Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz found golfing legend Jack Nicklaus' plans for a new golf course near South Park persuasive.
Nicklaus made the rounds in Buffalo on Monday to signal his interest to be part of a plan conceived by attorney Kevin Gaughan. The plan calls for enhancing the golf course in Delaware Park, creating an educational and vocational center for city youth and designing a new golf course near South Park that would allow the removal of the South Park course and restoration of the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed arboretum.
On Tuesday, Poloncarz signaled his support for a new golf course nearby as long as it was as good or better than the South Park course, which Nicklaus assured him it would be.
"I do not object to the golf course leaving the place where I played my first round of golf, and the place where I played my last round of golf," Poloncarz said.
"I actually gave him a golf ball from the South Park Golf Club's 100th anniversary," Poloncarz said.
"I let him know a little about the history of the club," he said. "I don't think he realized the golf course was that old, and some of the people who played there over the years, and he was intrigued.
"I asked him to honor that tradition with whatever design he would come up with, and he said he would," Poloncarz said.
The South Park Golf Club, of which he is a former member, is also in agreement, Poloncarz said.
"The members of the golf club, which is one of the oldest in the area and is an original signatory to the Buffalo District Golf Association, would accept moving the golf course to the Hopkins (Street) site as long as we had a comparable nine-hole golf course or better," he said.
Poloncarz said he doubts an 18-hole golf course could fit within the parameters of the 107 acres that the non-profit, Nicklaus Olmsted Buffalo, purchased in June for $650,000 on Hopkins Street, near South Park. He said he has been told only about 100 acres are usable.
"You need about 140 acres to do an 18-hole course," Polancarz said. "You can do a nine-hole course between 70 and 90 acres, and you can have a clubhouse and practice area."
Poloncarz said he didn't think a smaller golf course would be quite the draw that Gaughan has suggested, although he said the South park Golf Club would be content with that size.
"Kevin has talked about people coming all over the world for this, but I don't know people who are going to do that for a nine-hole golf course in South Buffalo," he said. "I don't see that happening, and I've golfed my entire life."
Poloncarz said he conveyed his concern to both Gaughan and Nicklaus that the costs to users remain affordable, and he received commitments from both they would be. But his experience as county executive has shown him how difficult that could turn out to be, Poloncarz said.
"Financially, it would not be easy to do," Poloncarz said. "I know how much it costs to run a golf course because Erie County runs two of them. If you're building and spending millions of dollars to build a golf course, and you have to spend millions of dollars annually to operate it, it's not easy necessarily to do that when you're charging $22 a round of golf."
Poloncarz said he recognized the golf course should move if it can result in the full restoration of South Park's arboretum, long a goal of Olmsted parks supporters.
"South Park is truly a jewel," Poloncarz said. "We realize there is this jewel in our community, and if we're able to get a course that's just as nice or better, we would not stand in front of the opportunity for the community to see the original arboretum rebuilt as Olmsted envisioned."