Game On / Build it and golfers will come

Golf legend and course designer Jack Nicklaus

I am a very amateur golfer, so much so that I don’t have a handicap. I’ve never been good enough to justify membership in a club, which makes it difficult to compute one. I shoot in the mid-nineties most days; I play more to get out of the house and into the sun than to seek excellence.

Our group of friends plays once a week, usually. We are the definition of duffers, as concerned with the right amount of beer as we are with the right amount of balls and tees. However, my skill, or lack thereof, presents a bit of a problem when my friends and I are deciding where to play next. We don’t want to spend more than $50 or so, we don’t want to play anywhere that is going to be too difficult, and, as city dwellers, we don’t want to drive an hour to play.

This leaves us with a list of public courses around the city, including Audubon, Grover Cleveland, Brighton, and Sheridan as our go-to options. The three city courses—South Park, Delaware Park, and Cazenovia Park—never crack the list because they just aren’t high enough quality.

In all the times I’ve tried to play Delaware, I’m not sure I’ve ever played it from one to eighteen. The course is so poorly marked and laid out that from any tee box, you might be playing to any one of several greens.

Caz Park has the best layout of the three, but is also more vulnerable to the vagaries of the climate. It is often flooded in places, or, later in the year, barren and dried out. The Olmsted Conservancy does what it can, but, with limited resources, it can’t take the care these courses really require.

South Park at least feels like a coherent golf course, but it’s bare bones, with nary a dogleg on the property. It’s short, straight, and treeless—ironic that so few trees stand on the spot of what once was the Arboretum for the Botanical Gardens.

Now a plan is afoot to replace South Park and possibly even the Delaware course with actual, Jack Nicklaus-designed tracks that will serve the golfing community much better. The plan is the brainchild of local attorney Kevin Gaughan and his Nicklaus Olmsted Buffalo Group. In 2018, they bought a tract of land next to the South Park Golf Course, and in April started on work to build a $10 million, Nicklaus-designed course on the site, with the aim of allowing Olmsted to rebuild the Arboretum around the gardens.

At $10 million—cheap for a golf course—it’s certainly not going to be hosting any PGA Tour events any time soon, but will be a massive upgrade over what is there now in that it will probably have more than four bunkers. Like a real golf course.

Gaughan has said that he plans to speak with Nicklaus about reworking the Delaware course as well, but that is more of a second phase of the plan that doesn’t have a budget or a specific date. The current work on the course is part of a bid to raise more funds, as the Nicklaus Olmstead group only has about half of the money it needs to finish. The hope is that if the group can demonstrate that this plan will work, the remaining money will come in.

This plan seems to be the definition of a win-win, and fits in with the resurgence of the city. The original, Olmsted-designed Arboretum could be restored to South Park, and the golfers will get a much-needed upgrade.

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