Carts whirl around the grounds of Dad Miller Golf Course in Anaheim on a recent Saturday afternoon. Bent at the knees, a golfer swings his putter and sends a shot toward the hole. The ball tumbles to the left before coming to a stop. He walks over and tries again; this time, the ball curves before finally sinking into the hole.
But there may be no future swings for golfers at Dad Miller. A decades-long presence in the city, the 18-hole public golf course, like many others, is failing to attract a new generation of players to the sport, prompting Anaheim to look at possibly converting it into a 100-acre park with sports fields.
Dad Miller has a storied history with Anaheim dating back to 1961, when its first nine holes opened; the back nine followed two years later. Harold George “Dad” Miller, an avid golfer in the community, helped to make the course a reality. In 1970, the then 93-year-old even sank a hole in one on his namesake course.
In the early ’90s, a teen named Eldrick “Tiger” Woods also roamed these grounds while on Western High School’s golf team. A few years later, Woods turned professional, became the Professional Golfers’ Association’s player of the year a record 11 times and won 18 World Golf Championships. In 2006, he returned to Dad Miller to open up the Tiger Woods Learning Center, a $25 million project adjacent to the course. The opening ceremony brought such distinguished guests as former president Bill Clinton and California’s then first lady, Maria Shriver.
But times are changing in Anaheim, and not even the lore of Woods and Miller before him may be enough to keep the space intact. “As we’ve seen across the sport, golf courses have been struggling in recent years to get the attention of younger generations,” says Lauren Gold, spokeswoman for the city. “Dad Miller just barely breaks even in the budget each year and is in need of some major infrastructure improvements to keep it going.”
The city published in May a comprehensive Anaheim Parks Plan, in which it established a standard of 2 acres per 1,000 residents—a ratio that leaves the west side lacking. The plan looked into ways additional parkland could be found in the future to keep pace with a growing population. Though not mentioned by name in the plan, Dad Miller rests on city-owned land, and staffers are already in the earliest phases of looking at potential reuses of the site.
“One hundred acres is a lot to work with,” says James Vanderbilt, Anaheim councilman for District 2, where the course resides. “It’s almost a once-in-a-century opportunity for a city like Anaheim at this point in its development.”
Duane Roberts, a longtime resident who has pulled papers to run against Vanderbilt this November, agrees with his opponent. “For many years, people in West Anaheim have been complaining about a lack of green space for families and children,” he says. “An overwhelming majority of people who live in West Anaheim don’t play golf; they play soccer and other sports. Converting this golf course into a public park will bring greater benefits, as this facility only serves a very small minority of residents.” He sees potential for splash pads, farmers’ markets and community events with the conversion.
The city also sees many positives: New fields and parkland would be a boost for nearby schools, youth sports groups and community residents looking to enjoy recreational activities. “It would also free up resources in our city budget by taking out the higher cost of running a golf course,” Gold adds. Plus, there is a second municipal golf course in Anaheim Hills.
But there are other things the city must consider before making any moves. Dad Miller enjoys a reputation for affordability. Any potential changes to the land use would also have to take into account the impact on surrounding residential communities, including apartment complexes and a mobile-home park. And then there’s the legacy of Woods and Miller themselves. (Contacted by the Weekly, the Tiger Woods Foundation offered no comment by press time.)
Not everyone is onboard with rethinking Dad Miller. Esther Wallace, chair of the West Anaheim Neighborhood Development (WAND) council, vehemently opposes a conversion. “Dad Miller Golf Course has been a real asset to West Anaheim,” she says. “It is affordable golfing for our residents, especially seniors.” She contends the conversion idea is being promoted by advocates who are pushing for a permanent space in a park with on-site resources for the local homeless population. Invoking the fiasco of Irvine’s Great Park, Wallace warns Anaheim would have to sell off parkland in the future for dense housing developments because of a lack of funds supporting any such ambitious plan.
“What’s interesting are the contradictory statements Wallace is making about green space,” Roberts counters. “One minute, she rallies against Access California Services’ proposal to build a family resource center on an unused scrap of land at Brookhurst Park, saying that it will take away green space. But when somebody makes a serious proposal to create a 100-acre community park in West Anaheim—one that drastically increases the amount of green space available to all residents—she argues we can’t have more green space because somebody will fill it up with homeless people!”
Either way, the debate surrounding Tiger Woods’ old stomping grounds is teeing off a bit prematurely. The future of Dad Miller is unlikely to come before the City Council just yet; a workshop or a departmental update is far more plausible. “There’s always a possibility it could remain a golf course, too,” Vanderbilt says, “as an ultimate finding of this exploration about other uses.”
Gabriel San Roman is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and tallest Mexican in OC.