Op Ed: Should Denver Turn Its Golf Courses Into Public Parks?

Overland Park Golf Course: Perfect for a park and event venue?
City of Denver Golf
Overland Park Golf Course: Perfect for a park and event venue?
There’s a new range war developing in Colorado, and it promises to be just as bloody as the last one between sheepherders and cattlemen.

Lost in the debate over whether Overland Park Golf Course should be closed temporarily to host a rock concert is another, larger question: Should Overland (or any of Denver’s seven other public golf facilities) be closed permanently to provide new park and event land for all residents to use and enjoy all year long?

Consider just a short Google search:

• “More than 800 golf courses have closed nationwide in the last decade, as operators grapple with declining interest in the sport and a glut of competition.” Bloomberg News, August 2016

• “By any measure, participation in the game is way off, from a high of 30.6 million golfers in 2003 to 24.7 million in 2014, according to the National Golf Foundation. The long-term trends are also troubling, with the number of golfers ages 18 to 34 showing a 30 percent decline over the last 20 years.” Men’s Journal, June 2015

• “Golfer numbers are down. Golf equipment sales have been tanking. The number of golf courses closing annually is supposed to dwarf the number of new courses opening for years to come.” Time magazine, June 2014

As Winston Churchill might have phrased it, never in the course of human events has so much land, so much water, and so much maintenance cost been used for the limited recreation of so few people for such a small part of the year as there is in the sport of golf today.

This is not to knock golf. It’s a wonderful sport enjoyed by 24+ million Americans. But with increasing density in Denver and 1,000 people moving here a month, there is a real need for more open space, more bike and jogging paths, more greenery, more lakes and more outdoor recreation opportunities. There is also a limited amount of land to provide these needed new green spaces.
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City Park Golf Course: A score for the Denver Zoo?
City of Denver Golf
So why not look at golf courses? Fewer and fewer people are participating in the sport, while the costs of maintaining and watering the courses continues to grow. Even in the best of weather conditions, the courses are used only three-quarters of the year and are closed the rest of the time. They are closed in evenings, when thousands of Denver residents cram into other parks for volleyball, biking, walking dogs and concerts.
Property values of people who live near golf courses would not change if the courses were transformed into parks. They might even increase substantially based on the rates that homes go for around Washington Park and Sloan’s Lake.

Might not the interests of the majority of people in Denver be better served by a new park that could be open year-round, be free, be open in evenings, when people have the most free time, and offer a wide variety of recreational opportunities instead of just one? Or how about closing City Park Golf Course, closing 23rd Avenue and expanding the Denver Zoo (the city’s most popular paid attraction) into all that adjacent land?

Just some ideas worth discussing in a changing world.

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