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Another Voice: Golf course can't mar Olmsted masterpiece

By Alan Bozer

The golf season has ended, but not discussion on what to do with two golf courses within Buffalo’s Olmsted Park system. Famed golfer Jack Nicklaus has some ideas.

One, to move the golf course out of historic South Park to an adjacent property, is a no-brainer. The golfers can have a better, Nicklaus-designed course while the park’s arboretum can be restored, a win-win.

The golf course in Delaware Park, a Frederick Law Olmsted landscape listed on the National Register, is a different story, with a lot of history to consider.

Delaware Park was founded in 1868 (note: 150th anniversary this year). The first golf ball in Western New York was knocked into a tomato can in the ground there a quarter-century later (1894). The hole/can was on parkland in front of the History Museum. Golf balls were being struck into the park Meadow by 1895; they came and played in the Meadow as they found it at the time. The first hole-in-one was noted in 1898 up by the park quarry located near Agassiz Circle.

The Country Club of Buffalo and the Park Club played into the Meadow from their clubhouse on Nottingham Terrace at the turn of the century, as did the Red Jacket Club from its Parkside Avenue quarters. In resplendent red jackets, they struck the ball across the Meadow on fairways whose legacy remains in the current configuration of the back nine.

The public came to play as well – in 1904, the Red Jacket Club petitioned to fence off part of the Meadow to keep away “amateurs” and to protect the public from stray golf balls. The Common Council rejected the petition as “undemocratic.” The private clubs were gone by the 1920s.

History records that the current 18-hole course was laid out on the Meadow in 1915. It has always been open to the public, non-golfers included (“duck!”). Countless local golfers have learned to play in the Meadow at affordable cost.

The Meadow retains the look it had in 1868. The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy devotedly maintains Olmsted’s landscape and the golf course atop it.

The conservancy’s preservation and maintenance efforts have been uniformly praised and have resulted in national and international acclaim.

The current golf greens and fairways in Delaware Park have minimal impact on the viewscape. The suggestion of a “Nicklaus redesign” is exciting, but we have seen no renderings – will it include big sand traps, berms, water hazards? We just don’t know. Agreeing to “improvements” before knowing the final design puts the putt before the drive.

Any attempt to “improve” the golf course by altering Olmsted’s landscape masterpiece should concern all park lovers.

Still, if Nicklaus can improve the course while retaining the Meadow’s distinct landscape and views, we should look into it.

Alan Bozer is a season golf pass holder at the Delaware Golf Course, a former parent-coach and president of the Delaware Soccer Club, a trustee of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy and a partner at Phillips Lytle LLP.

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