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Gunaratne: Rethink Moorhead golf courses

Shelton Gunaratne's book, "Village Life in the Forties", published in 2012 Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

America is saturated with golf courses. Wikipedia reveals that 45 percent of the world's golf courses are located in the United States. Two Scotsmen introduced the game to America in 1888: Robert Lockhart and John Reid, who set up the first golf club in the country—Saint Andrews in Yonkers, N.Y. Today, Minnesota claims to have more than 234 golf clubs while North Dakota boasts of 75,

Golf has become a rich man's game popular among businessmen, politicians, professionals and other elites who can afford to pay as much as $500,000 for the privilege of playing golf at some prestigious venues. The city of Moorhead saw the growing popularity of the game and set up two public golf courses: The Village Green opened in 1981 as an 9-hole course, which was expanded into an 18-hole facility in 1994. The second, The Meadows, opened in 1994 as an 18-hole Scottish -'links'- style facility, which includes three six-hole "loops" with the greens of the 6th, 12th and 18th holes all returning to the clubhouse. These two are operated by the Moorhead Parks and Recreation Department.

The PRD says its mission is "to enrich the lives of its citizens by providing a comprehensive system of parks and affordable, diverse recreation programs that encourage health, fitness, relaxation and cultural enrichment, as well as providing opportunities for community involvement."

The PRD claims that it "offers over 45 different community, neighborhood and regional parks, miles of trails and sidewalks for walking, biking, cross country skiing and more, plus a variety of facilities for athletics, education, arts and other recreational activities."

According to the city council budget, PRD operated with $4.1 million of public funds in 2017. Of that amount, $895,467 went into maintenance of the two golf courses, pro shops and general expenses.

We should be grateful to the PRD for helping to keep Moorhead green and for offering opportunities for the city residents to improve their "health, fitness, relaxation and cultural enrichment." But the PRD must think of making optimum use of existing facilities so that people can enjoy them without having to drive long distances to reach them.

For instance, I find it appalling that the two public courses display signs that discourage the non-golfers from entering the grounds even though, as taxpayers, they are the legitimate owners of the facility. A "No Trespassing" sign at the creek-crossing atop Village Green Drive East Loop warns the public not to enter the creek, which is part of the course boundary. Can an "owner" be prosecuted for "trespassing" on his/her common property?

The PRD must begin to think of a golf course as a multi-purpose facility that goes well beyond the traditional 18-hole course exclusively designed for an elitist clientele. A sign at the entrance to the Village Green course cart path says it all:

Cart paths are for use by golfers only! Recreational walking, skateboards, in-line skates, bicycles, power or minibikes are not permitted on the golf course or cart paths at any time. Thank you for your cooperation.

Golf courses take up a large swath of the city's prime land. The city budget does not reveal the assessed value of the property to compare with the revenue earned from golfing fees and related activities. The difference between the two will show the extent of the "subsidy" the city is granting to the golfing elite. I suggest the city extend this subsidy to all residents who dwell in and around the two courses by redesigning them to accommodate recreational walkers and cyclists away from the tees. The PRD must include social equality as an important criterion in promoting sports. To begin with, it can open the courses to non-golfers in the near future at least during the weekends and off hours in the morning and the evening.

American golf need not slavishly follow the Scottish tradition.

PS:Golf originated in 15th Century Scotland, where the 18-hole round was created at the Old Course in St Andrews in 1784, although James II had banned the game in 1457 as "an unwelcome distraction to archery."

Gunaratne is a professor of communication emeritus at Minnesota State University Moorhead and a regular contributor to The Forum’s opinion pages