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2017 Northland Golf Preview: Time running out for Lester Park to get back on course

A view of Lester Park Golf Course in Duluth. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com 1 / 7
Sand traps surround a green on the Lake Nine at Lester Park Golf Course in Duluth. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com 2 / 7
Golf carts sit ready near the clubhouse at the Lester Park Golf Course in Duluth Friday afternoon. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)3 / 7
A sand trap on the Lake Nine at the Lester Park Golf Course in Duluth Friday afternoon. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)4 / 7
A putting green and the clubhouse at Lester Park Golf Course in Duluth. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com5 / 7
The view from the putting green of the No. 2 hole on the Lake Nine at Lester Park Golf Course in Duluth. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com 6 / 7
Golf carts are ready at the Lester Park Golf Course in Duluth Friday afternoon. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)7 / 7

The idea of closing Lester Park Golf Course was floated again before the Duluth City Council last December after another season of Duluth's two public golf courses finishing in the red.

But Duluth Golf's director of sales Craig Smith has a way for that kind of chatter to be quelled in the future.

"The local golf community needs to come out here and make this a viable golf operation," Smith said Thursday from inside Lester Park's clubhouse. "They need to spend money and they need to create the demand that the city needs to see to keep it around."

Lester Park is no longer losing the nearly $243,000 it was reported to have lost in 2014 when the city council originally looked at selling the 200-acre course on Duluth's East side. But after Lester and its fellow 27-hole counterpart, Enger Park Golf Course, lost a combined $176,195 — not counting depreciation — in 2016, everything was thrown on the table by Billy Casper Golf, which oversees the operations of Duluth's golf courses.

Then-general manager Gary Nelson — who has since been replaced by Mike Bender — presented two worst-case scenario solutions of either closing Lester Park's Lake Nine holes for a savings of around $21,000, or the closing of Lester Park entirely for a savings of $180,000.

Billy Casper recommended neither, instead settling on an abbreviated season for Lester Park from May 1 through Sept. 30 this year, which at the time was estimated to save $81,000.

Despite last week's snow and ice — and more wintry mix predicted for tonight and Monday — Lester Park is still set to open bright and early Monday at 6:30 a.m.

"Those rounds can't go anywhere else," Bender said of the viability of Lester Park. "They have to stay in the city of Duluth between Enger and Lester, not Enger and somewhere else."

While Enger Park had its 43 bunkers renovated two years ago, Lester Park's 27 holes have yet to undergo such a transformation.

That's OK, according to Smith, because Lester Park is "in phenomenal condition."

"It's aesthetically the most beautiful course that we have in our inventory," Smith said.

Of Lester Park's 27 holes, the Lake Nine are in the best condition, because they don't get played as often, according to Smith. Built in 1985, the Lake Nine is the longest layout (at 3,417 yards) and possesses the most challenging holes between Lester and Enger.

And it's the most scenic, Smith said.

"I don't understand why anybody just doesn't go out there for the views," he said of the Lake Nine. "Nobody cares about scoring really in golf anymore. They just want to go out and have a great time, socialize, hit the golf ball. People perceive they have to shoot a 36 on a nine-hole course to have a good time. That's just the opposite today. You're going out for the experience. That experience is second to none in terms of golf in the Northland."

Lester Park Golf Course hasn't gone completely untouched since Billy Casper Golf took over management in 2015. Like Enger Park last year, Lester did get new golf carts with USB outlets to charge smartphones, plus a new ball dispenser and buckets for the driving range.

Lester Park's clubhouse also had its floors and utilities improved a year ago and will see a revamped food and beverage menu this year. On Thursday, a new television was being installed in Lester Park's clubhouse that will allow patrons to kick back and watch the Twins, for example, after a round of golf.

Smith said the dream for both Enger and Lester would be a larger, more modern clubhouse that would allow both sites to host larger events, such as weddings. A year-round restaurant and golf simulator also would help bring in revenue.

"There is always something you can do to a golf course no matter where you go," Smith said. "It just comes down to a matter of budget."

Smith said Lester Park has a lot going for it, like the availability of tee times. While it's not as centrally located as Enger, Lester is still easy to access. The course has a very loyal group of regulars, and Smith said he'd hate to see the course lost due to financial difficulties.

"I don't think anyone wants to see a golf course disappear," Smith said. "We don't want to see it, but it really boils down to economics. If we can't support as a community two golf courses in making money, then the city really does have to start looking long and hard at what we can and can't do."

• Enger and Lester will offer new food and beverage packages this season, to be announced in the coming weeks.

