A smiling boy enjoys the lawn at Colwood Golf Course, A smiling boy enjoys lounging on the lawn at Colwood Golf Course in Portland, OR, 2014, OR, Colwood Golf Course, Parks for People, Multnomah, Portland, Colwood Golf Course, Children | Developed Park | Recreation, Leah Nash
Leah Nash

When private golf courses land in the rough, communities tee up public parks

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In many parts of the country, golf courses are struggling to turn a profit: by some estimates, 800 have closed down in just the past decade. When they do, they leave a hundred-acre question behind: what should happen to all that land?

In some communities, locals opt to keep once-private courses in play under the management of a public parks department. In others, where parks—or water—are in short supply, golf courses are reverting to wilder green space, where close-cropped fairways grow into grassy meadows and cart paths become trail networks.

or_colwoodgolfcourse_04262014_031.JPGSince 2008, we’ve helped conserve nine golf courses. Some still welcome golfers as public courses, and some have become multi-use parks, helping close the green space gap in cities.Photo credit: Leah Nash

The Trust for Public Land helps communities make the most of their open space—and golf courses are no exception. Here are five places where neighbors are shaping the future of the fairway.

Rancho Canada – Carmel Valley, California

Palo Corona Regional Park is a forested, mountainous wonderland on the northern edge of the world-famous Big Sur Coast. But until just this month, only a dozen groups per day could get permits to explore it—because there was no safe place to park. What changed? On April 10, The Trust for Public Land transferred a former golf course adjacent to the park to the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District. Now the old clubhouse can become a hub for community gatherings, the water that once irrigated the links will remain in the Carmel River, and the existing parking lot and cart paths will provide access for anyone who wants to venture further into Palo Corona.

An aerial image of a golf course, mountain, and oceanThis month, we protected the former Rancho Canada Golf Course in central California as a new public park. The project conserves water in the Carmel River and creates much-needed new access to Palo Corona's forested mountain trails.Photo credit: Carmel Realty Company

Applewood Golf Course – Golden, Colorado

This picturesque course, set against the Rocky Mountain foothills, is a favorite for golfers in metro Denver. When developers proposed a 400-unit subdivision on the property, locals rallied to save it as open space instead—even approving a $9.4 million bond measure to help conserve the land for the public. Today, the Prospect Recreation & Park District operates Applewood as an 18-hole course open to all, but even non-golfers have a reason to celebrate: plans are in the works for new trail connections through the course.

Colwood Park – Portland, Oregon

No other part of Portland is as short on parks as the Cully neighborhood. So when the owner of a golf course there first proposed selling the property for industrial development, neighbors worried they were missing an opportunity to create much-needed green space. We helped park advocates navigate a tricky re-zoning effort that laid the groundwork for opening a nine-hole public course—while dedicating other parts of the property for playgrounds, sports fields, and a restored wetland.  Today the Colwood Golf Center is home turf for The First Tee, a nonprofit working to introduce the game to the park’s neighbors. 

Emerson Golf Club – Bergen County, New Jersey

According to the National Golf Foundation, Bergen County is smack in the middle of the most golf-crazy region in America. Just about nobody wanted to see the Emerson Golf Club close for good, and the Bergen County Parks Department—which operates five other public courses—knows a thing or two about the game. So when Emerson’s owners decided to sell, we worked with the county to acquire the land for the public. As the deal came to a close last year, one county administrator summed it up: "I think this is a win-win for Bergen County.”

North Campus Open Space – Goleta, California

In the mid-1960s, developers dumped a million cubic yards of fill dirt on top of a thriving coastal wetland in central California to create the nine-hole Ocean Meadows Golf Course. Fifty years later, scientists know a lot more about wetlands’ crucial role in healthy habitat and climate resilience—and Californians are keen to connect to the coast. So in 2013, we helped purchase the flagging Ocean Meadows Golf Course and transfer the land to the University of California, Santa Barbara, which is leading a community effort to restore the buried wetland. Now called the North Campus Open Space, it forms a key link in a 600-acre stretch of connected coastal trails and open space.  

Kids in work close post for a picture in front of a wetlandThe university, neighbors, and local school kids are working together to restore a thriving coastal wetland at the North Campus Open Space.Photo credit: UC Santa Barbara's Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration

Is there a golf course near you that needs a creative plan for its future? Head over to Facebook and let us know how you think the land should be used. 


