U turf research proposal denied

by Sarah Hallonquist

With plans for a golf course and research center squashed in the Legislature, University officials will now have to wait for greener pastures in the next bonding session.
When this year’s session started, the University supported a bill requesting a $4 million bond for a turf research center and 18-hole golf course on school-owned land in Rosemount.
A brainchild of the Minnesota Golf Association and the Minnesota Turf and Grounds Foundation, the course would have served as a venue for the association’s tournaments and as a learning center for underprivileged children. Officials also planned an additional nine-hole course for University-sponsored research and educational programs.
The school would not be responsible for construction or operating costs of the golf course, only for the educational programs at the research center.
The issue dates back to 1996, when Mike Martin, dean of the agriculture college, presented the idea to the Board of Regents. They voiced support for the plan, which at the time did not have a funding framework.
This session, committees in both the House and Senate rejected the bonding proposal, which came before them in a bill separate from the University’s $290.5 million request.
Sen. Steven Morse, DFL-Dakota, chairs the Environment and Agriculture Budget Division that decided not to fund the project. He said the issue is premature for two reasons: More private money needs to be raised before asking for state funds and a long-term plan should be developed for the Rosemount site.
“We have a tremendous, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use that Rosemount site for the good of the state of Minnesota,” Morse said. “A turf center may or may not fit in with that.”
Some private golfing groups led the charge to kill the bill, including the Minnesota Golf Course Owners Association. Member Curt Walker leases Brockway Golf Course in Dakota County. He said the Minnesota Golf Association is getting public funding for its course under the guise of research.
“We do not believe it’s necessary to develop a golf course to do turf research,” Walker said. “It’s been perfectly well-defined and developed for many years without a golf course under it.”
Martin disagrees. He said market needs call for the project, and other Big Ten schools such as Penn and Michigan state universities already have successful turf research centers.
“That’s where the industry’s moving,” he said. “We’re responding to an industry demand, not a University-driven demand.”
To avoid building a public-funded facility, Walker suggested leasing the state-owned Fort Snelling course for both educational and tournament purposes. The lease, now held by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, will be up in the next few years.
Sen. Dallas Sams, DFL-Staples, authored the original bill. Sams, who doesn’t play golf, said he hopes to see the issue come back in the next bonding session and possibly within future University requests.
“I feel this is a much needed facility,” he said, noting that the turf industry provides nearly $2 billion for the state’s economy. The products include turf and sod for cemeteries, parks and golf courses.
Sams said private golf course owners shouldn’t be worried about competition.
“This would be a complement to what they’re doing,” he said. “And I certainly would hope they would have a little more vision on the whole process.”