Golfers have teed off for the last time at West St. Paul’s only municipal golf course.
The City Council voted Monday to close Thompson Oaks, a nine-hole, 23-acre course, ending years of debate about its future.
“This has been going on in our minds at the council level for two years,” said Council Member Dave Napier. “It hasn’t been an easy decision but I think we really have no choice at this point.”
City officials have been weighing redevelopment options for the golf course property for several years, but it was the impending conclusion of an unusual arrangement with the neighboring YMCA that finally sealed its fate.
The Y, which is in talks with an undisclosed national retailer to sell its property, owns the land on which two of the course’s holes are located — property that the city leases. Once the property is sold, Thompson Oaks would be left with only seven holes.
Other reasons to shutter the course also have been at play for a long time. The facility, which opened in 1996, has operated at a loss for years, said City Manager Ryan Schroeder, though “the numbers are not horrible.”
Taxpayers subsidized Thompson Oaks to the tune of $55,150 in 2017, he said, and projections indicate losses of $65,000 annually over each of the next five years.
There are seven other courses within 5 miles of Thompson Oaks, Schroeder said, including the privately owned Southview Country Club in West St. Paul.
City officials are discussing redeveloping the golf course property for housing. That could be a plus for the public because it would open access to the course’s pond to everyone, Schroeder said.
Regardless of what is built, he said, the property will continue to have “public or quasi-public” green space.
In November, the City Council accepted $2.2 million in state funding to help build a tunnel under Robert Street to carry Dakota County’s River to River Greenway trail through the city, as long as the trail doesn’t interfere with nearby development projects.
Now that Thompson Oaks is closed, the county will pursue an easement so the trail can cut through that property, Napier said.
In 2017, eight Minnesota golf courses closed, including Hillcrest in St. Paul, Country Air in Lake Elmo and Mississippi Dunes in Cottage Grove, according to the Minnesota Golf Association.
While many courses closed in the last decade, however, few were municipal courses; of the 47 courses shut down between 2003 and 2018, just five were municipal.
“Typically in the metro area when a course closes, it’s not always just a golf story, it’s a development story, a business story as well,” said Tom Ryan, executive director of the Minnesota Golf Association.
Residents attending Monday’s meeting had mixed feelings about losing Thompson Oaks.
“I strongly disagree with it,” said Dave Heller, who lives on the course. “I think the transparency in the community has been very minimal.”
Heller said the decision was “100 percent economic driven.” Residents overwhelmingly indicate in city surveys that they want more green space, he said, adding that didn’t seem to matter to the council.
Napier said officials had been open about the golf course’s closing and that the desire for redevelopment “was not the motivating factor here.”
Some residents will miss the golf course, which served as a community gathering space, he said.
“It’s tough to see something like that go,” said Napier, who golfed in a league at Thompson Oaks. “Hopefully we can do something special with that property.”