• The only fee increase this season comes with the early bird (before 7 a.m.), twilight (after 2 p.m.) and super twilight (after 6 p.m.) rates. Those are increasing by $1.

• The popular $39 Skyline Pass is back, though the free 18 holes with cart that comes with it can only be used on the same day and at the course of purchase.

2017 NORTHLAND GOLF TOURNAMENTS

North Lakes Golf Association

  • May 8 — Hidden Greens
  • May 15 — Spooner
  • May 22 —Hayward
  • May 30 — Cloquet
  • June 5 — Black Bear
  • June 12 — Sugarbrooke
  • June 19 — Telemark
  • June 26 — Apostle Highlands
  • July 10 — Virginia
  • July 17 — Lester Park
  • July 24 — Chequamegon Bay
  • Aug. 7 — Eagle Ridge
  • Aug. 14 — Enger Park
  • Aug. 21 — Nemadji
  • Aug. 28 — Grand National
  • Sept. 5 — Minnesota National
  • Sept. 18 — Pokegama
  • Sept. 25 — Voyager Village
  • Oct. 2 — Ridgeview
  • Local Tournaments
  • April 30: World's Largest Golf Outing at Enger Park
  • May 3: Men's Club Spring Scramble
  • May 6-7: Mesaba Early Bird
  • May 6: Two-Person Spring Scramble at Lakeview National
  • May 19: Classic at the Wilderness
  • May 21: Kenny Eagle Ridge Spring Challenge
  • May (dates to be determined): Spring Fling at Enger Park; Three-Man Thaw at Enger Park; Lester Park Early Bird
  • June 3: City Championship at Nemadji
  • June 3-4: Bauer Best Ball at Pokegama
  • June 10-11: Mesaba Spring Classic
  • June 12: 4,000 Yard Open (Ladies Only) at Pokegama
  • June 19-20: Northland Junior Invitational
  • June 21: Silver Bay Women's Invitational
  • June 23: Two-Person Best Ball at Eagle Ridge; Ridgeview Junior Arrowhead
  • June 27: Pokegama Ladies Invitational
  • June (TBA): Reidar Lund Skyline Memorial at Enger Park; Senior Open at Enger Park
  • July 1-2: Bill Law Nemadji Invitational
  • July 6-9: Cloquet Invitational
  • July 7: Heritage Days Five-Person Scramble at Lakeview National
  • July 8: Zupancich Memorial Scramble at Silver Bay
  • July 9-11: Northland Women's Invitational
  • July 12: Mary Sandstrom Junior Tourney at Eagle Ridge
  • July 15-16: Mesaba Summer Classic
  • July 24: Women's Hot Ball Scramble at Pokegama
  • July 26: Nemadji Women's Invitational
  • July 26-30: Arrowhead Invitational at Ridgeview
  • Aug. 4: Hibbing Junior Championship at Mesaba
  • Aug. 5-6: Agate City Classic at Lakeview National
  • Aug. 9-10: Star of the North Lions Junior Tournament at Pokegama
  • Aug. 10-13: Northland Invitational
  • Aug. 10-12: Ladies Arrowhead at Ridgeview
  • Aug. 17: Indian Summer Classic at the Wilderness
  • Aug. 18-20: Grand Slam Amateur Eagle Ridge and Pokegama; Silver Bay Men's Invitational
  • Aug. 26-27: Dan Sheff Memorial Parent/Child at Cloquet
  • Aug. 28: Rally for the Cure at Ridgeview
  • Aug. (TBA): Lakeview Medal at Lester Park
  • Sept. 1-4: Vern Fryklund Northwest Invitational at Mesaba Country Club
  • Sept. 8-10: Leo Spooner Invitational at Northland
  • Sept. 16: M Club Four-Person Scramble at Silver Bay
  • Sept. 15-17: Men's Four-Ball Championship at Ridgeview
  • Sept. 16-17: Grand Itasca Men's and Women's Scramble at Pokegama; Mesaba Fall Classic
  • Sept. 23: Eagle Ridge Challenge
  • Sept. 28: Hunting Shack Scramble at Lakeview National
  • Sept. (TBA): Fall Fling at Lester Park; Hank Jensen Best Ball/Scramble at Enger Park
  • Oct. 7: Vermilion Club Open at the Wilderness
  • Oct. (TBA): The Raw at Lester Park; Polar Bear at Enger Park

NOTE: Enger Park and Lester Park did not provide tournament dates

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

(218) 723-5317
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