Mill Valley Golf Course is a city-owned outdoor recreation area in California, 15 miles north of San Francisco via US 101. This 42-acre, nine-hole course is peppered with mature redwoods and surrounded by rolling hills.
“It’s a stunning course,” said Sean McGrew, the city of Mill Valley interim arts and recreation director. “I’m not a golfer, but I enjoyed walking it to be quite honest with you. You have views of Mount Tamalpais. There are redwoods. It is truly a glorious course, and it’s hard to believe that it’s in the middle of Mill Valley in the middle of the city.
“You don’t get that feel. You get the feel that you are in the country on a beautiful private course.”
Founded more than 100 years ago, the course has been an integral part of the Mill Valley community since before the Great Depression. It originally started as a private, members-owned course. After about 20 years, the city used a resident-approved bond to purchase the course, and Mill Valley has been in charge ever since.
But like most things that predate Prohibition, Mill Valley Golf Course is in need of some upkeep.
“As with all courses that are 100 years old, there’s always going to be some maintenance issues. We just completed our master plan that incorporated some suggestions over the next five years on things that can be worked on. Some of those are being worked on as we speak; some of them are a little bit more expensive, and we need to figure out ways to pay for it.”
However, over the previous seven-year period, the course was in the midst of a $280,000 operating deficit, according to Marian Independent Journal. It appears this was due to a drop in the number of players utilizing the course.
On a positive note, after losing money, the pandemic — which has caused more and more people to socially distance and pursue outdoor recreational activities — may have led to a spike in play.
“The good news is that, right now, the golf course is extremely popular,” McGrew said. “It was incredibly popular all summerlong. The revenue from the rounds covers the expenses of the course for the first three months.”
The hope is that, through progressive renovations, the course can continue its profitable streak, especially given its proximity to such a bustling metropolitan area.
Thus far, the course has updated tee boxes, weeds were pulled and other simple beautification projects took place. But the city hopes to do more.
“The most ambitious ones, which are to look at, basically, some major renovations, including irrigation, bunkers, perhaps being able to create a hybrid system where a set of holes is used for part of the day for the driving range and part of the day for play,” McGrew said. “But those are all much later in the plans.”
But in order to get some of the more expensive future projects completed, more funds will need to be allocated. While the pandemic may have benefited the course in the short term, cities all across the country have less money to spend, especially on recreational ventures.
“As you probably can guess, COVID has had an effect on the revenue of the city and such, so that I think a lot of the major CIT, which stands for capital improvement projects, are on hold,” McGrew said.
Another aspect of improving the course — one that’s separate from the master plan — is a walking trail.
“I would look at that as actually a separate issue,” McGrew said. “And that is creating a way for kids from one community to get down to school and for people to walk that beautiful path. As I mentioned, I got the privilege of walking it when we were looking at different features of the facility, and it is a gorgeous path to walk. That’s not necessarily the first one; I would say that is doing it at the same time.”
The trail won’t take much effort to complete, but it will take some adjustments for both golfers and walkers to get used to.
“One of the things that you do is education, and it’s one of the things that we will be doing through both signage and through education of the community,” McGrew said. “This is a golf course and golf balls tend to fly on a golf course. We would want to educate the people that are using that path that, ‘Hey, you’re on a golf course.’ I like to say in football, keep your head on a swivel and listen. If you hear ‘fore,’ duck and cover.”