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Don't bogey the Nicklaus project

Don't bogey the Nicklaus project

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Golf legend Jack Nicklaus and Buffalo's Kevin Gaughan discuss their plans for new golf courses in Buffalo in 2018. Gaughan is a making a final push for donations to build the first phase of the project, which would have a generational impact on the city. (Mark Mulville/News file photo)

Community activist Kevin Gaughan is making a final push. If by this summer, he cannot raise the money needed to leverage million of dollars in national donations, he said he will drop his plan to build two Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses in Buffalo.

It will be unfortunate, if it comes to that. Buffalo will suffer an unnecessary, unforced loss. There’s time to make sure it doesn’t come to that.

What is needed immediately is $250,000. With that, Gaughan believes, he can produce the $10 million needed to complete the first phase of the project – designing and building a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course in South Buffalo. The total cost of the project is estimated at $30 million.

Gaughan has proposed a creative project in which Nicklaus has agreed to design a signature course on property adjacent to South Park, whose own golf course would be abolished. That, in turn, would allow for construction of the arboretum envisioned by the park’s revered architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. The plan also includes construction of a new education center for inner city children. Finally, if all goes well, Nicklaus would shrink, redesign and improve the golf course that now dominates much of Delaware Park and puts it off limits to non-golfers.

It is a visionary idea, one that would put Buffalo on the map for committed golfers, while keeping the game affordable for local players. It would also make far better use of two of the city’s prime Olmsted parks.

But it costs money. If Gaughan is correct, those funds can be found, with just a little local effort.

Of the $10 million needed, nearly $8 million has already been committed from sources around the country, including some interested in preserving Olmsted’s legacy, Gaughan said. But those donors first want to see a $2 million demonstration of local interest. That’s fair.

Of that, Gaughan believes he has commitments for most, if not all, of that money. But, as with the national donors, the local givers first want to kick the tires. For that, Gaughan needs a formal, detailed business plan laying out the project’s fiscal bona fides. That, he says, will cost $250,000.

So, reviewing: By raising $250,000, Gaughan believes he can light a fuse that will allow him and Nicklaus to complete the first phase of a transformative project that will benefit Buffalo for generations to come. Assuming the $250,000 business plan offers the necessary reassurances, it leverages roughly $2 million in local donations which, in turn, produces an $8 million avalanche in national giving.

Gaughan is careful to include the appropriate cautions. He believes his numbers are correct, but notes that things can change and promised funds sometimes don’t appear. That’s as true in this philanthropic project as it is in any other. The only guarantee here is that Buffalo will miss a bet if it lets this one get away.

But this is real. Gaughan has been grinding on this project for more than four years. He has won at least lukewarm support from the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy. He has already purchased a 107-acre plot adjacent to South Park for the new golf course.

Nicklaus, the greatest golfer the game has ever known and now a designer of high-level courses, is committed to the project. He is donating his services to help make it happen. He has visited Buffalo and, now, has filmed television spots with Gaughan that are running on WGRZ.

As Gaughan said, the question today is if Buffalo wants this and if the community will produce the comparatively small amount of money needed to open the funding spigots. He’s giving it one more try.

“I’ve promised Jack that if we don’t do it this year we will have to move on.” It’s a matter of fairness, he said.

The possibility should make Western New Yorkers blanche. This is a gift; we need to do our part to make sure it’s delivered.

To make a tax-deductible donation, go to the project’s website,

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