How lawsuits, accusations halted this top-ranked muni’s plans
One recent autumn morning on the 1st tee of the South Course at Corica Park, a highly-regarded muni just east of San Francisco, two singles struck up a conversation.
‘You live nearby?’
‘Play here often?’
The simple pleasantries continued until one of the pair, a Corica first-timer, posed a more complicated question.
“By the way,” he wondered, pointing past a fence toward an adjacent parcel and the slumbering remains of a construction site. “What the heck is going on over there?”
What the heck, indeed.
Golfers at Corica have been asking that a lot. The answer is not uplifting.
The site was meant to be the renovated back nine of Corica’s other 18-holer, the North Course, which has now sat half-completed for the better part of a year. When the redo might be finished is uncertain. Next year seems unlikely. Maybe 2024? It’s anyone’s guess.
Construction delays, never uncommon, are frustratingly frequent in this era of supply-chain snags. But Corica’s problems aren’t global economics. When it comes to muni golf, all politics is local — and Corica’s problems are intensely local.
The property is ensnared in a web of lawsuits involving the city of Alameda, where Corica is situated, and Greenway Golf Associates, the management company that has the lease on the place. Accusations abound, as do disappointed golfers. It’s the sort of dispiriting scenario in which only lawyers win.
We won’t dive deep into the legal tangle here; we’ll just pick out a few central threads. First, though, some background on Corica itself.
The multi-course complex is more than a century-old and counts as a Bay Area institution. In 2018, its name went national when the South Course wrapped up an ambitious renovation — an overhaul that turned a flat, scruffy track into a bouncy, contoured layout that conjured the spirit of golf in the Australian Sandbelt.
Praise for the project rang out near and far. GOLF Magazine (that’s us!) named the South the best muni renovation of the year, and, six months later, anointed it as one of the top 30 munis in the United States.
So glittery was Corica’s reputation that it caught the eye of the PGA Tour, which considered adding the South as a stop on its calendar. Tentative plans called for an autumn event to be hosted by the Bay Area’s favorite golf junkie, Steph Curry.
The Tour wound up passing, but that did nothing to slow Corica’s rise. With its tee sheet overflowing, the bustling South became an emblem of golf’s Covid boom as well as of a larger muni renaissance.
And there was more to come. The consensus was that a renovated North, which promised a punch bowl green and a postage-stamp par-three, among other nifty, throwback features, would make a great place even better. Corica, some suggested, was poised to take its place alongside the country’s grandest municipal facilities — the Bay Area’s answer to the likes of Torrey Pines and Bethpage Black.
And then the story soured.
A glaring sign that things had gone awry came this past March, when Marc Logan, a minority shareholder in Greenway Golf, filed suit against his Greenway business partners. An agronomist-turned-architect-and-builder, Logan had been handling the redo of the North, the front nine of which had recently opened. Now, though, he said that he’d been forced to pause the job. Among his allegations, Logan claimed that Greenway’s majority owner, Umesh Patel, who had taken control of the company in 2020, owed him $709,000, plus interest, for material and labor. Logan also alleged that Patel had misappropriated funds from a pandemic-era government loan and that he’d failed to make good on contractual obligations to personally finance improvements on the North.
Patel denied those claims, saying, among other things, that Logan was a sloppy record-keeper who had mishandled receipts.
The suit did not escape the city’s notice.
Expressing concern over Greenway’s ability to complete the North, Alameda officials asked to look at the company’s books. That, in turn, sparked another dispute over how much of Greenway’s books the city was entitled to see (Patel argued that his lease required him to show gross revenues only, not expenses; he also wanted any outside audit to be handled by an independent expert, not someone from the city).
In May, the city filed its own complaint against Greenway, alleging that the company and its chief had violated several clauses in its lease. The city was seeking an injunction to get full access to Greenway’s financial records, along with the right to terminate the Corica lease if it were found that Greenway was unable to make good on its contractual obligations.
That was not the last of the legal volleys.
In September, Patel filed a counter suit, claiming that the city was subjecting him to a campaign of harassment and racial discrimination as part of a biased effort to strip him of the lease. Patel, who is of Indian descent, told GOLF.com that he’d been reluctant to raise the issue of race but ultimately concluded that there was “no other explanation” for the way the city was treating him. When prior operators of Greenway had run into hiccups, he said, the city hadn’t sounded an alarm nor insisted on an audit.
“We all know that there is a long history in this country of those in power working to displace people of color from public land,” Patel said.
In an email to GOLF.com, a spokesperson for the city dismissed Patel’s claims as meritless, noting that red flags were first raised when one of Patel’s own business partners had accused him under oath of “financial mismanagement and self-dealing.”
As the stewards of the community’s public assets, Alameda officials were obliged to take a closer look at Greenway’s finances, the spokesperson said, adding that the city “looks forward to vindicating (its) rights and the community’s rights in the litigation.”
Amid this back and forth, play at Corica has continued. But the giddiness in Corica’s air has dissipated. The legal stalemate is not alone to blame; the fevered demand of peak-Covid has faded, as has the boundless optimism it brought. And with many forecasts calling for financial headwinds, there is a sense among some Corica regulars that winter is coming in more ways than one.
In many eyes, the South course remains the Bay Area’s best muni. But tee times at Corica, once a scarcity, have grown easy to come by, especially on the half-finished North, which — in a scheduling blackout that is practically unheard of for a muni — is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Management says that’s for maintenance.
The other half of the North remains a sleepy expanse of un-grassed holes and dirt piles. Completing it will cost millions. The city wants assurance that Patel and Greenway are up to the task. Patel says that’s not an issue. But why, he asks, should he spend the time and money when he believes the city is trying to oust him from the operation? From the city’s perspective, that’s a question from a man who it says in its complaint has “violated the covenant of good faith.”
Neither side appears in the mood to budge.
For most of this past spring and summer, the abandoned work site at Corica drew scant public attention. But a large patch of ground in suspended animation can only go unnoticed for so long. The lawsuits have started making local headlines. Golfers have begun asking questions.
Out on the South Course on this crisp autumn morning, the Corica first-timer felt that he at least now had the outlines of an answer.
“Eesh,” he said. “Sounds like a total mess.”
This is part of our Muni Monday series, spotlighting stories from the world of city- and county-owned golf courses around the world.