Proponents of this move might say a city the size of Duluth doesn’t need two public municipal golf courses. Unfortunately, 71,000 rounds of golf won’t fit at Enger Park Golf Course alone — plus a driving range, putting green, and other amenities.
Instead of continually fighting for a tee time at Enger, many players from a closed Lester simply would go to the Nemadji public golf course in Superior — a phenomenally nice, 36-hole facility, but without the beauty and uniqueness of Lester. A remnant of players would find their way to Grand View and Two Harbors, depending on their preferences. Wherever they would go, Duluth would lose.
Another argument for selling Lester is the city’s need for more housing. But any housing built there no doubt would be high-end. And when, for heaven’s sakes, did the progressive wing of our culture adopt a value of privatizing public parkland to help the upper middle class have housing?
Yet another argument is that Duluth’s two public municipal golf courses have accumulated $2.3 million of debt, and the sale of Lester could help pay that back. But the also publicly owned Lake Superior Zoo, Great Lakes Aquarium, and Spirit Mountain also require public subsidies. Whether you call a part of your organization an enterprise fund, a park, or a recreation facility, funding deficits are deficits. So talk of a need to pay back the debt on one and not on others rings as complete nonsense. None of the deficits for any of these amenities are going to be “paid back.”
In 2019, tourism-tax proceeds are proposed to be allotted to the zoo ($510,000), the aquarium ($360,000), Spirit Mountain (more than $900,000), and other recipients. The golf courses are to get $0. Imagine what could be done to turn Duluth into a golf destination if the golf courses got even $500,000 of tourism taxes.
No doubt selling Lester would be an easy way to bring money to the city, but it just as undoubtedly undervalues the benefits and values golf imparts to those who play and the community in general. Golf is maybe the only physical sport that can be played your whole life. That’s part of the reason 50 million Americans play the game. I’m 75, and I play in the senior league at Lester. About 100 seniors, including two 90-year-olds, play in that same league. Do we really want to shut down a summer senior program? Selling Lester would do that.
By contrast, it’s always a delight to walk from my car to the clubhouse and see 60 or so children covering the driving range and the chipping and putting green. This is what an outdoor summer youth program looks like: children being taught the values of sportsmanship, honesty, focus, and determination — all in an atmosphere that promotes competition, not so much with others as with themselves. Golf can teach you more about yourself than any other single activity I know. Do we want to shut down a valuable summer youth program? Selling Lester would do that, too.
For seniors, our youth, and all ages in between, our community needs golf. Sell Lester, and it’s gone forever. Promote it, embrace it, and support it, and it will continue the social, cultural, and moral development golf provides for generations to come.
Tom Griggs of Duluth is a member of the Friends of Duluth Public Golf group (fodpg.org).