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Editorial: Kevin Gaughan gets a birdie

President Reagan kept a sign on his desk that said, “There is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Now might be a good time to revive that slogan if our community ever hopes to realize the chance to have a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course built next to South Park.

Lawyer and civic advocate Kevin Gaughan has been lobbying for four years to make this vision a reality. Golf legend Jack Nicklaus wants in. But the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy has refused to embrace the idea.

It’s hard to think of any good reason why.

Gaughan last week signed a purchase agreement to buy 107 acres of brownfield adjacent to South Park. That is the site on which Nicklaus would build his “signature” course – meaning Nicklaus himself is involved in the design. The current nine-hole course at South Park would be removed and an arboretum designed by Frederick Law Olmsted would be restored there.

Stephanie Crockatt, the conservancy’s executive director, last week released a statement calling Gaughan’s $42 million plan “commendable,” but ...

“The Conservancy’s scope … as validated by our contractual partnership with the City of Buffalo is solely on Olmsted’s six parks, seven parkways and eight circles,” she said. “As such, a venture that falls outside that scope – as is the case of a proposed Nicklaus golf course on non-Olmsted parkland – is not something our organization can partner on with Mr. Gaughan.”

The conservancy in the past has said it wants to remove the South Park golf course and bring the arboretum to life, living up to the Olmsted Parks master plan. What is more, Gaughan has said he always understood that the conservancy wouldn’t play any direct role in building a golf course adjacent to South Park.

Is this a case of personalities or politics getting in the way of progress?

Kevin Gaughan can be persistent to the point of relentlessness; he’s not shy about seeking publicity or in trumpeting his role in civic endeavors, and his impatience to get things done no doubt can rub some the wrong way.

Is the conservancy unwilling to widen the “scope” of its vision for South Park just because it doesn’t want to see Gaughan taking bows if the golf project comes to fruition? That would not serve our city well.

Another facet of the plan calls for Nicklaus to remodel the Delaware Park golf course, reducing its footprint so that more of the park’s land can be enjoyed by non-golfers. And at South Park, Gaughan’s plan calls for creating an educational and vocational center for inner-city youth in golf course management, botany, water reclamation, horticulture and land restoration. That’s another way that non-golfers would benefit.

Golfers pay greens fees to play the game, so courses produce revenue. Money from greens fees at the Nicklaus course would be split among the city, the conservancy and the educational center.

Gaughan has stressed that his plan would strive to keep the fees affordable for residents of Buffalo and Erie County. And Nicklaus has pledged to do the South Park and Delaware Park projects at cost. An affordable greens fee and the prospect of playing a Nicklaus signature course would draw golfers from miles around.

Gaughan has a long way to go in raising the money to make the golf project a reality. And he’ll need help from the City of Buffalo as well as the conservancy to make it happen.

Improvements in Delaware Park, an Olmsted-envisioned arboretum in South Park, an educational center and a Nicklaus course that Jack himself takes an interest in. Why would anyone pass up an opportunity like that?

Nicklaus golf course in South Buffalo? Land buy shifts Olmsted parks fight

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