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January 2019

University of North Dakota Saves Golf Course

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By Steve Eubanks

Every business falls victim to fads disguised as wisdom. Remember the rush to mimic Japanese business practices in the ’80s? Copying Japanese management practices and organizational structures was all the rage when Japanese nationals were trying to buy every office tower in Los Angeles and gobbling up market share in every manufacturing sector. But after almost three decades of economic stagnation in Japan, and a realization that their business model was intrinsically linked to the nation’s millennia-old cultural morays, it became obvious that Japanese practices were neither transferrable, nor always wise.  

Golf has fallen into similar traps. The “build a course a day for a decade” dogma of the ’90s was a fad clothed in business attire, just as the idea that golf is in trouble, and every course not turning a six-figure profit needs to close, is reactionary and foolish. 

Sometimes taking a deep breath and leaving well enough alone is the best option.

That’s what the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks has done. After two years of turmoil over the fate of its nine-hole golf course, which closed in 2016, the university announced in November that a proposed sale of the Ray Richards Golf Course, adjacent to campus, had been shelved. The course is now slated to reopen in the fall of 2019.

“We’re excited about this because this allows us to continue to ensure that the donor’s original intent stays true,” said Maloney Linder, the UND’s vice president of marketing and communications. “So we’re honoring that and we’re also finding ways for (the golf course) to support the university mission.”

Ray Richards GC, once farmland donated by Richards for golf in 1962, struggled to turn a profit as a nine-hole facility in the short season of the upper Midwest. The State Board of Higher Education proposed selling the property to create an endowment for the university’s men’s golf team.

But the endowment necessary to fund a program like UND men’s golf is over $4 million, far more than a 9-hole course could yield even if it was zoned for other development. So, after reflection and consultation with the Richards family (Ray Richards passed away in 1972) the course will reopen as a multiuse facility for golf, cross-country track and field, cross-country skiing, disc and foot golf, as well as the school’s autonomous systems education and training. 

Jed Shivers, the university’s chief operator officer, said, “We are looking forward to bringing the golf course back online as soon as possible and restoring the legacy of wellness and recreation that Ray Richards and others made possible at UND. It’s doubly gratifying because the space provides new multiuse opportunities for both our health and wellness goals and our academic and research missions.”

The course will reopen for a brief period this fall and then full operations will resume in 2020.
“We will open it for a month or two so we can work out all the kinks,” said Mike Pieper, vice president of facilities for UND. “Then it will open for a full season the following spring.” 

Steve Eubanks is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and New York Times bestselling author.

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