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Editorial: Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course is a birdie for Buffalo

Will Kevin Gaughan’s vision of a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course in South Buffalo come to fruition? There are no guarantees, but the project is showing tangible signs of progress. That’s good for Buffalo.

Gaughan, the lawyer and civic activist, announced over the weekend that Nicklaus Olmsted Buffalo Inc. has gained $5 million in financial commitments for the course project that will cost an estimated $10 million. Preliminary work on the site, including mowing and soil testing, is to begin in April, Gaughan told The News.

Gaughan’s nonprofit organization last June purchased a 107-acre tract of meadow that once was owned by Republic Steel. The land is adjacent to South Park, a Frederick Law Olmsted-designed park that includes a city golf course.

Under Gaughan’s vision, the new course would allow the South Park golf course to be removed and Olmsted’s arboretum to be restored. A vocational center for city youth for learning about land and water conservation, botany and agronomy is another part of the plan, as is having Nicklaus redesign the public golf course at Delaware Park to take up less space. The total price tag is an estimated $42 million.

The $5 million in commitments, Gaughan said, are contingent on him beginning the South Buffalo golf course project and demonstrating its sustainability.

How the course sustains itself financially is an unanswered question. Gaughan has vowed the course would charge below-market greens fees for golfers who live in Buffalo, with likely escalating fees for others. Gaughan has said his plan includes funding a $12 million trust for the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy to maintain the courses and education center. That will be important to the project’s success.

It also remains to be seen whether the Olmsted conservancy and Mayor Byron W. Brown’s administration will warm to the project. They should, though both have distanced themselves from it in past comments.

The city is concerned about possible lost revenues if South Park or Delaware Park’s golf courses are closed for any significant period of time. And the conservancy is reluctant to cede control of anything involving the parks under its stewardship, regardless of the benefits for Buffalo.

Gaughan also announced the composition of the Nicklaus Olmsted Buffalo board of directors, which adds to the credibility of the whole venture. Members of the board include, among others, Mark Blue, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Buffalo Chapter; Peter Hunt of Hunt Real Estate; Omar Khan of UB’s School of Architecture and Planning; and James Wadsworth, a former chairman of Hodgson Russ and past chairman of the John R. Oishei Foundation.

Nicklaus, the golf legend with an extensive background in course design, visited Buffalo in September, touring the course at Delaware Park. He also mentioned that he has built at least two golf courses on brownfields. He said the South Buffalo site held a lot of promise. “There is zero there, so we could create anything,” he said.

Nicklaus deserves a chance to blend his vision with Buffalo’s golfing turf. Everyone has work to do.

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