Turning aside pleas from dozens of residents, the Wichita Park Board voted late Friday to close L.W. Clapp Golf Course in south Wichita at the end of the peak golf season Sept. 30.
But the closure passed with a stipulation that no land will be sold for development until a master plan can be prepared for the site, which could take the next year.
And some board members held out hope that Clapp could still be saved, if Wichita’s golf community rallies around the course and stanches course losses between now and the end of the summer.
The 4-3 vote came after nearly four hours of meetings and two unsuccessful attempts at a vote to close the course.
Park Board member Bill Ramsey said it was a difficult decision, but he doesn’t think the course can rebound from its financial losses of the past few years.
“We did everything we can to try to make it sustainable for everybody,” he said.
He envisions turning it into a general-use park including walking trails and a splash pad — what he described as a "Central Park" for Wichita.
“I think we can make that into something incredible,” he said.
Although the Park Board technically owns the golf course and could sell the land without further approval, the City Council will have the final say on what happens there because it’s also a budget issue, said City Manager Robert Layton.
He said a final vote on the budget is scheduled for Aug. 14.
A recent city report evaluated the potential of all city golf courses and concluded that Clapp was the only one that could be profitably developed for commercial and residential use.
But, City Council member James Clendenin said, “There are no plans right now to develop that property.”
He promised that the property wouldn’t be redeveloped without a master plan developed with input from the neighbors.
He said he has talked to all the council members but one and they want to keep the entire parcel in public park use for the foreseeable future.
The crowd exceeded 100 people and had to be moved from the City Hall boardroom to the City Council chambers. Nearly all of them favored keeping the course open.
The decision came after a parade of residents and elected officials came forward to urge the board to keep the course open and try to find a way to fix its financial problems.
Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell called it a “check valve” decision.
“Once you go forward, it’s done forever,” he said.
He proposed building a cistern at the course to catch creekwater runoff during storms to reduce the water bill.
And he pointed out that almost every other attraction in Wichita, including the zoo, Exploration Place, Botanica and Old Cowtown, are subsidized with public money.
“I would encourage us to find a solution to Clapp rather than close it,” he said.
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, who represents the area in the Legislature, said the closing “will certainly diminish our community in southeast Wichita.”
“I have spent many years arguing against short-term solutions that cause long-term damage,” he said.
Residents around the course called it the latest cut in quality of life for southeast Wichita.
“The southeast corridor cannot manage any more losses,” said resident Sherri Shofner. “We have lost our high school (Southeast), we are losing Boston pool after this year and we will be losing Linwood pool in the near future. We cannot afford to lose any more of our amenities.”
Scott Green said he moved to the south edge of Clapp specifically because there’s a golf course there and he wanted to be able to walk to the course and play in his retirement.
“If that were to go away, there goes my dream,” he said.
Only one person spoke in favor of closing the course, and that came at an unofficial question-and answer session held by Clendenin before the meeting.
Resident Richard Harris said he thinks a golf course is a waste of a fine green space that could be put to better use.
Most neighborhood residents are low-income and would get more use out of a general-purpose park, he said.
Many of them don’t have transportation and need a park within walking distance, he said.
Park and Recreation Director Troy Houtman said the golf system has been bleeding money and something has to give.
“I think we have too many golf holes and not enough golfers,” Houtman said. “We don’t even have money to pay our bills to make it to the end of this year,” much less make badly needed repairs and improvements.
Clapp alone ran $235,000 in the red last year, according to a city report.
About $102,000 of that was for water — twice as much as any other course — because Clapp is the only course that doesn’t have a well or a lake and has to be watered entirely with city drinking water.
Shutting down Clapp would save substantial money on watering and mowing, because it wouldn’t need to be as meticulously maintained, Houtman said.
But even with closing Clapp, the system will need to cut more expenses through layoffs, rolling blackouts at all courses and employee furloughs in the wintertime.
He said golf manager Troy Hendricks and his staff “have been killing themselves to make these courses wonderful . . . Staff has been working their butts off trying to make this successful.”