Tod Young
Golf courses to parks! Outstanding! The Salt Lake City golf course, Wingpointe, near the SLC airport was closed. Losing money. It could be an interesting park. How do we do that?
Mary connolly
Great idea..usually a club house for social events and parking lots already exist. Perfect places for dog walkers.
Gregg Levine
Mark Twain said it best, "Golf a long walk spoiled.". Turning a golf course into a park, perfect. I can not think of a better thing to happen to those places. Now we need to do that to several here on the East Coast.
Marilynn Scott
This is a perfect solution I heartily endorse. The conversion of an underused, not profitable golf course, to a park that our 4 thousand residents may safely access for walking, strolling enjoying the beauty of the outdoors. This is a much better use of our land.
Amelia N Brown
But if my golf course was profitable and is used by 100 people every day and many many students, and is a source of income for non profits when they hold tournaments - it should be saved. This one size fits all approach is not appropriate for all courses. We want to save ours. We want to save our clubhouse for the community. We want to be able to hold parties and weddings and make it a fabulous place to be. Trust for Public Land bought it in a county grab and we want them to sell to a golf operator. Parks are not profit making enterprises. They are subsidized by municipalities... why cant they subsidize golf until it can be made profitable.
Denis Poggio
I appreciate and admire Ms. Brown's reaching out to the TPL in order to work with the San Geronimo Valley Community in Marin County, Callifornia to provide the necessary financial and leadership to have the San Geronimo Valley Golf Course (SGVGC) remain in fulfilling the San Geronimo Valley Community's and all of Marin County's desire to recreate at the SGVGC. This golf course has been profitable for over five years even under poor management from the previous owner. This is a rare opportunity for TPL to demonstrate its courage and leadership when confronted with a challenge due the Marin County Board of Supervisors' improperly electing to exempt the County of Marin from adhering to the requirements of California Environmental Quality Act when it sought to change of use of the golf club from being zoned recreational use to open space. So said the November ruling from Marin Supervisor Court Judge Paul Haakenson. It is my conviction that the senior TPL management to begin the process providing its resources to Save The SGVGC for recreation of all that have and will recreate at the SGVGC now and in the future. Thank you!
Rick A Seramin
I will be sending updated letters from Marin Count concern citizens (over 12,000) who have signed a petition to keep the San Geronimo golf Course from closing. It is time for TPL to listen and work with keeping this jewel as a profitable golf course, which also serves as a park with over 100 people a day using it and it is already surrounded by 80% open Space. All the issues concerning San Geronimo Creek and Larsen Creek can be achieve without removing the golf course. After all the destructive fires that are happening in California, taking away a major Fire break by re-wilding the San Geronimo Golf Course would be a crime. Various proposals on how this can be a win win for the environment, golfers, and non golfers have be presented to you. Work with us to make this happen. Sincerely, Richard A. Seramin letters from the Marin IJ County should continue golf course contract I must appeal to the Board of Supervisors to continue the county contract with Touchstone, which has temporarily been maintaining the San Geronimo Golf Course. The plan to cease this agreement Dec. 31 would allow this land to turn into a weedy mess — choking the ponds and creating fuel for fires. However the Trust for Public Lands chooses to get themselves out of this mire, we all know it is easier to maintain land rather than start over. That gives TPL a golf course as an option but more importantly maintains a green belt for us who are fearful of fires and a habitat for the wildlife that use it now. Please keep the golf course viable during the decision process! — Linda Albion, Woodacre County avoided public comment on golf course Niz Brown’s Marin Voice (Nov. 27) is exactly on point. From day one there was an attempt to avoid any meaningful public input about the future of the golf course. On Sept. 25, 2017, Parks Director Max Korten emailed Todd Steiner of SPAWN to “reach out to see if you might be available to meet” because the county was “really excited about the acquisition of the San Geronimo Valley Golf Course and partnering with you and SPAWN on restoration projects at the site.” Mr. Steiner replied that turning the golf course into a park “had been my dream for close to 2 decades.” This was the same day the public was first informed about the plan. The fact that SPAWN was in active litigation against the county and had recently collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from the county in that litigation was apparently irrelevant to Mr. Korten or whoever instructed him to send his email. Prior to reaching the decision to propose buying the golf course, Mr. Korten did not send similar emails seeking meetings with any of the organizations that represent homeowners and taxpayers in the county. Apparently input from anyone who might have fiscal concerns was considered irrelevant before this financially moronic decision was made. It is not too late for the other four supervisors to step up and undo the mess they helped create. It is interesting to note that despite the county’s specific obligation in the contract to buy the property from Trust for Public Land, both sides are now acting as if it was an option. It is not and it raises the question of what other secret deals the board has made. — Kip Maly, Woodacre
Catherine Leonard
I would like more information on how to establish a trust for public land. The owner of privately owned golf course wants to close it and LaVerne Coalition is fighting to prevent housing and townhome building on this land. How does one begin?!

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