Golfers and supporters of the Hiawatha Golf Club are fighting to save the south Minneapolis course from closure, collecting signatures on petitions and pressing the Park Board to consider other options.
The course is in jeopardy as the Park Board weighs whether to continue pumping enough groundwater to keep the 18-hole golf course dry. Park officials told residents and golfers at a recent meeting that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources would prefer to see groundwater pumping reduced.
Golfer Craig Nichols said that caught people by surprise.
“A lot of people didn’t know that the Park Board was considering to close the golf” course, said Nichols, who created the “Save Hiawatha Golf” Facebook page. “We want the Park Board to look at some more creative options to keep golf going.”
An online petition in support of the course, organized by Charles Rodgers, a South High golf coach, has gotten more than 1,100 signatures. Rodgers said he also has collected about 800 signatures on paper.
The Park Board will discuss the future of the course at its meeting Wednesday evening. Board members are expected to take a final vote on the issue by early August.
Park Board Member Steffanie Musich, who represents the area that includes Hiawatha Golf Club, said she plans to vote in favor of reducing pumping — in line with the DNR’s recommendation — and closing the course.
“I feel for the golfers,” Musich said. “The decision before the board is not about the value of golf. It is to reduce pumping or to try and defend the current volume of pumping.”
The water issues at Hiawatha emerged when torrential rains in 2014 flooded the course as well as the Park Board’s Meadowbrook golf course in Hopkins.
After that, the DNR discovered that the Park Board had been pumping more groundwater into Lake Hiawatha than allowed by its permit. The Park Board has been pumping 262 million gallons of water annually. The DNR is recommending that pumping be reduced to 94 million gallons a year — enough to keep nearby homes dry.
But Joe Richter of the DNR said that the agency will work with the Park Board and that it could issue a permit for pumping at the same rate with some additional conditions. That still might not be enough to keep the course dry, however, he said.
“In the long run, we will abide by their decision,” said Richter, a DNR groundwater appropriations hydrologist. “It’s my belief the golf course will flood again if they continue to pump as they have.”
If the course closes, the Park Board could reconfigure the area as a wetland with a “food forest,” including berry bushes and fruit and nut trees.
Rodgers, the golf coach, said he’s worried that the five Minneapolis high school teams that practice there will suffer if the course closes. The students don’t all have transportation to get to other courses, he said.
“We’ve been doing a lot of research and we need more time,” Rodgers said. “We’re asking them to take their time.”