U considers building new golf course

Brian Bakst

More than 700 acres of University-owned land in Rosemount could become the home to a new University golf course at virtually no cost to the University.
If the Board of Regents agrees to go forward with the venture, which is still in discussion stages, it would represent another example of public-private partnerships for the University. The $7.5 million project would be entirely funded from non-University sources, with the possible help of a grant from the U.S. Golf Association.
Mike Martin, dean of the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences, told the Regents’ Educational Planning and Policy Committee Thursday the plan “will not go forward until the funding is in place.”
The public-private partnership of the course would add to a growing list of such ventures that includes the merger of University Hospital and Fairview Health Systems, as well as the joint ownership between the University and Dinnaken Properties, Inc., of the new Argyle House dormitory.
The Rosemount property, a 7,500 acre plot acquired by the University from the U.S. Government in 1947, is currently used for such things as agricultural research, industrial purposes and police training. But a portion of the property sits idle.
The golf course would be constructed on a portion of the idle land, and would be developed primarily for the purpose of turf research. Vice President for Student Affairs McKinley Boston also sees the golf course as an opportunity to increase diversity initiatives.
Boston said he hopes that more students of color would get involved in golf and course management as a result of the new course.
Also, revenues from the course, although not projected to be substantial, could be applied to scholarship funds.
Martin said the addition of the golf course would allow for the expansion of the turf management program, which he said could become one of the premiere programs of its kind in the country.
Classrooms, meeting rooms and a dormitory would be built to house the expanded programs, Martin said. In addition, Martin said he has discussed providing access to the course for the Dakota Country Technical College, creating another partnership for the University.
But not everyone agrees with the plans for the plot of land that lies about 30 minutes south of the St. Paul campus.
For some area residents, keeping the land undeveloped would be just fine. “It’s a large, open area … there’s people who would like to keep it that way,” said Richard Brand, a resident and member of the Rosemount Advisory Council.
Brand said he would like to see the land used for hunting or county parks if it were to be developed.
One of the main concerns of the proposal’s opponents is the anticipated encroachment of urban sprawl. Director of the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability Russ Adams defined urban sprawl as high-priced development of large-lot suburbs without input from surrounding communities.
Urban sprawl has many drawbacks, including soil pollution and increased taxes, Adams said. “It’s the kind of stuff that is going to be harmful to the rural way of life,” he said.
Martin said he hopes the golf course can be built while still providing a buffer zone between rural and urban areas. “We are incredibly sensitive to those issues and we will not go forward until those are defined,” he said.
But State Rep. Dennis Ozmont, R-Rosemount, said the University has been moving forward too quickly, and that Rosemount residents have been kept in the dark as to the University’s plans. “The public at large doesn’t have a clue what’s going on,” Ozmont said.
Ozmont estimates there are more than 25,000 residents in the areas surrounding the property.
The plans for the Rosemount property were scheduled to be discussed last night at the Metropolitan Council meeting.
Regent Jean Keffeler said she supports the idea as long as the municipalities involved and the Metropolitan Council are supportive of the use of the land. She added if the University can achieve competitive excellence in turf management at no cost while going through the proper channels, it “just sounds wonderful.”
Privately-owned public golf course owners do not share Keffeler’s optimism, however.
Curt Walker, a member of the National Golf Course Owners’ Association, said the University should “not facilitate the development of a golf course under the guise of research, social outreach or any other purpose when it will conflict directly with tax-paying enterprise.”
Walker, who was allowed to read a statement at the regents’ committee meeting, said he has yet to hear why the University needs such “a grandiose fundraiser for research.”
He said there are other avenues which the University should explore instead of using the free land for the 18-hole course which could conceivably draw business from other golf course owners.
Martin said the University has been in consultation with Walker and other people with similar concerns. Martin said the University’s research would ultimately benefit all course owners.
Regent Stanley Sahlstrom, an avid golfer, agrees. “This is for research and teaching and not just for recreational purposes,” he said.
This type of research that would be conducted could not be done elsewhere, Sahlstrom said. “You need a place where you can rip things up and play with it,” he said. “You can’t just do that kind of tearing up at a regular golf course.”