Golfers chipped, putted and took their mulligans on opening day of 18-hole play at Hiawatha Golf Club.
But the biggest takeaway Wednesday may have been: The course was dry.
“It was gorgeous,” said Koré Grate, an avid golfer who lives in the area. “From what it’s been through … it’s in good shape for this time of year.”
The future of the city course has been up in the air since torrential rains flooded it in 2014.
Massive pumping keeps the course and area homes mostly dry, but the Park Board is weighing changes to that, which would determine whether the 18-hole course remains open.
The board has allotted five years to decide the fate of the course but has said it will remain open in the meantime.
Two members of a community advisory committee pleaded with the Park Board Wednesday night to consider their proposal to keep all options on the table.
“The pumping scenario has worked,” Joan Soholt said after the meeting. “I’m confused for the necessity for that to change. What is it you really want?”
The committee made little progress during its tense meeting Monday night despite lengthy discussions that focused less on the golf course and more on the nearby neighborhood.
“It’s more complex than golf, it’s also a water issue,” said Monica McNaughton, part of the Nokomis/Hiawatha water sustainability group. She said the homes shouldn’t be harmed based on what the Park Board decides to do.
Michael Schroeder, the Park Board’s assistant superintendent for planning, couldn’t guarantee any amount of reduced pumping would save homes from water damage.
In March, people who live around Lake Hiawatha and nearby Lake Nokomis demanded to know why water has been inundating their neighborhood, damaging houses, washing out sewer pipes and turning some yards into swamps.
To prevent flooding around and on the course, the Park Board has been pumping 242 million gallons from the property into Lake Hiawatha each year. But it’s been operating under a temporary permit because the state Department of Natural Resources allows only 36.5 million gallons to be legally pumped.
In August 2017, the Park Board voted to reduce pumping in line with a recommendation from the DNR, which would have permanently closed the course at the end of the 2019 season. But supporters rallied, and the board voted two months later to delay the closing for at least five years.
A nine-hole course surrounded by wetlands, one of the ideas tossed around, is a no-go for many players.
“Most golfers won’t play nine holes,” said Johnnie Adams, who learned how to play on Hiawatha 13 years ago.
Grate said it would make the course more congested and drive players away.
“The Park Board is working on a retroactive thought based on fear,” she said. “It’s been years [since the flood] and they’re still chasing their tails. It’s frustrating.”
In an interview last week, Schroeder said Hiawatha will remain 18 holes until the board has a plan to change it.
“If we have to change anything or reduce pumping, portions of the golf course will be inundated with water,” he said. “It is only a matter of how long it will take.”
Josh Schwartz, who just moved from Colorado and is looking for a home near Lake Hiawatha, was putting with his son, Eli. He said he’d be disappointed to see the course close. “It would be a huge draw and both my boys love it,” he said.
As Eli, 4, sank a putt, he shouted: “I got it in!”
“This is what I love, right there,” Dennis Haugan said, pointing over to the Schwartz family.
“Little guys enjoying it and then they come back.”