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Editorial: Agreement moves Nicklaus golf course closer to reality

If the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy and the group behind Kevin Gaughan’s effort to bring a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course to South Buffalo were updating their Facebook pages, they could check two status boxes: “In a relationship” and “It’s complicated.”

The memorandum of understanding the groups announced on Tuesday was not a public display of affection, but it advances the goal of putting a Nicklaus “signature” course adjacent to South Park and modernizing the golf course at Delaware Park so that it occupies less space. Both would be beneficial to Buffalo and, with the new agreement, seem more likely to occur. It’s hopeful.

Gaughan, a civic advocate and lawyer, first pitched the plan to the conservancy in 2014. Gaughan’s late brother, Vincent Gaughan, worked for Nicklaus in Moscow.

The Conservancy, a nonprofit that oversees 850 acres of parks, parkways and circles designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, is protective of its turf and has never warmly embraced the Nicklaus project, nor Gaughan’s publicity campaign for it.

The memorandum includes an agreement that the conservancy and Nicklaus Olmsted Buffalo, the nonprofit headed by Gaughan, will speak with one voice when making announcements.

Nicklaus Olmsted Buffalo last June purchased a 107-acre tract of meadow, once owned by Republic Steel and adjacent to South Park. Under Gaughan’s plan, the new course would allow the South Park golf course to be removed and Olmsted’s arboretum to be restored. A vocational center to teach golf course-related skills to city youth is another part of Gaughan’s vision.

The agreement will represent a significant boost to Gaughan’s fundraising efforts. He needs to demonstrate local financial support for the project in order to attract donors from outside the region.

Gaughan said Tuesday that new funding will pay for two studies on which the project depends. One is a feasibility study on revamping the course at Delaware Park; the other, a study on building the Nicklaus signature course on the South Buffalo land, as a possible replacement for the South Park course.

Stephanie Crockatt, executive director of the conservancy, says her group’s support for the project depends largely on what the studies show.

“We haven’t reached any foregone conclusions yet,” Crockatt said in a meeting Tuesday with The News’ editorial board. “People start getting nervous thinking that there are shovels going in the ground – nothing’s going in the ground. We still need to see how it could be a benefit to everybody.”

Crockatt also emphasized that the City of Buffalo, which owns the parks, will need to sign off on any agreements involving park land.

Gaughan, who meets periodically with Nicklaus in the golfer’s Florida home, said the 79-year-old Nicklaus is excited to work on a civic-focused project.

“His intention is to make it a recreation space like no other in America,” Gaughan told The News.

Nicklaus Olmsted Buffalo enhanced its credibility when it enlisted Peter Hunt, chairman and CEO of Hunt Real Estate, as a member of its board of directors. Hunt on Tuesday said attracting capital to the golf effort will be a catalyst for other projects to enhance the Olmsted parks. As Crockatt said, the conservancy understands that it’s not 1868 anymore and that some modernization needs to take place. A Jack Nicklaus course would be a great way to start.

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