GR Press: Glut of golf courses lures developers, not duffers
Well, there go my plans to play English Hills...
Save The Pines!!!
Glut of golf courses lures developers, not duffers
Friday, August 26, 2005
By Barton Deiters
The Grand Rapids Press
WYOMING -- For many golfers, the call of the greens can be irresistible. But for course owners, it's an entirely different kind of green that calls to them.
More than a decade ago, golf experts were predicting an explosion of interest in the game. But that explosion never materialized. Now, real estate professionals are drooling over some prime land in West Michigan that is practically begging to be turned into profitable developments.
"I'm getting one or two calls a week from developers," said Dan Burrill, whose grandmother, Millie Hop, is a co-owner of The Pines Golf Course in south Wyoming. "Does it make sense for us to keep it as a golf course? No."
The 150-acre course, at 52nd Street and Byron Center Avenue SW, originally was optioned by Metropolitan Hospital, which ended up moving its future site down the street. The owners sold 18 acres of the course to Grandville Schools and 12.8 acres to a developer.
Burrill said his grandmother wants to keep it open as a golf course, but he hesitates to make any iron-clad guarantees.
"It may not be the smartest move, but it's what we want," he said.
But other courses have not been able or willing to ignore the profit that can be made by going for the dollars instead of the duffers. Green Ridge dawn of the trend in 1987. The site now is a sprawling commercial development along Alpine Avenue NW.
Georgetown Township Rolling Hills Golf Course will become the site of a 250-home subdivision along Baldwin Street.
Walker's English Hills Golf Course is being crossed by bulldozers instead of golf carts in preparation for 660 condominiums on Four Mile Road NW. The last tee time there was last summer.
Kentwood's former Meadow Lane Golf Course on 44th Street SE is already developing a second phase after it was sold two years ago.
The Grand Rapids Golf Club is destined to fall as its owner, the Meijer Foundation, has entertained new uses ranging from a zoo to upscale housing. It remains a golf course for now, but nine of its 27 holes near Leonard Street NE have been shut down.
Golfers at Byron Township's Byron Hills Golf Course will tee up for the last time Oct. 14 as it also becomes the site for houses expected to cost $200,000 to $300,000.
Before golfers bend their putters in frustration, golf industry insiders say blame it on the free market.
"The problem is there are more golf courses than there are golfers," said Kate Moore, executive director of the Michigan Golf Owners Association.
Moore said in the 1980s, so-called golf experts were expecting the number of golfers to grow at an explosive rate. Instead, it remains steady with about 12 percent of the general population playing golf while the number of courses has doubled. There are now about 900 golf courses in Michigan, the third highest total in the nation behind California and Arizona.
She said this was sustainable during the boom economy of the 1990s, but now corporate golf outings and even some individual golf use has leveled off or dropped as the economy sputters.
Terry Moore, a Grand Rapids golf promoter and former editor of Michigan Golf Magazine, said there is only so much land available, and golf courses represent a juicy target for developers.
"It's another insidious aspect of urban sprawl," Moore said. "It's also a free market correction."
He said the death of golf courses is good news for those that remain as the market becomes less saturated.
But for Mark Dreisbach, the loss of the Kentwood course was the emotional equivalent of a sand trap.
He opposed the rezoning and eventual development of the Meadow Lane Golf Course behind his home near Shaffer Avenue SE. But for the past two years he's had to accept the fact that at least another 179 homes will be coming to his neighborhood.
"I've been depressed," Dreisbach said. "I would say it's disappointment more than anything else."
He said the golf course made for a pretty good neighbor for the past 12 years or so and now it's anybody's guess what will end up virtually in his back yard.
He said he can't blame the developer for wanting the land, but he does blame the city for allowing it.
However, Byron Township Clerk Joel Hondorp said there is only so much control a municipality can exercise.
"It's private property, people have a right to use it as they see fit," Hondorp said.
He said that while three-quarters of the township remains zoned agricultural or rural, the Byron Hills Golf Course on Burlingame Avenue SW offered developers many services from Wyoming that made it very valuable.
The price has not been revealed, but estimates say it went for more than $5 million that went to the Florida-based owner Ferrell Moore.
Byron Hills Manager Ben Baird said he understands the economics, but is sad to see 25 people lose their jobs and golfers who have hit the medium-level course for decades displaced.
He said people have been married on the course, celebrated anniversaries and even had their ashes spread there.
"Everyone wishes it could have remained a golf course," Baird said. "I don't know who keeps buying all these houses. They aren't what I'd call affordable for normal people."
Still, not everyone is ready to call a mulligan in the face of market forces.
"I think there's more of a need for The Pines Golf Course than more development," Burrill said.
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