Golf has a long and often deserved reputation as a stuffy sport obsessed with notions of the past and tradition. But unlike the Olmstead Parks Conservancy’s years-long passion project to dismantle Cherokee Golf Course, a long list of municipal golf courses around the United States are forward-looking, meeting challenges with creativity and evolving to meet the needs of their patrons. The future of golf points to a sport that doesn’t take so long, one that forgoes its worst puritanical tendencies, and one that wants to help, rather than harm the environment.
In an age where we’ve suspended our collective capacity for sustained concentration, talk around the golf world is that the sport needs to meet the time constraints of the modern human. A short, 9-hole course, like Cherokee Park, meets those needs. It’s also without the trappings and formality that dissuades folks from picking up the game. In the right hands and with creative changes, a course like Cherokee is precisely what golfers want and need.
Similarly, short courses require less maintenance and cost less, expanding access for individuals who may find the sport prohibitively expensive. The Olmstead group uses words like equity and inclusion, but aren’t they advocating for shutting down access to a 100-year-old public service and one of Louisville’s most affordable golf options?
In their “New Vision,” the Olmstead group suggests that “semi-private courses, including Valhalla, Nevel Meade and Persimmon Ridge,” offer golfers a “comparable price point.” First, Valhalla and Persimmon Ridge are private clubs. So, there’s that. But Nevel Meade offers public golf that costs more than twice as much as Cherokee.
Additionally, asking residents to drive 30 minutes — into another county, mind you — seems unreasonable when a course already exists right around the corner. The Olmstead group’s statistics regarding golf are similarly skewed toward making their case.
According to the National Golf Foundation, the number of municipal golf courses has grown by 5% since 2006. And while the Olmstead group wants to convince folks otherwise through now irrelevant statistics, since 2020, golf has seen its most dramatic growth since the Tiger Woods golf boom of the late 90s and early aughts. The National Golf Foundation also found that 2020 saw the most significant jump in new golfers ever: more than six million. This growth can be found everywhere, including daily at Cherokee Park Golf Course.
The Olmstead Park Conservancy may get their wish, but there’s no doubt that they’ve used outdated and misleading data to perpetuate antiquated notions of golf. The future of golf is younger, more inclusive and dedicated to ensuring that golf courses benefit the ecosystems in which they exist. But I suppose a reactionary approach is easier, and skewed numbers mitigate dissent among those who won’t do the research. Actual problem-solving to save a century-old public institution may be outside our capacity for imagination.
James Mielke is a freelance writer and lives in Schnitzelburg, a neighborhood inside the city of Louisville, Kentucky, with his wife and three terrible cats. I have originally submitted this letter to the editor to the Louisville Courier-Journal, part of the USA Today Network.