turn a profit last fiscal year, but there's no guarantee that will hold forever. I wouldn't want to give up library or police services because the city can't focus.

3 people like this
Posted by Accounting
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Oct 8, 2013 at 8:38 am

Before passing full judgment on the before/after financial comparison, it would be important for the Voice to analyze whether numbers are being compared on an apples to apples basis.

A contributing factor to the large announced losses was that the City was allocating percentages of employee salaries to Golf Course expenses. For example, a percentage of the Community Services Manager was being charged to the golf course.

If that accounting methodology is no longer in place, then that would explain some of the profitability differential. Of course since those city jobs are still in place, it would also mean the salaries are being allocated to some other place in the city budget.

3 people like this
Posted by Steve
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2013 at 7:31 am

Hmmmm. Saying the city is juggling its books?!

3 people like this
Posted by Rodger
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Oct 10, 2013 at 11:44 am

Mountain View's Shoreline Park is a great place but, there is a huge amount of land with watered grass allocated to a few golfers and very little grass area allocated to the all of the other people who go to the park, and what little grass there is is not well tended. I think the water and grass lands should be readjusted. Perhaps we should have a 9 hole golf course or expand the grass area in the area reserved for non golfers.
It would help to use a dog in the small grass area that is currently not part of the golf course to cut down on the geese but not eliminate them.

3 people like this
Posted by SAM
a resident of The Crossings
on Oct 13, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Dog save the bottom dollar? They had them five years ago. Rules and regulations prevented more use of them (protect the geese). As for making more grass area for a park, what do you think drives the $600,000 cost? The water and maintenance for a park would just add cost with no revenue.

3 people like this
Posted by Larry
a resident of Shoreline West
on Oct 18, 2013 at 9:42 am

The city should sell permits to Mountain View residents who would like to "hunt" the geese with pellet guns. It would provide money to the city, food for the hunters, and rid the park of non-migratory geese that are more of a pest than a pleasure. The golfers should get first shot at the permits.

3 people like this
Posted by Golfer
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Oct 27, 2013 at 12:34 pm

The 'improvements' to the course are actually a bit disingenuous. The poor course conditions were a remnant of the new company taking over. Conditions were a disaster shortly after they began. The most severe issue was the Coots digging holes in the greens. This did not occur under the old management.

Also note that using the dogs to chase away the birds pre-dated the new company.

Conditions have improved from the initial disaster. But, I don't think they have yet surpassed the conditions under prior management. There are still some big problems.. overwatering has left many low areas as pools of mud and yet left other areas baren of grass. The greens are too soft and bumpy (this was also a problem with the old crew). The crew in the clubhouse is very inefficient, and the focus on memberships and events has made it a relatively poor place to golf.

I have also heard the talk about the accounting issues contributing to the past problems. But, who knows how much there is to that.. It should be a matter of public record. Are financial details available somewhere?

3 people like this
Posted by inncfromnj
a resident of Shoreline West
on Oct 31, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Courses here in central NC have had issues with Canada geese.
Managements tried using fake owls, fireworks, dogs, etc...Some successful. Some not.
The major problem with residential golf developments which coincidentally have the worst goose problems, is the residents going onto the golf course during no playing or even during play and feeding the geese.
Another problem is the placing by residents of white ducks. These waterfowl actually attract geese because the Canada geese see this as a safe place to roost and feed.

3 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of another community
on Nov 2, 2013 at 6:31 am

We've been using border collies at my course in Ohio for about a decade. Used to have a couple of hundred now we have one family that nests at the neighboring condos and "visits" us occasionally. Our west course used to not be available to walkers because of all the droppings. Not a problem any more, and the members LOVE the dog. Many carry treats and will say "hi" to him before any of the staff! The border collies love working, running and chasing the geese. You couldn't ask for a better life for one.

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