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Another Voice: Upgrading Delaware Park golf course serves Olmsted and Buffalo

By Kevin Gaughan

In his classic World War II novel, "Catch-22," Joseph Heller reveals the circular reasoning of bureaucracies. A military regulation allows pilots mentally unfit to fly bombing missions to be excused. When Captain Yossarian seeks the exemption, he's told his desire to avoid war’s madness proves his sanity, and he must continue bombing.

Reading conservancy trustee Alan Bozer's "Another Voice" article on my Olmsted plan, I felt like Yossarian. The conservancy's "Catch 22" (I provide project specifics; they ask for specifics I've already provided) is perplexing. But our parks are not works of fiction. The conservancy's decision on my proposal will affect real lives, and determine whether we seize or squander a chance to strengthen our Frederick Law Olmsted treasures.

For three years, I've discussed with the conservancy my multi-component plan, which includes having legendary champion Jack Nicklaus design a “modest upgrade” of the Delaware Park golf course, install an ecological irrigation system, and reduce course size. I described these elements in a meeting with conservancy staff (June 28, 2016); presentation before trustees (September 29, 2016); and meeting with chair Kevin Kelly and director Stephanie Crockatt (October 4, 2016).

My proposal to Nicklaus, which he graciously accepted, is that I provide him with Olmsted's meadow drawings (housed at the Olmsted Archives in Massachusetts) so Nicklaus can incorporate Olmstedian principles. Among the reasons renowned scholar Frank Kowsky and the National Association for Olmsted Parks have endorsed my plan is its assurance that there be no disruption of Delaware Park’s contours.

Indeed, Bozer’s essay brings to mind Winston Churchill’s response to an opponent’s attack: “Everything you said that is true is not relevant, and everything you said that is relevant is not true.”  In noting Delaware Park’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places, Bozer describes 19th century elitists playing golf in the meadow. The National Register’s protection, however, is aimed at Olmsted’s 1868 design, not the golf course misguidedly plopped on top of it years later. In fact, Bozer’s concern for the present course belies the Conservancy’s long-held notion to remove it.

But removing the course is not the answer. It’s now an indispensable space for inner-city residents with neither access to nor resources for private facilities.  My plan offers compromise: reduce course size, restore more of Olmsted’s original meadow, and have the world’s leading course designer create for urban residents a quality of space usually reserved for suburban clubs.

I first described my plan to Bozer over breakfast in March 2014.  He’s attended several presentations I’ve made, including one on September 7, 2016, to which I brought three Nicklaus Companies executives.  On none of these occasions did Bozer request renderings or even pose a question.  But now he has.  And that’s welcome progress.

In response, I respectfully request that to move forward, Bozer and his fellow trustees agree to weekly meetings with me.  These sessions wouldn’t commit the conservancy to anything.  They’d merely affirm its good faith interest in accomplishing a task on behalf of deserving Buffalo residents.

Kevin Gaughan is a Buffalo attorney and civic leader.

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