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Posted on: February 10, 2022

Council to Consider Public/Private Partnership for Golf Course Management

A green mountain is surrounded by white clouds, blue skies, dense forest, and a green golf course.

In order to protect, preserve and revitalize Mill Valley’s historic and beloved 9-hole municipal Golf Course, the City Council will consider a Management Agreement with Touchstone Golf LLC at their upcoming meeting on February 22, 2022. The proposed Management Agreement is the next step in the formation of a new public/private partnership that will include the City, non-profit groups, private fundraising and an experienced Golf Course operator. The goal for all involved is to work together to create a Golf Course that is accessible, affordable, inclusive, environmentally responsible, multi-purpose, and financially stable. 

In 2012, the Mill Valley City Council identified the need to evaluate and implement options to improve the financial health of Golf Course operations. The City kicked off a multi-year assessment and planning process, led by the Parks and Recreation Commission, which resulted in over a dozen public meetings and three key reports: the Golf Course Report and Action Plan (2014), the Golf Course Master Plan (2019) and the Facilities Condition and Needs Assessment (2020). These documents provided thorough assessments of the facilities and management of the Golf Course and Clubhouse and presented recommendations to guide future planning, programming and potential future capital improvements.

At the same time, Councilmembers, Commissioners, volunteers and staff engaged local residents and stakeholder groups in discussion and planning. Together, they envisioned a public/private partnership in which the City will continue to support improvements to the Course, community fundraising efforts will help fund future projects and programs, skilled professionals will provide pro bono support, and a professional operator will provide course management, operations, and marketing services. 

“In 1919 a group of local citizens founded the Golf Course, not as a private Country Club but as a resource for all who loved or wanted to learn to play golf,” Councilmember Stephen Burke said. “They engaged the City in a beneficial partnership that transferred ownership in 1937. We want to build on this spirit of partnership to create a memorable 21st century golf experience that is profitable, playable year-round, and open to broader community needs and interests.”

RFP and Management Agreement Process

To bring in an experienced operator, the City developed a Request for Proposal (RFP) in 2020, and accepted proposals from vendors in 2021. A resident-led committee of community members and City staff reviewed the five submitted proposals. Throughout the RFP selection process, committee members prioritized the preservation and protection of the Golf Course and its surrounding natural environment, while selecting a partner to help the City realize its goal of creating and maintaining a modernized facility and reducing operational budget deficits. 

Based on their 15-plus year track record of success in cost effective golf course management, the RFP selection committee chose Touchstone Golf for the proposed Management Agreement. Touchstone Golf is a Bay Area based, full-service golf course management firm with experience in delivering a first-class golf experience, ensuring financial success at public golf venues, and building active and engaged communities of golfers and non-golfers alike. The firm has experience with managing similar golf courses, with nearly half of their management portfolio government agency owned. Examples include Presidio Golf Course in San Francisco, Tilden Park Golf Course in Berkeley and Blue Rock Springs Golf Course in Vallejo.

Parks and Recreation Commission Chair Vanessa Justice, who served on the committee, shared why the committee selected Touchstone Golf: “We determined Touchstone Golf was the best fit for Mill Valley based on their deep understanding of the unique challenges and untapped rewards present when running and maintaining a municipal golf course. Their enthusiasm for our uniquely majestic terrain and their long track record of successful marketing and operation of golf courses like the Mill Valley Golf Course made them a frontrunner in the process,” she said. “We were impressed with their history of environmental stewardship and their ability to not only leverage a variety of different community groups and organizations to increase revenue but also to foster a sense of belonging to a wider range of people by facilitating access to more diverse programming, lessons, and special events."

The committee also chose the firm based on their size and stability, credit standing, financial record, management history, and their experience in offering lessons, tournaments, and other special, non-golf event offerings, such as Easter Egg Hunts and “Sunday on the Green” Picnic Events. Touchstone Golf shares the City’s commitment to providing a facility that is accessible to all community members through non-traditional social and recreational opportunities. 

