Fisher: Fry’s founder’s PGA dream closer to reality

The Mercury News
March 3, 2008

Fisher: Fry’s founder’s PGA dream closer to reality

by Patty Fisher

It’s looking more and more likely that electronics mogul John Fry will get to host a PGA tournament at his private golf course, the one he built without permits in his back yard.

I guess it just goes to show that you can do just about anything you want in Morgan Hill — if you have enough money, prestige and time.

Last week, after years of speculation, the PGA confirmed that Fry’s exclusive course was likely to be on the tour in 2010 or 2011. The founder of Fry’s Electronics has always been a guy with big dreams, brilliant marketing instincts, a quirky sense of design and a knack for getting his way. It’s been a dream of his to be a stop on the pro tour, and certainly he isn’t about to let such things as environmental regulations or local zoning ordinances stand in his way.

Fry’s pet project, known as The Institute, will be a premier mathematics think tank and a championship golf course coexisting on a 192-acre piece of property. If that seems like a bizarre combination, what else would you expect from the guy who made his fortune selling computers and snack foods under the same roof?

City leaders have embraced Fry’s dream. Environmentalists, however, have not.

“This is the worst case of government’s mismanagement of land use in the county — worse than Stanford,” said Brian Schmidt of the Committee for Green Foothills.

How it began

It all began in 1997 when the city gave Fry’s folks a permit to grade 40 acres of the property, the site of an old pitch-and-putt golf course, without an environmental review. When contractors instead illegally graded the entire 192 acres to create an 18-hole championship course, the environmentalists threatened to sue.

Work on the course continued, however, even after the endangered California red-legged frog was found on the property. Eventually the city approved the course retroactively and gave Fry a list of things he had to do to mitigate the damage and protect the frogs and other creatures.

Manuel Valerio, Fry’s spokesman, and Morgan Hill City Manager Ed Tewes say the mitigation work, which includes building buffers for the wildlife and setting aside other habitat, is on schedule.

But Craig Breon of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, who has been following the project closely, doesn’t believe it.

“That’s tripe,” he said, ticking off a list of deadlines he says The Institute has blown.

“We will find again, as we always have, that the city will fall over itself to give Mr. Fry everything he wants.”

One thing Mr. Fry wants is a PGA tournament. But the city set a limit of 36 rounds of golf a day on the course and specifically prohibited tournaments.

Crowds vs. habitat

Breon said a golf course is bad enough for the environment, but bringing thousands of people to the area for a tournament would pose even greater concerns — traffic, parking, crowds of spectators disturbing sensitive frog habitat.

“What is it going to mean,” he asked, “if you have thousands of people tromping across that land?”

City Manager Tewes sees no insurmountable obstacles:

“If Gilroy can handle thousands of people at the Garlic Festival each year, I think we can handle this.”

I see why Breon and others are fuming: Fry does seem to be getting special treatment. And I hope the environmentalists continue to watchdog this project, since clearly the city won’t.

But if the project is done right — and Fry has the time and the money to see that it is — then he can make his dream come true and still protect the environment.

It could be pretty cool to bring the PGA to Morgan Hill, especially if folks there want it. Just think. For one week a year, they’ll get to pretend they live in Pebble Beach.

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