For golf lifestyle fashion pioneer John Ashworth, the game has provided a career of passion projects.
But the work he’s done in transforming the short golf course Goat Hill Park in Oceanside, California, has been his most rewarding.
The man behind the brands Ashworth, Fidra and now Linksoul, revived a dying golf course and has created a strong community around it.
“It’s in Oceanside, California and it’s on 75 acres, right by the 5 Freeway,” Ashworth told The Caddie Network on a recent ‘Under the Strap’ podcast. “It was originally built back in 1952, a 9-hole course and it was a country club at the time – Oceanside Carlsbad Country Club. This is back when there was such an abundance of land. It would never happen in today’s world. Coastal Commission this and all this stuff. Over the years, it went through a lot of different changes and in the late 80s-early 90s, there was a guy that was leasing the land and leasing the golf course from the city of Oceanside and they took away this corner for a shopping mall. He ended up going in and re-routing it into an 18-hole short course. So, it is basically a par 65, 4,500 yards long. It’s got eight par 3s, nine par 4s and one par 5. He did a really good job. It’s super fun, a lot of different shots, I think it’s a great routing.”
Eight years ago, suffering through a big drought, Oceanside could no longer maintain the course and no money was being put into it. But selling it wasn’t easy because it was protected by a municipality that if it ever sold it had to be kept as public-use land, or it had to go to a vote of the people.
“It was a time where they could probably get a vote passed,” Ashworth said. “It was kind of a joke. Everybody was laughing at it.
“But we were into it. Linksoul is literally a mile from the course, so we were playing it a couple of times a week, because it was super cheap and it was fun,” Ashworth continued. “It was in shitty shape, but we didn’t care. We put a plan in against four other developers to fix it up, put in a three-hole kid’s course and be the home of North County Junior Golf – just fix it up, basically. We never thought we’d get it. But the city rallied behind us. We did the whole ‘Save Goat Hill’ deal and got a bunch of celebrities to wear t-shirts and got the public to get behind us. And then the mayor was like, ‘OK, shit, great. You guys go for it.’ So, we’ve had it for over six years now and we put a lot into it. It’s come a long way and it still has a long way to go. But the cool thing about it is, we said from the beginning, ‘OK – this is for the people. This is the world-class/working-class. We’re going to keep our rates as low as possible. No dress code. We’re going to play music around the clubhouse. It’s a park. We look at it as a park; not as a golf course. We have a disc golf course. We allow people to bring their dogs. The atmosphere is great. It really is. We just expect people to respect each other and respect the golf course and just have a good time. And that’s what happens.”
Talk about growing the game and literally make it accessible to anyone.
Just like most of the world, Goat Hill hit some hard times earlier this year due to COVID-19. The course was closed for all of April, but opened back up in May and has seen an incredible 20,000 rounds of golf logged since then.
“COVID, if nothing else, looks like it’s been a good thing for golf,” Ashworth said. “We’ve built a really great community. We’ve got ‘The Playground’ which is our three-hole kid’s course, where kids play free. It makes you feel so good to see little kids out there with their parents or their grandparents. It’s been very fulfilling. It’s been something that has saved me. We saved the golf course and The Goat saved me. That’s the way I look at it.”
Ashworth also started up a caddie program at The Goat, as part of the association with North County Junior Golf.
It’s an interesting concept, too. Since Goat Hill is a working-class place, Ashworth concedes that people aren’t exactly lining up for caddies. So, they made the program a non-profit where caddies are paid for and money can be raised for the kids. It exposes local youth to the game and teaches them about responsibility to put them on a path toward higher education.
“This year’s been weird,” Ashworth said. “We had to stop it because of the COVID thing. But, yes, we have a caddie leadership program. The kids do X-number of loops in a two-week period, they do some community service and they do some other activities that we have – we get a guest speaker – we try to keep it real educational and real mentor-y. The guys that get to take caddies are all pretty cream of the crop guys and hopefully impart some wisdom on the kids. The first year we had about 10 kids, the second year we had about 15, the third year we had about 20. It was kind of growing and then this year we had to put a pause on it. But it’s great. You can see the kids get more confidence. You learn so much just being out there with people who are older than you… I think it’s better than junior golf as far as development.”
Click on the player below to hear our entire podcast with John Ashworth: