Our View: Let good info lead to good golf decisions
So, will Lester be shrunk from 27 holes to 18? Will housing be developed along Enger's fairways? Where will money come from to repair or replace decrepit and beyond-aged irrigation systems?
Just how is Duluth planning to deal with its public municipal golf courses and their racked-up $2.4 million-plus of debt to the city?
After more than a year of poring over financials, conducting surveys, holding meetings, and more, the Duluth Golf Citizen Advisory Committee presented its long-awaited report this week to City Council members.
But it didn't contain any sort of plan of action.
And, actually, that's OK — for now.
"The process was to get this data out and let people chew on it a little bit," citizens' committee member Chris Stevens, president of the golf-advocacy group Friends of Duluth Public Golf, said in a meeting Monday with the News Tribune Editorial Board. "The goal is to educate so that good decisions can be made."
"It's an exceptionally complex issue and a contentious one," added Jim Filby Williams, Duluth's director of public administration. "(With this report,) the committee is trying to lay the foundation for a well-informed, civil, and practical debate by building a foundation of facts."
The report contains a wealth of worth-considering data and other agreed-upon facts — much of it not very encouraging. That includes that golf participation in the U.S. dropped 22 percent from 1986 to 2017, that 8 percent of U.S. courses closed during the same 31-year period, that rounds played in Duluth at Enger and Lester plummeted nearly in half (43.5 percent) since 2000, and that the irrigation systems at Enger and Lester are 30 years old when their expected lifespan is 20 years.
"This document affirms that golf is important to our community, but what level of golf is important to our community?" Stevens asked.
Because golfers, city administrators, and others likely have different opinions about that — and about what strategy to follow to ensure the courses are no longer a financial burden on taxpayers in the long term — we can expect two or more sets of recommendations, based on the committee's findings. The recommendations are expected in about a month.
Our elected leaders then — with a sound foundation of reliable data and information — can make appropriate and responsible, even if difficult, decisions.
And we can expect those decisions to include an investment in irrigation and other golf course infrastructure, fewer public golf holes in Duluth, the eating of at least some of the city's golf debt, and a public subsidy for golf for the first time, Filby Williams said.
"None of those things were remotely givens a year ago," he said. "In fact, they were the subjects of great disagreement between the city and golfers."
So, if you're looking for a drained birdie putt already, give it to the collaboration between golfers and city officials — and the findings they produced for us to chew on so sustainable solutions can be found.