Editorial: Indy Parks is smart to review value of city-owned golf courses

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Indy Parks is evaluating what to do with some of its 13 golf courses—and, in fact, has already decided to close Riverside Golf Course with plans to eventually shutter nearby South Grove Golf Course.

A study commissioned by Indy Parks recommends the closure of two other courses—Thatcher and Whispering Hills—as well, although no decisions have been made about either of those locations.

The larger goal is to repurpose the wide swaths of green space now dedicated to golf for other purposes that have a broader appeal, while avoiding the millions of dollars in improvements the aging courses need to remain viable.

The conversation comes after several years of waning interest in the sport. A study by the National Golf Foundation counted 30.6 million golfers in the United States in 2003. By 2014, that figure had fallen to 24.7 million.

As a result—and due in part to aging infrastructure—cities across the country have been evaluating whether to keep their golf courses open. Houston, Detroit and a number of smaller communities have closed courses in the past few years. And others, including Seattle, are studying the issue.

We support Indy Parks’ efforts to do the same.

Indianapolis has more courses than most cities of its size. And the study commissioned by the parks department—and led by Ratio architects—found that Indianapolis has more golf courses than it needs overall.

Reconsidering whether golf is the best use for thousands of acres of city-owned land is smart, but that does not mean we want to eliminate municipal golf courses—and it doesn’t appear Indy Parks does either.

Golf remains popular in the city. Last year, Indy Parks’ 13 courses—which are managed privately—brought in $6.9 million (only a portion of which goes to the city) and hosted 228,464 rounds. That’s a 10% decline in revenue compared with the previous year, but it’s still a lot of rounds of golf.

The city’s four highest-performing courses—Eagle Creek, Smock, Sahm and Sarah Shank—accounted for 58% of the 2018 revenue. The Ratio study, submitted to the city last December, recommended all four remain open and receive millions of dollars in improvements.

IBJ also supports that recommendation. City-owned courses offer an affordable way for residents to play a sport that can be far too exclusive—options that should be maintained.

Finding better uses for a few of the city’s underperforming courses can create new opportunities for recreation and nature preservation.

The Ratio study offered lots of ideas: community centers, amphitheaters, walking trails, playgrounds, dog parks, sports fields, zip lines and canopy walks, foot golf, motocross and horseback riding.

That all sounds exciting. But it’s worth noting that providing facilities for those activities requires significant investment in infrastructure and, perhaps most importantly, long-term maintenance.

Final decisions about whether to repurpose courses and how to use the space must be done thoughtfully—and with plenty of input from Indianapolis residents.•


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One thought on “Editorial: Indy Parks is smart to review value of city-owned golf courses

  1. It is a good for Indy Parks to conduct this golf course review, and while I will miss both Riverside and eventually South Grove, the play potential is obviously no longer there. I would also hope that if Coffin is kept, that they can re-do the course after the problems which beset the last re-work. I think Coffin was originally recognized nationally as a truly great test of golf in its original construction.Sadly, from my perspective, the course lost a good bit of its character with the changes that were implemented a few years back, especially the afterthought that became the 18th hole.