New Course & Turfgrass Program Bloom in Oakland

With its opening on April 16, 2003, Metropolitan Golf Links is helping to bring golf to the fore again in Oakland. But, besides totally changing the fortunes of the rundown former Lake Chabot Golf Course, the $30-million project has also ignited the Oakland Turf Education Initiative, a new program designed to open up careers in the golf industry for Oakland’s inner-city youth.

The redevelopment of Lake Chabot was facilitated by CourseCo, Inc., a course construction and golf management firm; the city of Oakland, the course’s owners; and Raymond Chester, a former Oakland Raiders tight end who co-operates the revitalized municipal facility with CourseCo. Located on 126 acres and built on 1.5 million cubic yards of dredge spoils scooped from San Francisco Bay, the all-new Metropolitan Golf Links was co-designed by Johnny Miller and Fred Bliss.

The Oakland Turfgrass Education Initiative will enable inner-city youth to learn about the turfgrass industry and pursue college degrees through educational programs offered at a local community college and California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. The program is particularly intriguing for African-American groups in Oakland, who are always on the lookout for vocational initiatives that will help reverse the cycle of poverty in the city’s downtrodden areas.

Young blacks will be exposed to such areas of the “Green Industry” as landscape management, wholesale and retail nursery management, sports turf management, landscape architecture, and golf course operations. CourseCo executive, Ray Davis, related some of the program’s economic benefits to the San Joaquin Metro Reporter. “High paying positions include landscape design and architecture, contracting, irrigation design and construction, irrigation operations, manufacturer representatives, golf course superintendents, mechanics, business managers, and more,” he said.

The model now involves a two-year high school program, followed by two years at Merritt College, and then two more years at Cal Poly. “Students would be exposed to the green industry in high school, then encouraged to continue their interest with the educational opportunities in college,” said Tom Isaak, CourseCo’s president.

Castlemont High School in East Oakland has developed a conceptual model for students and will serve as the pilot school. Lending their support to the program are Dr. Wise Allen, Merritt College’s President Emeritus, and the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, whose members will serve as speakers and “field” instructors. Also participating is the Future Farmers of America, which has already launched highly successful high school horticulture and turfgrass management programs. These programs are well established in Washington State, and other states have taken notice, including California.

CourseCo will be overseeing the nascent program at Metropolitan GL. The company will provide access to equipment as well as to the golf course and other Bay Area courses it manages. Students will be offered internships that will enable them to develop hands-on work experience. “We want to do more than teach young minorities how to play golf,” said Isaak. “We want to expose them to lifetime careers in the greens.”

For more information about the Oakland Turfgrass Education Initiative, write CourseCo at PO Box 1019, Petaluma, CA 94953.