Money talks: Are golf course closures part of a bigger trend in Colorado?

Posted at 1:19 PM, Jun 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-09 01:59:22-04

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DENVER -- When you hit a golf ball close to people, you yell “fore!” That’s also the number of high profile Colorado golf courses that are either closed permanently, temporarily or at risk of closing.

  • City Park - closed until 2019 for a stormwater drainage project
  • Overland Park - will close soon for Grandoozy music festival in September
  • Fitzsimmons (Aurora) - closed permanently December 2017, to be redeveloped into a medical campus
  • Park Hill - ongoing discussions about possible closure and redevelopment

So what’s going on? And what are the implications?

Money talks 

The simple reality of why most of these closures are happening is money. 

An estimated $1.6-$2.6 million will come into Denver as part of the Grandoozy festival on the Overland grounds in September. 

“There are dollars coming directly to this community,” Denver City Councilman Jolon Clark told Denver7 during our original reporting of the festival. 

Park Hill is owned by Clayton Early Learning and could be sold for around $20 million once the current lease is up. A potential and controversial sale to the City of Denver fell apart, and now lawsuits are impacting a future sale. 

“We’re looking at that asset as something we need to leverage,” said Charlotte Brantley the CEO and President of Clayton Early Learning.

The Fitzsimmons course in Aurora was closed for good to make way for an expansion of the Fitzsimmons medical campus.

We can create a destination for a live, work, play model,” Steve VanNurden, President and CEO of the Fitzsimons Redevelopment Authority, told Denver7 in December.

City Park doesn’t necessarily fall under this category, but its closure also drew protestors.

Neighbors against closures

Preservationists and tree-lovers both made noise against the bulldozing of the City Park course. The project is being done for more stormwater retention, to avoid flooding of nearby neighborhoods. But it required the removal of dozens of trees.

“People love City Park Golf Course they love City Park, and they do not want it destroyed,” one petitioner said before the course was closed. 

Many in the Park Hill neighborhood have been defending their course and its use as open space. 

“I know they’re interested in development, but there’s a lot of development around there, and there’s not a lot of green space of that magnitude,” one neighbor told Denver7. 

And the majority of those living right next to Overland Park expressed that they were against a weekend-long music festival and the thousands of people that would come with it.

Golfers impacted 

From the semi-pros to the weekend hackers, there’s no denying that these closures, even the temporary ones, will impact those who play the game. 

Golfer Rusty Rome played at Fitzsimmons for decades.

“Just a lot of good memories for a lot of people,” he said. “Money talks I guess.”

Rusty had to find a new course to play, as will hundreds of other golfers, many of whom usually don’t play the expensive county clubs. 

“The courses we are talking about are at the very low end of price point,” Ed Mate of the Colorado Golf Association said. “There’s no doubt there’s a certain customer base that will be looking for a new home and may feel displaced for a period of time.”

Mate went on to say that two of the closures are temporary, so those golfers will be able to return to their favorite courses next year. 

Part of a trend?

Denver7 wanted to know if the four highly publicized closures meant something larger for the game of golf locally. 

“We have unique situations happening that cumulatively lead to that conclusion but in reality that’s not the case,” Ed Mate said.

According to the Colorado Golf Association, there have been seven total golf course closures in Colorado during the 2010s. That’s the first loss of courses in the state’s history. But at the same time, revenue and number of rounds are both up. 

“When those courses start to close it doesn’t mean that golf is failing. It just means we built too many golf courses,” Mate continued. 

The CGA says something similar is happening across the country. Golf courses were heavily built as part of a real estate model, but now the supply and demand is “evening out.” 

So with Colorado’s rapid growth, will the pressure to develop reach the greens of more courses?

“I feel very comfortable saying I don’t think golf courses are threatened by development,” Mate said, referencing the fact that many courses aren’t zoned for anything else, many are in floodplains, and others are owned by municipalities that have a larger mission than to make money. 

What’s next?

Overland Park and City Park will reopen in 2019. Fitzsimmons will stay closed. Park Hill is still an unknown.