Politics & Government

Wichita moves toward closing south-side golf course to clear land for commercial use

A golfer hits a tee shot at L.W. Clapp Golf Course in south Wichita. The city of Wichita is moving toward closing the municipal course.
A golfer hits a tee shot at L.W. Clapp Golf Course in south Wichita. The city of Wichita is moving toward closing the municipal course. The Wichita Eagle

This could be the last round for Clapp Golf Course.

The city Park Board has called a special meeting Friday to vote on a proposal to close down the little course at the corner of Harry and Oliver in south Wichita.

A staff recommendation calls for the course to be shut down as soon as possible, with a goal of selling part of the land for commercial/housing development. Some other park use could go on the remainder of the land, which is in an unbuildable flood plain.

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Clapp would be the second public course to close in the last four years. In late 2014, Wichita State University razed its Braeburn Golf Course to clear space for development of the Innovation Campus, a mix of educational and business ventures at the east end of the university.

A report by Parks Director Troy Houtman says closing Clapp would just about make up for a $579,000 operating deficit projected for next year in the overall golf system.

The course has run a total of about $600,000 in the red since 2013, including a $235,000 operating deficit last year, the report said.

"It's a tough decision and something nobody likes to do," Houtman said. "But if I don't have the money, I can't operate it."

City golf courses are supposed to be self-supporting. But a shortfall would eventually have to be made up from general tax funds, he said.

Golfers who use the Clapp course don't like the idea of closing it for development.

"That's crazy," said Rod Duke, as he made the turn onto the back nine Thursday. "I like this golf course. I've been playing this golf course for 50 years. It's a shame."

Clapp is the smallest of the city's five courses. But the tight fairways and small greens make it a unique challenge among the city courses, Duke said.

"I really have a higher handicap here than I do some of the other courses," he said.

His playing partner, Andrew Moulton, is stationed here with the Air Force. He said he's played the other courses, but likes Clapp because it's close to his College Hill home and easy to get to.

"This is a good course and it's in a really good location," he said.

The Park Board meeting is set for 4 p.m. Friday at City Hall, 455 North Main. It was originally scheduled for a small board room but moved to the more spacious council chambers when news of the closure started percolating through the golfing community.

But as of Thursday, city officials were still unclear as to who actually has authority to close the course.

Although the Park Board is part of city government, it used to be a separate elected body and it technically holds title to the course, said City Council member Bryan Frye.

He said he thinks that gives the board the authority to shut down Clapp, although the City Council would have to be involved in any subsequent redevelopment of the site.

But Houtman said he plans to present the closure to the Park Board as a recommendation to the City Council. He said he thinks the council will need to sign off on the decision, because course operating funds go through the city budget.

The council was briefed recently on financial problems in the golf fund, but Mayor Jeff Longwell said he was surprised the Park Board called a special meeting to take up closing the course.

"They don't bounce that off of us," he said. He was noncommittal on whether it's a good idea.

"I haven't had a chance to fully evaluate it," he said. "I know we're losing money, so what I need to know is what is the best way to assure that community has a great green-space asset."

Longwell said some area residents have told him that "a park with some amenities would probably benefit the community more than a golf course because many of the folks that live around that can't use the golf course. They're not golfers."

Wichita doctor John Rempel has more than 1,000 golf balls featuring the logos of colleges and universities.

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