One of San Diego’s oldest golf courses was facing its final rounds earlier this year before an unlikely scramble recovery.
Oceanside’s Goat Hill, opened in 1952, had been targeted for redevelopment by the city council. What began as a nine-hole track that was once the Oceanside Carlsbad Country Club was about to become a soccer complex or shopping mall before John Ashworth stepped forward.
Ashworth, the namesake of the golf clothing line, played the course in high school and was still enjoying a weekly round there. He submitted a last-minute bid as something of a lark.
“I was really just trying to save my Friday round,” he jokes.
To Ashworth’s astonishment, his proposal prevailed and that’s how the resurrection of Goat Hill (now Goat Hill Park) began in July of this year.
Ashworth now find himself as golf’s answer to Bob Villa on an episode of “This Old Course” trying to coax a track whose fairways had gone bare back into playable shape. But where many would see a course whose condition more closely resembles a driving range, Ashworth sees ocean views – and potential.
“It’s a cool spot that just needs a little love,” Ashworth says. “It’s got a lot of great views, and it’s a challenging little course. If we had grass, we wouldn’t be able to keep people away.
Ashworth just built a new pro shop, has re-seeded the fairways and has posted public rounds on GolfNow.com.
Goat Hill is a blue-collar course in a blue-collar part of Oceanside, and that’s exactly the audience Ashworth markets to. You don’t have to worry about dress codes here. In fact, Ashworth plays in shorts and a tee shot from his latest clothing line, Linksoul.
Ashworth also plays with persimmon clubs and embraces the histories and values of the game. That, as much as anything, he says is what bothered him about Goat Hill potentially closing.
“It’s sad to see golf courses like this going away across the country,” he says. “It’s a big loss, and I don’t think people even realize it. We need to have courses for kids and beginners, and that’s what this is.”
Ashworth says Goat Hill’s place in the community has been undervalued, and that’s where he sees the true potential.
“We have to get to the course right, but the part I get fired up about is to have a safe haven for the kids in the neighborhood,” he says. “It’s a tough neighborhood, and we want to have after-school programs and a caddy academy. We want to be a positive influence. We want to keep 13- and 14-year-olds out of gangs and off the streets.
“That part is going to be really rewarding. Already is.”
Ashworth wants to see people bond over the game again and be brought together socially, which is why he’s going to encourage leagues, including one for wooden clubs.
Local golfer Dana Albert, who began his golf career as marshal in 1991 when the course was being converted to 18 holes, shares Ashworth’s sentimentality for the course and says his efforts are laudable.
“John’s vision is inclusive to North County,” he says. “It’s a park for everyone.”
As a golfer, Albert also appreciates the challenge the course truly presents.
“You have it to hit uphill, downhill, left to right, right to left, downwind, into the wind, etc… You can hit every club in your bag.”
Ashworth now spends his days alternating between running his clothing company, which has offices nearby, and directing efforts at the course.
Ashworth has reached a point in his career where potentially things should be slowing down, but since taking on Goat Hill, that’s hardly the case, he says.
“The days are crazy. No day is typical. But what else am I going to do? It’s a challenge. And if it saves a couple kids, it’s totally worth it,” Ashworth says.
“For everything the game of golf has given me, I have to give something back.”