Playing golf at the Hiawatha Golf Club will soon be a thing of the past.
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board on Wednesday voted 6-3 to reduce groundwater pumping in line with a recommendation from the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The decision to pump less groundwater into Lake Hiawatha also means the golf course will close permanently at the end of the 2019 season.
The board’s decision came after months of debate about the fate of the 18-hole course. Golfers and supporters of the course have argued that it should remain open and questioned the Park Board’s rush to make a decision. But board members said Wednesday that reducing pumping and closing the course is the best option.
Before voting, however, they added an amendment directing Park Board staff to come up with a plan by mid-October for evaluating future alternative uses of the property “that includes strong consideration for golf in some form.” What that would mean for the golf course’s future was not clear.
A flood in 2014 led the Park Board to discover it was pumping too much water from stormwater ponds on the course into Lake Hiawatha. The Park Board has been pumping 262 million gallons of water annually. Its state permit allows for 36.5 million gallons.
“They are pumping an awful amount of water, and they have been doing it for decades,” said Joe Richter, DNR groundwater appropriations hydrologist. “I think it’s time for them to assess what’s happening with the parcel and to make plans into the future to use it in a way that’s reasonable.”
The option approved by the Park Board on Wednesday will reduce pumping to 94 million gallons of water annually. The Park Board will have to submit a formal request to the DNR for a new pumping permit, and the community will be involved in the planning process to remake the golf course into a park.
Reconfiguring the golf course as a park is expected to cost $28 million, according to Park Board estimates. It would cost $18 million over 20 years to maintain and operate that new park, but the board estimates it would generate that much revenue if the redesigned park includes a clubhouse with an expanded restaurant, picnic facilities and other spaces that could be rented out.
The Park Board will continue to work with consultant Barr Engineering to design a new pumping system to keep nearby homes and streets dry.
But neighbors and golfers aren’t convinced the course has to close.
Jerry Mullin, an environmental consultant who used to work for Barr Engineering, has been advising residents and golfers. He noted that Barr’s report for the Park Board states that the current pumping rate is “likely having minimal ecological impact.”
“The Barr Engineering report can be interpreted differently than what the Park Board has presented,” said Mullin, who lives across the street from the course. “We should be looking for an engineering solution for this watershed issue.”
Stephen Skaar, a former park worker and golfer, said the board’s decision will be a blow to young people learning the game.
“What’s really sad is Hiawatha is really coming around in the last few years,” he said. “All of a sudden they’re pulling the rug out.”
The Park Board said the course has averaged 40,800 rounds played annually over the last 19 years. But its usage has dropped by half in the past six years, a decline the Park Board attributes to wet conditions and market changes.
If Hiawatha closes, Columbia Golf Club in Northeast will be the only 18-hole course within the city limits. The Park Board operates four other courses outside the city limits.