“We are thrilled and honored to be considered for the Management Agreement with the City of Mill Valley for the management of the Mill Valley Golf Course,” Touchstone Golf CEO Steve Harker said. “Having grown up on local municipal golf courses, I know how they occupy a unique place in the community’s heart. At Touchstone Golf, we understand this connection and are driven by our passion to provide value-based recreational experiences to all users.”

The proposed Management Agreement would grant Touchstone Golf exclusive management of golf course operations and food and beverage services for an initial term of five years. In return, the City requires a highly maintained golf course, quality food and beverage service, and exceptional customer service. Additionally, the City prioritizes community engagement, expanding youth and senior programs, and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

The Management Agreement also includes requirements to maintain course landscape and hardscape with best practices of environmental stewardship, including water conservation, water quality management, maintenance and preservation of creeks and waterways, healthy playing surfaces, and wildlife habitat protection. The City employs an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program in its Golf Course maintenance, and in response to the 2021 drought, successfully cut water use by 50%. Touchstone Golf has indicated their commitment to their role as environmental stewards and plans to implement programs consistent with this mindset. 

More information: Management Agreement Frequently Asked Questions (PDF)

Public/Private Partnerships

The City has a track record of many successful public/private partnerships which provide mechanisms to secure private investment for revitalization efforts. Examples include the Mill Valley Community Center and the Downtown Depot Bookstore and Cafe, and partnerships with groups such as the Friends of Mill Valley Parks and Recreation and the Chamber of Commerce.

“The City has a longstanding practice of working with local organizations to improve community resources in Mill Valley,” Director of Arts and Recreation Sean McGrew said. “We look forward to future opportunities for everyone to join us in creating a stellar recreation facility that everyone can enjoy.”

He cited three examples of community-driven partners invested in supporting future Golf Course revitalization and engagement efforts:

Mill Valley Golf Club - The Mill Valley Golf Club is a private organization with a strong commitment to sustaining the vitality of the Mill Valley Golf Course while also opening up the course to diverse communities for a range of uses. Recently, the Golf Club has partnered with the Scott Highlands Association to support a bike path across the Course, proposed and promoted closing the Course on select summer Sundays for the “No Clubs, Just Play” use of the facility by families and visitors, and volunteered countless hours to improving the physical layout and playability of the Course. Golf Club members are currently working to create a youth golf program in conjunction with the Marin County Cooperation Team’s Frederick Leon Marcus Youth Academy in Marin City.

Mill Valley Friends of Parks and Recreation - The mission of the Mill Valley Friends of Parks and Recreation is to facilitate, enhance and promote the activities and resources of Mill Valley’s parks and recreation facilities to positively impact the sustainability and quality of life, health and well-being of Mill Valley’s residents. Through advocacy and direct contributions, the Friends have supported many projects, including Community Center improvements, sports field renovations, a scholarship matching program, Golf Course improvements, Skate Park renovation, Gravity Car renovation and several Eagle Scout Projects.

The Friends will assist with private Golf Course fundraising efforts, which have already raised $125,000. These funds will supplement City investments focused on projects to improve year round playability, including drainage, irrigation upgrades to reduce water use, new tees, and improved greens. Donations to support this effort can be made here.

Touchstone Golf Foundation - Touchstone Golf Foundation is a non-profit organization with a mission to serve the communities in which Touchstone Golf Management operates. They accomplish this through partnerships between local golf courses and civic organizations and nonprofits operating in the community. The Foundation provides volunteers to assist golfers around the course and provide education on pace of play. In the past eight years, they have raised $1.2 million for local high school and junior golf programs, cancer and military support organizations, and other charities.

At their upcoming meeting, Council will receive the Staff Report and presentation and consider approving the Management Agreement. In keeping with their Core Values, Council encourages a  balanced, inclusive, and open approach to policy-making. Community participation and input is welcome and encouraged.

Learn more: 

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During the meeting

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