According to Elizabeth Klusinske, who writes at Decoded Science, golf courses take up about 1,504,210 acres of land in the U.S. and are a drain on municipal resources as well as the local ecosystem. For an entity that is only open for part of the year, costs cities an extraordinary amount of money to maintain, and only accessible by those who can pay, it’s hard to justify the single-use of public land. Increasingly, public golf courses find themselves being developed for much more profitable housing, making the land more productive through tax revenue.
Given that the land golf courses occupy often serves as the largest public open spaces – in South Bend Elbel Golf Course is 313.25 acres and Erskine Golf Course is 120 acres and Studebaker Golf Course is 23.94 acres; the first, third, and eleventh largest parks in the system – they also serve value beyond recreational. On average, over 550 million gallons of water* fall on the South Bend golf courses each year through rain and snow. Beyond infiltrating stormwater, these spaces cool microclimates of cities, improve ambient air quality and moisture content, while also fostering biodiversity of trees and available habitat. With that in mind, golf courses shouldn’t automatically be developed.
If not redevelopment, how can we better utilize the available land of golf courses? The first stop is to look at making them contribute year round programming benefit to the system. Many people take advantage of the topography of the South Bend golf courses for sledding and cross-country skiing in the winter, who could be better served by opening the club houses for concessions and warmth. Coordinating the visitors through these venues better tracks users, while also offering an opportunity to generate off-season revenue for these parks.
*(457.2acres x 27,154 gallons per 1in rainfall x 38 inches of rainfall in South Bend per year + 457.2acres x 2,715 gallons per 1in snowfall x 66 inches of snowfall per year = 471,762,734 + 81,925,668 = 553,688,402 gallons of water on average each year)