Politics & Government

First Tee puts $1 million project on hold pending talks on Wichita golf course sale

Wichita considering selling MacDonald Golf Course

Wichita is considering selling MacDonald Golf Course. The par 72 course was once the Wichita Country Club in 1913. The Wichita Park Board has voted to solicit bids to sell MacDonald Golf Course..
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Wichita is considering selling MacDonald Golf Course. The par 72 course was once the Wichita Country Club in 1913. The Wichita Park Board has voted to solicit bids to sell MacDonald Golf Course..

A prominent golf organization founded to teach the game to underprivileged youth has put a hold on its plans for a $1 million training center at Wichita’s MacDonald Golf Course, pending the outcome of a city request for proposals aimed at selling the course.

Tom West, the president of the First Tee of Greater Wichita, said in an e-mail this week that the organization is rethinking its plans because it isn’t confident that the junior golfers they plan to teach would be welcome on the course if it goes into private, for-profit ownership.

“The First Tee has suspended any further development of the property until there is a resolution to the sale,” West said in the e-mail. “We will re-evaluate our plans at that point. “

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The e-mail was sent to members of the Park Board, who will decide whether to sell the course. It also went to numerous city staff members and other stakeholders in the city’s golf system.

West told The Eagle that First Tee has completed the first phase of its planned development at the golf course, a $500,000 driving range for First Tee participants and other golfers.

“We’re just waiting for the grass to grow on it,” he said.

But he said First Tee might have to seek another site for its training center if the city sells the course.

He said MacDonald is still considered the best site because it’s the closest to low-income areas of northeast Wichita, the main target audience for First Tee’s program.

Clapp Golf Course, at Harry and Oliver, would be a potential second choice because it’s also close to low-income neighborhoods, he said.

But Clapp is operating on life support. Earlier this year, the Park Board voted to close it. That decision was waved off by the City Council until a master plan can be completed on how it could be redeveloped as a park, maybe with some golf component.

The development of the First Tee center was hailed as a major public-private partnership for the golf system when it won unanimous approval at a City Council meeting April 3.

First Tee has agreed to invest $1.5 million in improvements at the course, in the $500,000 driving range and $1 million education center.

Under that agreement, the city would maintain the driving range and reap the $50,000 a year it’s expected to generate in revenue, while First Tee would get access to the course at off-peak times so its junior golfers would have a place to play.

If the Park Board decides to sell MacDonald, the City Council won’t be able to stop it.

The city bought the course, which was the original Wichita Country Club, back when the Park Board was a separately elected body of government and the board, not the city, still holds the deeds.

The possibility of a sale arose when Johnny Stevens, a local developer and former touring pro, made an unsolicited offer to buy the course in August. City Hall has since issued a request for proposals allowing him and/or anyone else who might be interested to put in a bid to purchase MacDonald.

The deadline for proposals to be filed is Tuesday, said city golf manager Troy Hendricks.

He said the proposals will be reviewed by a board of three parks commissioners, three members of the city Golf Advisory Board, and three members of the paid City Hall staff.

They plan to make a recommendation at the Dec. 10 Park Board meeting.

Dion Lefler; 316-268-6527, @DionKansas
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