Tiger, Obama, Mike Keiser, and Mark Rolfing all apart of one golf course? News broke today about the plans for the renovation of South Shore and Jackson Park on the South Side of Chicago. The development would include 27 holes and a composite 7300 yard Championship Course that hopes to host the BMW Championship and Presidents Cup in the next 10 years. $50 greens fees for locals, free for kids under 18, a caddie program, and all the while privately funded, make for a unique approach that just might be the fix for struggling municipal courses. For more info on the project check out Dylan Dethier’s article at Golf.com. All of this got me thinking again… what is Memphis waiting on? So I did some digging.
As I mentioned in my article back in July, Memphis has eight municipal courses across the city. 5 of which are 18 hole tracks with the others being nine-holers. The 3 that have the most potential are Riverside Links, Overton Park, and Galloway. Before we get into each of the courses, I think it is important to understand the dollars. All of these figures are public information that can be found on the City of Memphis’s website.
In 2018, per the Division of Parks, “Golf” operated at a loss of $930,271. This looks bad on the surface but if we dive a little deeper, the total expenses were $4,314,654 and total revenues were $3,384,383. There is certainly room to improve on the 22% loss, even though the accepted budget for next year has the deficit doubling, due in part to a $1.2 million irrigation renovation at Fox Meadows Golf Course. The revenue from golf in 2018 made up more than 44% of the total revenue for the Parks, making it the single largest money maker behind the Liberty Bowl. So what does all this mean? To me it means that golf can be profitable with a few adjustments.
Now obviously, Jackson Park and South Shore hit a gold mine with Obama’s Presidential Center being planned for that area, bringing him into the fold, which brought Tiger into the mix and so on and so forth. To me that isn’t what is required for there to be success in the Bluff City. More important is finding a designer/design group that has experience with these types of public projects that are lower budget, that need to be designed lean in order maximize funds, and cut down on maintenance costs down the road. Lets look at the the three courses that I mentioned earlier.
The Links at Riverside:
First of all, this course is the only course that has the potential of being a true “links” course due to it’s location bordering the Mississippi River and the natural sandy, silty soil it sits on. The 9-hole course is a blank canvas, any artist dream. No really there is nothing there except, grass, some greens that are all the same shape and a large clubhouse. There are no bunkers, too many trees and no real view of the river. To me, all of this is wrong. This course is in desperate need of some Andy Johnson “Tree Management”. There are the current negatives, but the potential is astronomical.
The course sits right off I-55, is just 3 miles from Beale Street, and as I mentioned before is on the Mississippi River. There is room to grow, whether that is making a more expansive nine hole course, to accommodate modern technology, maybe work in a range, or a pitch and putt course. The course was 18 holes when it was built in 1913 but part of the course was reclaimed by the Mighty Mississippi thus leaving the 9 hole tract it is today. An architect would have field day here, visions of an undulating, sloping links with tough bunkering and firm turf would sit beautifully here. If done correctly, this could become a must play for both visitors to the city as well as the growing downtown populations.
The Links at Overton Park:
Overton Park hits close to home for me. This was where I played my first golf tournament when I was 7 and it’s also the place my grandmother’s cousin Jake was the first pro at and holds the course record. More so, it is in the neighborhood that I grew up in. This 2200 yard par 34 course sits along one of the busiest streets in town and is in the middle of the Zoo, Brooks Museum and former Memphis College of Art. The course has a little more design involved than Riverside, but still is pretty underwhelming. The turf conditions are terrible, resembling that of a country backyard instead of a golf course. Some of the holes just run together and can even be a little dangerous. Another danger is the long, dark, wooded walk between the 2nd and 3rd holes, this area poses places for vagrants to hide and potentially confront golfers or runners using the trails for exercise.
Location, History, Support, are three things that this little engine that could have going for it. Located in the heart of Mid-Town and one block away from the revitalized Overton Square area, it couldn’t be in a better spot. There are concerts at the historic Levit Shell, tons of park patrons that use Overton Park as a place to walk dogs, throw Frisbee, or just relax, and a commitment to improve the park by the Overton Park Conservancy. They stopped I-40 from being run thru the park back in the 1960’s. Needless to say the community supports the park, now the course needs to be supported. With new mixed use developments, like The Citizen at Union and McLean, popping up every few months, it will only draw more people, hopefully more golfers, to the area. The way Overton is intertwined with the Midtown community reminds me a lot of what was done a Winter Park by Keith and Riley. I think with a similar budget they could truly transform this course and the park.
Galloway Golf Course:
The most popular of the municipal golf courses is Galloway Golf Course, located off another one of the main thoroughfares in the city, it draws the heaviest traffic by far and rightfully so. The course underwent a major renovation back in the early 2000’s and even though it is a short 6000 yards, it is the most complete course on the roster. The turf is much better than the other courses, it has close to a full functioning irrigation system, and has a few redeeming architectural features. Due to it being an 18 hole course, it brings in quite a few tournaments, higher greens fees and cart fees (still too high for the quality of golf) thus making it what appears to be the largest money maker for the city courses.
Most people (I’m sure this is what the city is thinking) would say, why spend money on a course that is already “making money”. There is no way to tell which courses are profitable or not because of how the Parks lumps them all together in their books. This is a major misstep in my opinion, but lets not get into how governments manage their money, this is not a political site. I think that Galloway could use some cart path removal, sandier turf, better irrigation, and faster greens. The cart path removal, tying more holes together, would allow for more distance to be gained. For instance there is a lot of space wasted between 13 green, 14 tee, 5 green and 6 tee. There is a good 40 square yard space of concrete and grass that is not used, that could add another set of tees to both the 14th and 6th holes, picking up another 30 yards and in turn making these holes challenging par 4’s. Same could be said between the 6th green, 3rd green, and 7th tee. Also asphalt cart paths are expensive, and maintenance on them is an on going issue. Instead, using crushed limestone around greens and tees only and not down the length of the fairways, saves cost, and improves on maintenance. Gill Hanse has made this popular at at a number of his course like Mossy Oak and Sewanne to name a couple. Tom Doak and Core Crenshaw have done this in New Zealand and Australia to much success. All of this could be done for relatively little money, in relation to how much it would improve the course. All the while keeping the rates the same, which is the ultimately the goal.
The Next Step:
Money. That’s the big step. Getting people together that want to see these courses develop and be made better, and get them involved with their resources. Look at what Zach Blair has done with The Ringer, now TBC looks like it has gotten off the ground and is going to start being built in the near future. If the right group can come together, with the right amount of influence with the city, one or two or all of these projects can happen. This is the right time for this to happen in Memphis, as we are in the middle of a rebirth, why not throw in a rebirth of public golf into the mix?
Let’s build better golf.