When things just aren’t working as intended or have outlived their usefulness, we tend to look for another way to use them. For example:
• A portion of Daniel Field became Daniel Village Shopping Center.
• Enterprise Mill transformed from a textile plant into offices and apartments.
• The Georgia Golf Hall of Fame Botanical Gardens is being recycled as part of a university expansion.
• Gilbert Manor Public Housing became the dental college for Georgia Regents University.
Critical thinking helps us determine when such a transformation is appropriate. That thinking can be driven by a number of factors, not the least of which is financial.
THE CURRENT state of affairs with the Patch, the city-owned golf course, puts critical thinkers at a crossroads to either continue on the bumpy road ahead or turn in another direction. Our Augusta commissioners can’t agree on whether to privatize the operation and, if that is the case, just who will do it. A lot of folks have come forward to push their dreams – all financed with city dollars.
But do we really want to put millions of dollars into a property that will benefit the relatively small number of people who play golf at the Patch? Is it a function of city government to provide a golf venue that competes with more than a dozen other publicly and privately owned courses in the immediate area?
The Patch has served Augustans and visitors well since David Ogilvie designed and built it in 1928. At the turn of the 20th century, golf was an evolving sport, and resorts in Augusta needed playing venues. That is simply not the case 100 years later, with courses of varying descriptions and degrees of difficulty scattered across the countryside.
The first argument you hear is that the Patch must be kept open because Augusta is the “Golf Capital of the World.” What a silly statement. Our city plays host to a major tournament one week out of the year, and we are rightfully proud of that. However, a failed Georgia Golf Hall of Fame and a rundown city golf course are evidence that you need to search elsewhere for a golf mecca – if, indeed, one exists. In fact, recent research by the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau tells us golf is not the reason most people want to visit Augusta.
THE PATCH IS a drain on slim city resources. If we ran a cost-benefit analysis (what a novel idea for government!), the results would be a reality check. The course does not even come close to breaking even. Promises of profits down the road are just that – promises. Didn’t a Scotsman make a lot of promises of profits? How did that work out for the city?
The current conversation gives critical thinkers an opportunity to look beyond the Patch. If not golf, what is the highest and best use of these more-than-100 virtually natural urban acres?
No doubt Daniel Field would like to extend the north/south runway to accommodate larger corporate jets. How would that sit with the neighbors? Not well, I suspect. Doubt it will fly.
What I do submit is that the Patch is an ideal location for a large city park on the scale of Piedmont Park in Atlanta. The rolling property is well-suited for hiking and biking trails in a natural setting not found anywhere else in Augusta.
Repurposing the Patch to take advantage of the cart paths (think trails) and existing clubhouse (think community center) would lessen the initial investment of the transformation. As a public park, the property would be used by hundreds, perhaps thousands, more people who never would pick up a golf club even in the best of conditions.
Research by the Urban Institute shows urban parks contribute to job creation, youth development, public health and community building in addition to traditional recreational uses.
Folks have been admiring the Augusta National Golf Club’s reclamation of an entire neighborhood for tournament parking. Some have suggested that property be used as a public park between tournaments. Such thinking simply shows how much the public values open and natural spaces amid seemingly endless urban development.
From the city’s experience at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park, we’ve seen how passive recreation in a natural setting is a draw for people of all ages and means. Such natural public spaces are few in our city. The historic trend for park development in Augusta has been to support sports and playgrounds.
Timing is everything, especially in politics, and the time is at hand to make critical decisions concerning the future of the Patch property. The question is not about golf. It is much bigger than one sport.
I’ve played golf all my life and enjoy it. But I also like to keep golf in perspective. I don’t believe the government owes me a place to play it. If I want to play government golf, I can go to Forest Hills or Fort Gordon.
The opportunities that come with a city park in a natural setting on dozens of acres are incredible. The Patch has the potential to be a Pendleton King Park on steroids.
We will do a disservice to future generations if we allow this opportunity to slip by without a serious community conversation.
(The writer is a former Augusta mayor and current president and CEO of the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy.)