Should the Cherokee Golf Course in Louisville be converted into parks?

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Cherokee Golf Course, located in one of Louisville’s most famous parks, could be wiped out and converted into “diverse and active parks” under a proposal from a local preserve.

However, golfers say there’s no reason why the park and of course can’t continue to coexist.

The City Parks Department noted in a statement this month that the public nine-hole course — located near the Highlands and neighborhoods of Cherokee Triangle, Bonnycastle, Crescent Hill, and Seneca Gardens — “is the only course without a lease with a professional PGA or non-profit organization.”

“Attempts to bid for the course management have not resulted in any viable options,” the Metro Parks statement added. “During this process, Parks and Recreation received a proposal from the Olmsted Gardens Preserve to enhance the Cherokee Park through improvements and investments to revitalize the golf course property into active and diverse parks.”

Interest from the Olmsted Parks Conservancy extends into at least 2019, when the nonprofit supporting 17 Olmsted-designed parks in Louisville presented a plan amid citywide budget cuts to transform the Cherokee golf course from “a financial liability to a cherished park space.”

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The proposal, which was made in response to a request for proposals from management Mayor Greg Fisher over objections from some Metro Council members and golfers, envisioned fields of indigenous plant life, transforming the club into a family-friendly restaurant and Willow Pond—a feature on holes 5 and 6—to become ” A destination for fishing, hiking and boating.

But Lily George, the county’s president, told The Courier Journal that once the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, the process for moving forward with any changes to the golf course in Cherokee took a “long pause.”

The group’s proposal, dubbed “A New Vision for the Cherokee Golf Course,” is now back on the table, though George said it’s not yet a final product.

Added George, whose protection is also expanding Cherokee Park by purchasing approximately 25 acres from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

George said the conservation would need to do a “major master planning exercise” that includes “a lot of community input and research” before making changes to the golf course.

Under city ordinance, any decisions about changing the Cherokee golf course must be approved by Metro Council.

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Established in 1895, four years after famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and the city’s founding of Cherokee Park, the golf course is the fifth oldest municipal golf course in the country and the oldest of the city’s ten public golf courses.

It is one of three public courses in Louisville that feature nine holes instead of 18 holes.

When the issue of allowing the county to grab the land came up a few years ago, city officials admitted that the course lost $98,000 in 2018 and ranked below or near the bottom of green fees, membership revenue, and tours played among all public courses.

But fans who took part in the tournament noted during a recent public meeting that she made nearly $22,000 last year despite a more modest club and fewer resources than the larger tournaments.

The city notes on its website: “With its mountainous layout and two lake holes, Cherokee is the Metro Parks’ shortest course, and an excellent place to improve on a short iron game.” “Other amenities include a fully stocked Pro shop, snack bar, large practice lawn and picnic area for all occasions. The fishing lake and play area are adjacent to the stadium.”

Not all Metro Council members have expressed support since 2019 for the course’s cancellation, with Metro Council member Kevin Kramer, R-11th district, pointing to its long history and suggesting that Louisville might see a bump in municipal course play after Topgolf opens.

And Cherokee Park regulars like Morgan Atkinson, Bob Stagg and Bob Picken think there’s no reason to stray from the oldest public course west of the Alleghenies.

“I admire Olmsted Parks Service and everything they’ve done,” said Atkinson, 72. “I don’t think they need to take over that land where there’s a Cherokee golf course now. I think there’s more than enough space in a Cherokee park. And Seneca Park to do all the things that they care about.” by doing it.”

“It’s a great place for young children who are just starting to learn the game,” Atkinson added. “It’s a great place for seniors who don’t want to battle the crowds at Seneca and Crescent Hill (golf courses). It’s a gem…I think it would be a shame not to let it stay as it is.”

“We thought that secured the future, the continuation of the cycles, and I don’t know what changed,” said Stagg, 75, after Metro Council members voted in 2019 to raise green fees by $5 per city-owned cycle.

Both Atkinson and Stagg said they feel the city in recent years has not given the Cherokee Golf Course and its club enough resources to thrive, but that its appeal to a diverse group of golfers rather than to “country club elites” remains alive.

“There is a large group of people with such a wide range of skill levels,” Atkinson said. “It’s beautiful. You’ll see a deer running through it. It’s not as if the golf course is eroding the natural beauty of the park.”

The course was designed by Tom Bendelow, considered the most prolific golf course engineer of all time. Stagg said that Bendelow matches Olmsted’s philosophy because he “uses whenever possible the natural position of the Earth.”

Beacon, 71, who is a member of the Cherokee Triangle Association and lives near the park, said the golf course is one of his “going places.”

Pekin said he believes the city should reopen the bidding process for the course, but if the course does end up with, he’d prefer a group like the reserve take control rather than a private developer.

Cherokee Triangle Association President Wes Cobb said his neighborhood association has not taken a position on the golf course debate.

Golf House Kentucky, an advocacy group working to promote the game in Bluegrass, is also paying attention.

Courses across the city have faced a number of challenges in recent years, interim CEO Sally Morgan noted last week, though she said use across the city has surged since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. She said the Cherokee Park track has a history that “brings a certain level of nostalgia to the entire community which further enhances the game.”

“One of the main areas of focus for Golf House Kentucky and the golf industry is to provide access to the game so that people of all backgrounds can enjoy the sport,” Morgan said in an email. “Cherokee Park Golf Course is another access point that we really appreciate in the community and we know that many young, old, novice and seasoned golfers go to their haven.

“As Cherokee is such a large part of the Louisville golf community, we hope that it will continue to welcome golfers of all ages, experience, and skill level for many more years.”

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Meanwhile, Metro Parks and Metro Council member Cassie Chambers Armstrong, D-8, have planned meetings this month to allow residents to share their thoughts on the course.

The first meeting was last Wednesday at the Douglas Community Center and was attended by about 100 people, and the second meeting was from 6 to 7 p.m. Monday at The Course Club, 2501 Alexander Street.

Public comments may also be submitted via email to Parks@louisvilleky.gov.

If the Olmsted Parks Conservancy receives city approval to move forward with its plan, George said the nonprofit will eventually select a company to help with the master planning process and bring together groups like tennis, mountain biking, and neighborhood associations for feedback.

George, who said she grew up in a “family of golfers,” emphasized that nothing is carved in the rock.

“If it happens where we are fortunate enough to have that land, then those two public meetings are not the only opportunity for people to say what they want to have at that location,” said George. “There will be a lot of public input and a lot of opportunities for people to share their feelings.”

Reporter Lucas Olbach contributed.

You can reach Billy Cobain at bkobin@courierjournal.com.

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