The East Baton Rouge Parish parks and recreation system has rolled out its latest plans for proposed improvements and additions over the next decade — but one thing that will not be changing is the City-Brooks Community Park Golf Course.
Last year, an effort was launched asking BREC to transform the 100-acre, nine-hole golf course into a “central park” that can be more widely used by Baton Rouge residents.
But BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight, who has been publicly making the rounds presenting the agency’s latest construction priorities, told The Advocate this week that she had no intention of changing the historic golf course into a less restrictive park space.
“What we’ve heard from the golfing community and what we’ve heard from the public is that they would like to keep it as a golf course,” McKnight said.
However, McKnight said, park officials will be considering expanding the uses of the golf course, by using the course to host other programs and activities “in addition to golf.”
The effort to eliminate the golf course in favor of a preserved green space was called “Spark City Park” last year and garnered more than 1,100 signatures on a Change.org online petition.
“Turning this site into a ‘central park’ with rolling hills, expansive green spaces and mature trees would make it a perfect place for many activities enjoyed by families, couples, students, young adults and seniors,” the petition reads. “The existing nine-hole golf course has limited appeal, is expensive to maintain and has lost popularity, but it consumes most of the land on this gem of a site. The course should be closed, making way for a gem that all in Baton Rouge can enjoy.”
Bryan Jones, one of the leaders of the Spark City Park initiative, said he was hopeful BREC would commission a narrowly focused study to explore the potential of City Park.
“It’s disappointing to learn BREC is shutting the door on what could be the single greatest park development in the history of Baton Rouge,” Jones said. “City Park offers unlimited opportunity for a major urban park development most cities in the United States only dream of.”
The golf course is generally bordered by Perkins Road, East Lakeshore Drive and Dalrymple Drive.
The effort to change the golf course was met with fierce opposition by many golf and history buffs calling themselves City Park Friends.
Bill Huey, a member of the group, applauded BREC and McKnight’s commitment to the golf course.
“Baton Rouge and City Park have plenty of park space, and there’s absolutely no need to destroy this National Register site to make way for general-purpose park space,” Huey said. “Golfers from 9 to 90 years old have been enjoying City Park since 1926. Countless Baton Rougeans have learned the game there and become lifelong players.”
Baton Rouge resident David Addison, 66, golfs twice a week on the course. He said it’s the best course for golfers older than 50 because it’s a shorter course, and “you’re not tied down to a 4½-hour round of golf” as you would be with a full 18 holes.
Addison also said that if LSU moves forward with closing the LSU Golf Course along Nicholson Drive, it could drive more golfers to the City Park course.
For the past few months, BREC has been surveying residents and holding public meetings to collect input used to craft its new 10-year strategic plan. The results of the information gathering were released this month, with plans announced for additional walking and bike trails, as well as $72 million in capital outlay improvements for the park systems.
McKnight said the feedback from the public ultimately suggested residents opposed transforming the golf course.
But the results of a BREC commissioned survey conducted last year by local pollster Bernie Pinsonat were inconclusive, showing that 50 percent of the 400 people polled did not use the park at all.
About 38 percent of respondents either said to leave the golf course alone or make improvements to the existing course. Only 7.6 percent of people polled said the golf course should be eliminated.
BREC maintains seven public golf courses, which mostly cost BREC more to operate than they take in from fees. The City Park Golf Course, these days, lags in fifth place for rounds played. In 2012, there were 16,335 rounds played at the City Park course, which dropped to 14,875 in 2013. The most popular BREC golf course is the Santa Maria course, which had 31,917 rounds in 2012 and 35,133 in 2013.
Keeping City Park a golf course plays into a larger strategy to try to retain golfers parishwide.
“This is about more than City-Brooks Community Park,” McKnight said. “It is about golf in general and our efforts to bring our courses to another level and continue to reverse the trend we’ve seen around the nation of declining play.”
She said a strategic plan for the golf department is in the works. Across all seven courses, residents are playing less golf. In 2008, there were 143,921 rounds for all seven courses, but in 2013 there were only 132,767.