Date night is on outside a Plymouth corrections facility.
It’s an unlikely place for a special event — or a bit of golf — but that’s exactly what Hennepin County is doing, hoping the themed nights draw more interest in its unusual golf center located outside the county workhouse.
Parkers Lake Golf Center, which opened in 1998, is likely one of few public golf ranges on the site of a corrections facility in the U.S. And the county is now looking to draw more people there.
In recent years, interest in golf has waned across the nation, prompting more than a dozen golf courses in the Twin Cities area to close since 2006, while others have looked for creative ways to lure golfers back to the sport.
That’s what the county has been doing this week: trying to draw golfers of all abilities to check out Parkers Lake, which includes a driving range and a nine-hole chip-n-putt course. The county is promoting date-night themed events with free refreshments, free lawn games and reduced prices. The next events take place Aug. 19 and Aug. 26; anyone can attend.
Just like golf courses, the government-owned golf center has seen the number of purchases, golf passes and punch cards slip over the years. In 2008, the golf center drew about 17,000 visitors, but that fell to about 9,700 in 2013 and bumped up slightly last year to 10,300 visitors.
“It’s a little funding stream,” said Connie Meyer, the assistant superintendent for the Adult Corrections Facility. “Some years are better than others.”
Proceeds from every game of golf, driving range pass or lesson go toward supporting the golf center and then funding some corrections programs, though it’s a minimal amount, Meyer said.
Still, the county wants to boost attendance.
“We’re always looking for different, creative ways to promote health and fitness in the county,” Meyer said.
County leaders first decided to open the center 18 years ago, looking for a creative purpose for unused space on the land located off Vicksburg Lane. The county already had opened public community gardens on the property, and just two years ago it opened a nursery to grow trees.
“We want to be good neighbors,” Meyer said.
But back in 1998, the idea for the golf center drew some concerns from residents.
County leaders reassured the public that no tax money would be used to build the driving range and that residents of the workhouse wouldn’t have access to the golf center, though some do work there cutting grass or doing other maintenance work.
Since then, Ramsey County has opened a nine-hole course in Maplewood, the Ponds at Battle Creek, across the road from its corrections facility and it also has inmates working maintenance jobs there.
In Plymouth, Meyer said she hasn’t heard any concerns from golfers as they practice next to the workhouse. In fact, the center draws a lot of local families, business workers on their lunch breaks, the Special Olympics and a couple of local youth golf teams.
Now, the county hopes to draw even more visitors.
For more details, go to tinyurl.com/Parkers-Lake.