Politics & Government

Clapp’s last gasp: final effort to save Wichita golf course falls short

A last-ditch effort to save Clapp Golf Course fell short Tuesday and the Wichita City Council voted to close it on Aug 2.

The city is planning to turn the golf course site into a park. Clapp has been running on borrowed time since July of last year to allow for planning the transition.

However, after almost a year, nothing is firmed up and the plans have yet to advance beyond the wish-list stage.

The vote to finally close the course was unanimous and came after supporters of the course criticized the management and process that led to the decision.

Candia Smith, who lives near Clapp Golf Course, said there was support for a continued golf presence there, perhaps with a shorter course or practice facility.

But she said any mention of golf activities was squelched by the city during the public input-process.

“What I observed is what must be the meaning of ‘steering committee,’” she said. “Because the input phase was manipulated to not allow that four-letter word to be uttered. Instead we were steered away from any mention of golf.”

Dale Goter, a avid golfer and former spokesman and lobbyist for City Hall, complained that course mismanagement was what led to the downfall of Clapp.

He proposed bringing in an independent outside agency, possibly the National Golf Foundation, to examine the business practices of the city’s golf division and make recommendations before taking the irrevocable step of closing Clapp.

Goter, a leader of an informal group of “social” golfers outside of City Hall, warned that closing Clapp could have political implications in the upcoming city elections.

“Part of our mission I guess is to help golfers understand what candidates think about this issue, which candidates understand public golf, which candidates have a sense of how this might be run different and if there’s dissatisfaction with how it’s done now,” he said.

Council member James Clendenin, who represents the area, said it was difficult for him to get on board with closing the golf course.

But there really wasn’t any alternative since the Golf Advisory Committee, the Park Board and the City Council all wanted to do it, he said.

He said he was excited by suggestions from a committee he appointed to study life after golf.

“As we got into the community and started talking about what this property could be, people started getting excited,” he said. “I started getting emails from all sort of people I’ve never met before, sending ideas, being excited that the whole community, the six neighborhood associations that surround that community, were actually going to have access to amenities.”

A plan presented to the council at a workshop last month brought up the possibility of using part of the land for a private business called Bar-K, a dog-friendly bar and restaurant concept that has been successful in Kansas City. For an admission price, the business provides supervision and space for dogs to romp while the humans eat, drink and socialize with each other.

But Clendenin said after Tuesday’s meeting that Bar-K might be too intensive a land use for the site.

Another suggestion has been to create a chain of ponds for flood control, fishing and paddle boat rentals, and use the resulting dirt to build a grassy mound that could be leased to a private business for winter sledding on man-made snow.

Other ideas spinning out of the committee process include dog-walking paths, a sky trail/rope course/zipline, picnic areas with fire pits, an outdoor amphitheater and/or pickleball courts.

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Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.