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Local View: Duluth making another bad golf decision by closing Lester

From the column: "The glimmer of hope for saving the Lester Park Golf Course is fading. A generation from now, Duluthians will be amazed and frustrated that we were unable to save it."

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Frank Leis, of Duluth, practices chipping the ball on a green at the Lester Park Golf Course in Duluth. (Clint Austin / 2019 file / News Tribune)

Crisp spring air, luscious green grass, and teammates and opponents scrambling to be on time, poised for a friendly competition. You could feel the tension in the air. The views were spectacular, the weather cool, and the camaraderie unmatched. The ever-present Canada geese — watch your step — and the occasional whitetail deer only enriched the morning. Standing on the tee box in warm sunshine with a view of the harbor, ships on the lake, and the lift bridge was gratifying. Seniors embracing community. It is just good to be alive and continuing this historic tradition.

A well-struck driver, a beautiful 7-iron, draining a putt. Can life get much better?

Actually, it can get worse — a lot worse. And it has. The city of Duluth is on a path to permanently close the Lester Park Golf Course. This would end a nearly 50-years-long history of the Lester Park Senior League, reducing opportunities to golf and tax revenue for all residents of Duluth.

It seems so ironic that a city of nearly 86,000 people cannot find a way to maintain and support two 18-hole public golf courses. Duluth’s city-owned Lester Park and Enger Park courses each feature 27 holes currently. By comparison, the city of Rochester, Minnesota, with a population of 115,550, operates four city-owned courses totalling 63 holes.

Once Lester is closed, the Duluth area — including Superior, Proctor, and Midway Township — with a combined population of 116,606, will support four public courses, both privately and municipally owned, with 72 golf holes. By comparison, the area surrounding Mankato, Minnesota, population 42,000, supports two public privately owned courses totaling 36 holes; and the area surrounding St Cloud, Minnesota, population 68,000, supports three public privately and municipally owned courses, totaling 45 holes.

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Is it possible the percentage of people who golf in Duluth is any different from any of these greater Minnesota cities? Doubtful.

Credit has to go to the current and previous city administrations for allowing golf-course infrastructure in Duluth to decline beyond functionality. The distribution of parks-and-recreation financial resources has been particularly suspect over the years. All golfers should be able to enjoy pristine fairways and greens and updated clubhouses. The lack of those features in Duluth contributed to a downward spiral and our current predicament.

The glimmer of hope for saving the Lester Park Golf Course is fading. A generation from now, Duluthians will be amazed and frustrated that we were unable to save it. We are making another bad golf decision, just like we did in the early 1990s when we decided to expand our golf capacity from 36 holes to 54 holes.

Duluth and its tourists are certainly capable of supporting two 18-hole golf courses at Enger and Lester. Unfortunately, our city administration does not share this vision or commitment. The Lester Park Senior League golfers are among the many feeling the pain.

Tom DeSutter of Duluth is president of the Lester Park Senior League and a member of the Friends of Duluth Public Golf.

Tom DeSutter.jpg
Tom DeSutter

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