City won’t sell MacDonald Golf Course

Wichita’s Park Board has rejected the only bid it got for MacDonald Golf Course.

The unanimous vote came Monday afternoon after a committee of board members and city staff unanimously recommended rejecting the sale offer.

The only bid the city received for the course, approximately $850,000, came from a group called Great Life Golf.

When Parks Director Troy Houtman announced the amount of the offer, an audible gasp arose from about 30 golfers who came to observe the Park Board meeting on the fate of the course.

“Please. That was a low-ball number,” said former City Manager George Kolb, who has emerged from a quiet retirement to be active in an ad-hoc committee of golf enthusiasts seeking to improve the city system.

That committee is calling for an outside review of the city’s golf operations to determine why the system is struggling financially and what can be done to address it.

goter etal.jpg

From left to right, former Wichita City Manager George Kolb, Golf Committee member Cindy Renard and former city lobbyist Dale Goter watch the proceedings at the Park Board meeting. All three are members of an ad hoc committee seeking to improve golf in Wichita.

After voting to keep MacDonald, the Park Board endorsed the ad hoc group’s call for a study of the system and vowed to take the request to the City Council.

The board had issued a request for proposals after getting an unsolicited offer to buy the course from Johnny Stevens, a local developer and former touring professional golfer.

Ultimately, though, Stevens didn’t actually bid for the course amid growing opposition to selling it.

With MacDonald now remaining part of the city golf system, Tom West of the First Tee youth training program announced that they’ll be moving “full-speed ahead” with completing a $1.5 million training center at the course. That project includes a driving range — already built but waiting for the grass to grow — and a building for golf instruction.

The group had put its plans for the education building on hold awaiting the outcome of the proposed sale.

Park Board member Eddie Fahnestock said losing the First Tee would be “catastrophic.”

But while the vote to keep MacDonald put the First Tee partnership back on track, West agreed with those who said the city needs to up its game on promoting the game.

“We can do what we can do with junior golf,” West said. “The city more or less has to take the lead.”

If MacDonald had been sold, the city courses would have been unable to keep serving several junior training programs and high school golf teams from Wichita, Maize and Goddard that practice and compete on city courses, said Troy Hendricks, the city’s golf manager.

Troy Palmer, president of the Park Board, said after the meeting that the bid the city got was disappointing.

“Honestly, I’m shocked that it was that low considering what they would have gotten,” he said.

Palmer also expressed disappointment that Stevens didn’t bid for the course after having started the ball rolling.

“Why did we go through all that?” he said.

The course, at 840 N. Yale, includes 146 acres of land, along with clubhouse and maintenance buildings of about 7,500 square feet each. It was established in 1913 as the Wichita Country Club until it was purchased as a public course in 1948.

The Park Board technically owns the golf course because it was an independent elected body when the course was purchased. Although its members are now appointed by the City Council and the city handles all the budgeting for the course, the Park Board could sell the property on its own initiative without council approval.

If the course had been sold, it would have been under a condition that it remain an 18-hole golf course, open for use by the public. But about 6 1/2 acres could have been redeveloped to complement the golf operation, such as a hotel for out-of-town tournament players or a special-event venue.

The decision to keep MacDonald in the city system now clears the way for plans to redevelop Clapp Golf Course in south Wichita as a different kind of park.

The Park Board had recommended closing Clapp, which has lost money in recent years.

But the City Council put that closure off until the completion of a master plan next year to use part or all of the land for something else.

Mayor Jeff Longwell has said he wants to keep some golf presence at Clapp, although possibly not the full-length 18-hole course there now.

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