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Editorial: Plan for Nicklaus-designed golf courses gets a welcome boost from Olmsted Conservancy

Kevin Gaughan is playing a good round. His push to reconfigure two city golf courses and restore a historic arboretum is proceeding at least at even par, and maybe better. The longtime community activist has gained the support of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, a critical step on the way to his vision of creating two professionally designed golf courses.

Actually, we’ll take a mulligan on that. It’s not just that the courses would be professionally designed; they would be designed by one of the game’s masters, Jack Nicklaus. As part of the plan, the public course in Delaware Park would be configured to improve the design while taking up less space in the historic park. Nicklaus would also design a destination course near South Park, while the arboretum that park designer Frederick Law Olmsted envisioned would be restored more than a century after it was mauled.

It’s exciting news for Buffalo, which, incredibly, is what Buffalo is getting used to these days. Good stuff leads to more good stuff and, of that, Buffalo has had plenty of late. But little is more unexpected or pleasing than what appears to be Nicklaus’ genuine eagerness to help make a difference here.

Not only is the golfing legend offering his company’s design services at cost, but he has also offered to help in the fundraising needed to pay for the $40 million project. Gaughan says that work is underway, with the guidance of a high-powered recruit, John L. Thornton, co-chairman of the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

The money will all be raised from private and philanthropic sources, Gaughan said, which should help to earn the project the approval it still needs from the City of Buffalo. Given all the long-sought benefits the project brings, it’s hard to imagine why the city would object but, as always, it’s wise to keep an eye on the ball.

The public has yet to be formally consulted on the proposal, but so far there appears to be little to object to and lots to like. Especially interesting are the plans to restore the arboretum that was Olmsted’s original vision for South Park and to build an education center to train inner-city youths for employment related to the environment.

Olmsted originally designed South Park’s 155 acres as an arboretum featuring more than 2,300 types of trees, shrubs and plants. But in 1915, a golf course was built, overtaking about a third of the park.
The idea of restoring the arboretum was especially attractive to Nicklaus, who has his own interest in trees. His own South Florida home has about 100 varieties of trees and shrubs.

Gaughan has come up with a winner of an idea that works for virtually everyone and creates real value for the parks and for the city. It should move ahead as quickly as diligence allows.

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