Taking Back the Fairways for Parks


Mason, Ohio, golf course, now closed 

Public golf courses, whose audience has gone the way of plaid slacks, are being remade by more cities into parks and other more in-demand amenities. Peter Harnik and Ryan Donahue report in Landscape Architecture Magazine that idle fairways are increasingly attractive to urban planners, asking, “What is the future of golf in crowded, park-hungry cities?”:

The game of golf has never been an efficient use of space (hence the development of mini golf) but in the past it could be argued that it was still worthwhile public investment that subsidized a system’s other parks through green fees. No longer. Golf’s popularity is not keeping up with population growth nor the explosion in the number of private golf venues; it’s also losing out to other self-directed activities like running and cycling.

The repurposing of golf courses has been happening for a few years, but the trend shows no signs of waning. After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans repurposed some of the land that formerly held four golf courses covering 520 acres. The area now features a boardwalk, a dock, a meadow concert venue, a nature trail, and a very popular walking and jogging trail. National City, California, is considering turning a golf course into a park that has a soccer field, a restored creek, a community farm, and biking and walking paths. And in San Francisco, one landscape architecture instructor at the University of California at Berkeley assigns his students to remake the city’s Lincoln Park Golf Course for other public uses that include a profit-generating feature: “Among the proposals that have emerged,” Landscape Architecture Magazine reports, “are urban farms, bamboo forests, green cemeteries, aquifer recharge facilities, abalone farms, and municipal-scale composting facilities.”

It’s not always about ripping up the greens, though, according to Harnik and Donahue, whose research was supported by the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence. Pressure for other uses has led some golf courses to incorporate features that appeal to the non-golfing public. In Houston, runners advocated for and got a trail around a city course. In a Washington, D.C., suburb, golfers under fire for a driving-range expansion responded by agreeing to make the facility more friendly to the environment and to wildlife.

And some cities are simply letting ordinary people, those common folk who know nothing about bogies or mulligans, use the greens at certain times. This is anything but a new idea in the golf world, LAM reminds us:

The idea has an eminent precedent—St. Andrews in Scotland, hallowed ground for golfers everywhere, has traditionally opened up as a regular park for the townspeople on Sundays.

Source: Landscape Architecture Magazine (article not available online), Governing 

steve eatenson
7/22/2011 6:23:48 AM

Yes, let's return the golf courses to the exclusive use of the rich who are able and willing to join private courses after being recommended for membership by their equally rich fraternity brothers. They will gladly pay the $20,000 initiation fee and $10,000 yearly dues so their silver spoon offspring can tennis, golf and swim without being exposed to the rest of our riff-raff offspring. Besides, who wants to encourage youngsters to learn to play golf, a game that teaches one to follow rules, be polite, and work hard for personal improvement. We are better served to teach our young to play violent competitive sports where steroid use is rampant. It better prepares them for living in our current society.

Dan Redmond
7/20/2011 6:43:25 PM

I found this article totally lopsided and thinly written. This is compounded by the article from Landscape Architecture not being available. Such questions as why were the golf courses failing or already failed was not thoroughly addressed. As a resident of San Francisco I have particular knowledge of Lincoln Park golf course. The City has taken all revenues forever and put in the City's general fund. It has looked like a cow pasture for decades as much of the irrigation system is still original from the 1920's. There is also major kick back here against increased new revenue generation from parks. Also bamboo could never be planted there as it part of the Presidio (former military base) which is part of the greater Golden Gate National Recreation Area (native plants only, for new planting). Cemeteries have not been allowed within the city limits for decades. The property is 100's of feet above the bay, so abalone is really a good idea? It is weak articles such as this that give others (as compared to me, who is actually on your side) there 'ammo' for ridicule. Get with it.

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