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June 2019

Greens or Green Space?

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Louisville Conservancy Bids To Take City Courses Back To Nature 

By Steve Eubanks

Developing RFPs for city courses can be a complicated minefield of hidden agendas, political theater and unknown encumbrances. Almost never is the process as straightforward and simple as showing municipal leaders how much money can be saved through professional golf management.

In Louisville, Kentucky, the process got more complicated in the spring when the Fredrick Law Olmsted Parks Conservancy offered to take over one of the city’s six municipal golf courses and return it to open space. Spokesmen for the conservancy said that the body is “ready and willing” to take over Cherokee Golf Course, which opened in 1895, to help the city through a budgetary crisis.

According to public records, the course lost $98,000 in 2018, the biggest loss among city-owned courses. Louisville mayor Greg Fischer has been public about the need to either turn the golf courses around or shutter all of them at the end of the 2019 season.

“We very much appreciate (the Olmsted Park Conservancy’s) interest, and as we told them, we will review their offer as we decide over the next few months how to proceed with the city’s golf courses during this difficult budget climate,” the mayor said in a statement.

Layla George, president of the Olmsted Parks Conservancy, called the potential closures an “opportunity to restore this historic landscape and expand public access to all of Cherokee Park.” 

Therein lies the problem. The mayor has publicly stated that he will open the city’s golf operations up for an RFP. If professional managers can save Louisville $550,000 throughout six golf properties (Cherokee Golf Course is 9-holes), none of them will close. If not, all of them might. 

But like most political decisions, there will likely be more to the Louisville saga than numbers on a balance sheet. George said her conservancy group would create a plan for the “best use of this critical public green space in the heart of our community.” She went on to say, “We recognize the difficulty of the current budget situation and are ready to take on more responsibility in order to alleviate some of the pressure on our public partner, Louisville Parks and Recreation.”

“Golf is supposed to be a revenue producer for the city,” said city councilman Brandon Coan, who represents the district in which Cherokee Golf Course sits. “I can understand why the course is endangered.” 

The Louisville courses might be irredeemable money losers that should be shuttered. Or they might be mismanaged hidden gems with great upside potential. The problem, as happens far too often in municipal situations, is that the truth may never be known. 
 
Steve Eubanks is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and New York Times bestselling author.

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