Civic advocate Kevin Gaughan's plan to bring two Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses to Buffalo and to restore the South Park Arboretum has received a key national endorsement.
The National Association for Olmsted Parks, based in Washington, D.C., gave its formal support on Friday, calling it a "win-win" for the city. The organization, the leading advocate for Olmsted lands throughout the country, includes prominent Olmsted scholars, architects, administrators and preservationists.
"To receive the support of America's leading Olmsted group is an honor and a great boost for our project," Gaughan said. "I'm grateful to their trustees and promise to devote all my energies and spirit to bringing these new public amenities to Buffalo."
The national association, in praising the plan, said it wanted to serve as an advocate for the project locally and nationally.
"There is a natural alliance between your plan and our mission to protect the Olmsted design legacy in Buffalo and in cities and communities across the country," co-chairs Arleyn Levee and Lucy Lawliss wrote in a letter to Gaughan.
"We applaud your plan, as it enables the removal of the existing South Park golf course in order to proceed with a rehabilitation of the park's historic arboretum, which should also address persistent drainage problems," the letter said.
"Your enlisting the skills of Jack Nicklaus' top-rated design team to create a new golf course upon derelict lands adjacent to historic South Park would provide the city with a new, state-of-the-art course with the potential to attract golf aficionados from Buffalo and beyond."
The organization also supported improving the Delaware Park golf course while reducing its footprint to re-establish more of the meadow's pastoral beauty. And it praised Gaughan's plan to create a vocational education and training component, in areas such as water conservation, agronomy and course maintenance.
Nicklaus and Nicklaus Design have offered their design services at cost.
The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy gave Gaughan's plan preliminary support in December, but is considering other options, including a plan by former Olmsted Parks Chairman David Colligan to restore the arboretum while leaving the South Park golf course. The city owns the Olmsted parks, but city officials have not yet offered an opinion.
Since Gaughan's plan was announced, a proposal to transform two Chicago golf courses into a state-of-the-art course designed by Tiger Woods has gained the support of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the backing of the Chicago Park District.
Gaughan said he's determined to be first.
"There is a competing plan that is copying mine in a major American city," he said. "In response, Jack Nicklaus, his company and I are eager to get started and ensure that Buffalo, not Chicago, wins this race."
Marketing and economic studies for both golf courses are expected to be completed in October, Gaughan said.
Frank Kowsky, a Buffalo Olmsted scholar and a national association board member, said he hopes the endorsement will give Gaughan's plan momentum.
"I think the board not only thought it was a very good idea because it would restore an Olmsted landscape more to it original condition, but it also might show a way for other cities to do a similar kind of thing," Kowsky said, noting golf courses are on other Olmsted landscapes.
The idea of moving the South Park golf course to nearby land in order to restore the arboretum dates back to a plan in the 1980s.
Landscape architect Bruce Kelly – known for designing Strawberry Fields in Central Park that honors John Lennon – came up with the golf course relocation idea for the Friends of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks, the precursor to the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy.