The East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission faced unexpected backlash Tuesday when park officials unveiled plans to replace the Howell Park Golf Course with a lake and other amenities.
BREC has been planning to close the golf course since a National Golf Foundation study said in December that Howell was the agency’s lowest performing golf course and that BREC should repurpose it. Some golfers complained early on, but the criticism died down by the time BREC asked parkgoers in June for their input on what should replace the course.
BREC leaders incorporated those suggestions into a master plan for the park. With $2 million, they expect they can build a small lake with a boathouse, a challenge course and adventure playground, a picnic space and a field.
But many among the 30 to 40 people who attended Tuesday’s meeting on BREC’s plans for Howell Park said they were not interested in the new amenities and that they would rather keep the golf course. Metro Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle, who has already gone head-to-head with BREC over the closure of the Gus Young Pool in her district, rallied residents to ask BREC to keep the golf course open.
Art Dubriel, who said he golfs at Howell Park once a week, said he would rather have a revamped golf course along with some of the other amenities. He suggested downsizing the Howell Park course from 18 holes to nine holes and changing its layout.
“Anything new attracts people,” he said.
BREC Golf Director Michael Raby said he has received multiple suggestions of cutting down the course to nine holes and using the rest of the space for other additions. But he said shrinking the course would only save 25 percent of the money that it is costing.
Dubriel said he plays at all of the BREC golf courses, but especially enjoys playing at Howell Park because he has been playing the course for the past 15 years and it is where he learned to play. At $10 to play 18 holes on a weekday, golfing at Howell is also cheaper than many other nearby golf courses.
Carey Carter, who said he plays the Howell golf course twice a week, said BREC officials have not listened to golfers’ requests to keep the course open. He fears BREC will move forward with plans to change the park despite complaints.
“I don’t mind some changes but not at sacrificing the golf course,” he said.
BREC Assistant Superintendent Ted Jack said BREC would consider keeping the golf course open if survey results showed that nearby residents supported having the golf course more than other options. But Jack said it was unlikely, given the low number of golfers who play at Howell.
Improvements to the park will come in phases after BREC gets more input on the new plans, Jack said. The $2 million for new amenities should cover the lake, boathouse, field and other additions.
Jack said BREC also will try to secure financing from grants and other sources that could go toward other amenities. A new recreation center, a community garden and a fishing pier are all options that BREC would like to add to the park eventually but does not have the funding for right now.