Duluth's public golf courses try to play out of rough
Alex Kolquist is only 23, but the Hermantown golfer has been around enough to know that local golfers have it good. Duluth has two 27-hole municipal courses, Lester Park and Enger Park -- host of this weekend's 71st Reidar Lund Memorial golf tour...
Alex Kolquist is only 23, but the Hermantown golfer has been around enough to know that local golfers have it good.
Duluth has two 27-hole municipal courses, Lester Park and Enger Park - host of this weekend’s 71st Reidar Lund Memorial golf tournament - but their futures are uncertain as the cash-strapped city mulls what to do with its financially struggling courses.
The city has floated an idea of selling Lester and turning it into a residential development area.
Kolquist, the defending Reidar Lund champion, said that as nice as the courses are, he’s more impressed with how they have endeared themselves to the community. Kolquist, a member of one of Duluth’s most successful golfing families, is very familiar with both courses, but Enger in particular. He grew up playing at Enger and works there in the summer.
“There is something special that keeps you going back, and I know it is same way at both courses, the same type of atmosphere,” he said. “You’ll see the same guy. He’ll be there every Thursday morning for men’s league. He’ll pour himself a cup of coffee and sit at the same table with the same guys, just shooting the breeze. It’s a cool environment, that’s for sure.”
While Enger Park appears safe, due to restrictions detailing permissible use of the land, nothing is certain. The 200-plus-acre Lester Park course is more vulnerable as the city looks at possible change in management structure of its two courses and how to pare down a $1.47 million deficit in its golf fund.
Josh Lang, PGA golf pro at Enger, says the courses are in a holding pattern.
“Nobody really knows anything yet,” Lang said. “The city is putting out requests for proposals about selling Lester Park, and also for management of both courses, but nobody really knows what’s going to happen until the bids come in and they mull them over. It’s all just theory at this point because nobody has really offered up anything quite yet.”
The News Tribune reported earlier this month that Lester hasn’t broken even for seven straight years and lost nearly $243,000 last year. Declining golf numbers and back-to-back brutal springs haven’t helped, either. Lester hasn’t opened until the second week of May in each of the last two springs, costing the course approximately $10,000 a day.
“What have we had, seven or eight sunny days this year?” Duluth golf director Paul Schintz said. “That’s what really affects it. We don’t have people coming out to the golf course because why would you want to play in this weather unless you have a (season) pass? It’s hard to get walk-ups.”
An adult season golf pass in Duluth is $733.55 ($680 plus tax) and includes unlimited golf at both courses.
Schintz says other issues such as the lack of a hard-liquor license and a changing golf market haven’t helped Lester.
“Time is the biggest issue - people don’t have the time they used to have. With year-round kids’ sports and (two-job) families, they don’t spend their time at the golf course,” he said. “We have 3.2 (liquor) but it’s not as profitable and it’s not what people want.”
Despite that, golfers have a consensus: keep ’em.
“It seems like talk of what to do with Lester comes up every year, but dropping a course would be losing something special that sets Duluth apart,” Kolquist said. “I have had days where I would maybe start down at Lester and play 27 holes, and then on my way back up I’d play 18 more holes up at Enger, and you can’t really do that anywhere in one city without paying steep prices. The city has to do what it has to do, but I think you could talk to a very large number of golfers, and I think everyone is going to say the same thing. They are definitely worth keeping. There has to be a way.”
Lang estimates golfers in Duluth stick to their home course 90 percent of the time. However, when a course gets busy, like Enger will be this weekend with the Reidar Lund, you see a lot of crossover play.
Lang grew up in Minnetonka, Minn. He didn’t get into golf until after high school, but said the Twin Cities metro is dominated by high-end courses and country clubs. To play affordable golf, he and his buddies had to head out of town.
“Golfers in Duluth have gotten used to being able to play a lot of golf affordably, and obviously, that’s the way they want to keep it,” he said. “It’s a nice setup. Fifty-four holes of golf - that’s fantastic.”
GOLFERS READY TO TEE IT UP
The Reidar Lund is the kickoff to the local tournament season.
Kolquist shot a 10-under-par 170 last year to break the tournament record held by his father, Reed, a nine-time Reidar Lund champion. Two-time winner Dan Moline, defending Lakeview Medal champion Taylor Sundbom, as well as Brian Moores, Ross Fremont and Dave Isaacson are all expected to compete this weekend.
“When you grow up in an environment like this, where you are lucky to golf from mid-April until early November, you’re always chomping at the bit to get out there,” Alex Kolquist said. “You value the days that are 75 and sunny, and even if it’s foggy like it was this past weekend, we still saw some people on the course because it wasn’t raining and it wasn’t super windy.”
Kolquist, who graduated in 2013 from Gustavus Adolphus with an accounting degree, returned to Hermantown in early June after spending the winter in Phoenix, working at a golf course.
“Dad was jealous of me,” Kolquist said. “After another brutal winter, I think he’s looking forward to this weekend.”
Reed Kolquist was able to shake off some rust after playing during a family trip to see Alex in Phoenix in April, but as of Thursday still hasn’t played 18 holes in Minnesota this year.
Golfers will play 18 holes of qualifying today, with 27 holes of stroke play Sunday.
“It’s always fun to play well, and especially win, on a course you grew up playing,” Kolquist said.