SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. - Golf is a simple game.
You hit the ball in the hole.
Reconfiguring Lake Tahoe Golf Course into Washoe Meadows State Park, so you can keep the 18 holes and restore the Upper Truckee River at the same time, is not a simple, nor light-hearted, game.
But the California State Parks Commission wants to play.
At Friday's commission meeting at the course, members unanimously voted to reclassify the Washoe Meadows State Park into a state recreation area.
This classification will allow State Parks to move forward with its preferred plan, known as Alternative 2, to restore the section of the river that currently runs through the course as well as keep the 18-hole course, which is a big revenue generator for the State Parks system.
"We are pleased with the commission's support," said California State Parks Director Ruth Coleman after the vote. "We look forward to working with the community to restore the Upper Truckee and continuing to provide quality recreation to all Californians."
Opponents of the Alternative 2 mainly argue that moving seven holes of the course into Washoe Meadows State Park will destroy a beautiful natural area and will set a dangerous precedent for other state park land. And they showed up in force to comment at the meeting.
"I'm afraid I expected this result," said Lynne Paulsen, who spearheaded the movement against Alternative 2, after the vote. "But we're hoping the TRPA and the scientists will evaluate this more thoroughly."
The project will head to the TRPA for approval in November.
Commissioners listened to more than three hours of public comment. They heard dozens of different viewpoints for and against the plan.
"The community should be proud of itself," said commissioner Bill Kogerman. "You may disagree, but you got into this project with everything you had."
Commenters in support of the project, many from various organizations, focused on the economic benefits, environmental benefits and improved recreation opportunities.
"It clearly fosters the outdoor recreation opportunities in the Basin," said Mike Bradford, speaking as a representative for the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.
"The golf course is not expanding," said Doug Bigelow, an employee of Lake Tahoe Golf Course and a resident nearby. "The golf course won't be bigger. It will just be different."
Representatives from the LTVA, the Tahoe Chamber, California Tahoe Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service, California Trout and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency spoke in support of Alternative 2.
Lake Tahoe Golf Course, with 25,000 to 33,000 rounds played a year, is one of the largest revenue generators in the State Parks system. Decreasing the size or eliminating it entirely is not a smart decision when the budget is tight and 67 parks are closing, said spokesman Roy Stearns.
"At a time when our budget is the worst it has been in history, we need to not do things that shoot it in the foot," Stearns said.
Commenters against the project, who mostly agreed that the Upper Truckee needs to be restored, drew attention to the precedent that building a golf course on what was once state park land would set, the beautiful nature that would be impacted, the validity of the science used to produce the environmental impact report and even the legality of the commission's voting process among other criticisms.
"This property belongs to all of us, not special interests," 40-year resident Patricia Aragone told the six members of the commission.
"The plan puts all state parks in jeopardy," said resident Krissi Russell. "I can't imagine what people will say about this project in 60 years, 'What were they thinking?'"
Organizations against the project include Washoe Meadows Community, the Washoe Tribe and the League to Save Lake Tahoe.
Some commenters pointed out, and golf course officials confirmed, that play at the golf course had been in decline for the last few years.
Many of those against the Alternative 2 supported Alternative 3, which called for the restoration of the Upper Truckee and a smaller golf course or a 9-hole course to be built on the existing foot print. Some even called for the elimination of a course altogether.
"Green is a beautiful color," said Jim Hildinger, an 80-year resident of South Lake Tahoe. "Then there's golf green. It's ugly, folks. It doesn't belong at Lake Tahoe. Get it out of here."
Then there were those that thought nothing should be done to the course at all.
"I want to see this course stay just the way it is," said South Tahoe High School golf coach J. Brazil, who was married at Lake Tahoe Golf Course.