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.