Seattle explores alternate uses for four publicly owned golf courses

The city of Seattle is studying possible other uses for city-owned golf courses, including Jefferson Park, Jackson Park, West Seattle and Interbay.

Hundreds of thousands of people visit one of Seattle’s four public golf courses every year.

“My buddies and I, we play every weekend. It’s always a city course, never a private course,” said Maurice Sharpe, who was at Jackson Park on Thursday.

When these golfers learned the city launched a study to look at costs and other potential options for the golf courses, it raised serious concerns.

“I was shocked actually. I actually still can’t believe they’re actually considering taking golf courses away,” Sharpe said.

The four parks add up to more than 500 acres of land.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office said in a statement that the city will  “begin to explore a range of potential options for these city-owned properties” to figure out what’s the best use for the land.

"It could mean keeping the golf courses, or look at other options. “...such as adding additional parks and green space, or creating affordable commercial space and housing,” the statement said.

Maggie Anthony is a regular golfer at several of the city courses and used to work for Seattle Parks and Rec.

“I think we are making the best use of this land. It’s park property, they’re great golf courses, everybody loves them, they’re open to everyone,” Anthony said.

When she heard about the study she put up flyers to call a meeting.

“I thought maybe we’d get 50,” Anthony said. “We had over 220 people show up, it was standing room only,” she said.

The city says one of its concerns about the golf courses is cost.

The buildings are old – for example, Jefferson Park opened in 1930 and parts of the building date back to its origin.

The city says there’s more than $35 million of improvements and repairs that need to happen at the courses.

The study showed the golf courses are profitable – but because the city has a policy in place that requires golf courses to pay 5% of those profits to the Parks and Rec general fund -- plus money paid towards debt on capital investment -- the courses are losing money.

“That’s a burden that’s pretty tough to bear and no other programs in the parks department have to bear that burden,” Anthony said.

Golfers say the steep price of private golf clubs place the sport out of reach for many -- and city courses are the only place they can go to enjoy the game.

“We constantly see kids playing out there with their families, we see kids walking their dog while their dad golfs. You can’t lose that, that’s family,” Sharpe said. “To have that taken away from us potentially would be horrible,” he said.

Seattle owns those four courses and the Green Lake Pitch ‘n Putt, though that short nine course was not included in the survey – only the four main courses that cover 528 acres of city land.

Jefferson, Jackson, West Seattle and Interbay are operated through a contract with the nonprofit Premier Golf Centers, and Seattle has contacted with nonprofits to run the courses since June 1995.

Premier Golf also pointed out that the study ended in 2017, after a particularly bad weather years for golf. But 2018 was a record year in terms of revenue, and 2019 is shaping up to be a strong year as well.

“In 2017, the weather was even worse with market rounds decreasing another 4.8%. 2018 was much more favorable golf weather with Seattle market rounds increasing by 7.7%,” said Bill Schickler, the CEO of Premier Golf in an email. “Total Revenue in 2018 for the City of Seattle courses reached $11.8 Million, a record high,” he said.

She also talked with a golfer who organized a May 22 meeting after Seattle residents learned of the golf course study. That golfer said even though the talk about alternate uses is preliminary, she wants the city to know how much value these golf courses have for residents – and the lower rates make them accessible.

An adult rate at Jackson Park is $33.75 during regular weekday hours. Interbay, a 9-hole course, is $15.25. Jefferson Park is $29.50, and West Seattle is $33.75. The prime time weekday rate at Newcastle – Coal Creek -- a public course on the Eastside – is $200 with a cart. The same rate at the Newcastle – China Creek course is $145.

Clubhouses for the three oldest Seattle golf courses – Jefferson Park, which opened in 1915; Jackson Park, which opened in 1930; and West Seattle, which opened in 1940 – all meet the criteria of the National Register of Historic Places, according to earlier assessments on the city's website. However, they're not designated on the National Register.

The 1940 directory for Seattle advertised 24 golf courses of varying sizes in or near Seattle. That included courses that have since closed, including the University Golf Club that was closed in the 1960s to make way for health and sciences facilities, and the Meadowbrook Golf Course – which was outside the city limits until 1954. That course closed in 1960, and Nathan Hale High School and Meadowbrook Community Center opened on the site in 1963. Olympic Golf Club, which was part of Crown Hill, closed in 1953.

Mayor Jenny Durkan's staff said she was not available Thursday, but the full statement through spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower reads:

"Seattle’s parks are civic treasures, and across the City, Seattle Parks and Recreation manages 6,414-acre park system of over 485 parks and extensive natural areas. Over the past year, the City began its initial analysis on the financial sustainability of Seattle’s municipal golf courses, which occupy 512 acres across the City.

As we weigh options for the future of the City of Seattle's four golf courses, Mayor Durkan believes we have an opportunity to examine our golf courses with the goals of supporting our parks and green space, addressing affordability and meeting our racial equity goals as we build a city of the future.

As a next step, the City will support further analysis of long-term models to see the financial sustainability of the courses. Under the Mayor's direction, Seattle Parks and Recreation, working with other departments, will also begin to explore a range of potential options for these City-owned properties, which could include continuing these outdoor recreation facilities or other potential uses such as adding additional parks and green space, or creating affordable commercial space and housing.

More news from KIRO 7