Jim Harris: Why Has the City Been So Secretive About Its Golf Plans?


I will have to remember a fun round of golf I played late last August in a Thursday evening two-man scamble at Hindman Park as the last time I saw that Little Rock public course. It closed last Friday. I might have been able to make it one more time, this past Saturday, when I don’t usually work and the weather was perfect, but the City of Little Rock didn’t afford the public a last full weekend before closing Hindman.

What the leaders of the City of Little Rock must believe – including the city board, the new mayor and his devoted followers, and a Parks and Recreation Department that seems to keep all the pertinent facts secret – is that they produce enough bullshit on their own to keep up the facilities before they shut them down. Fertilizer, not to mention weed killer, is no longer needed.

This all makes perfect sense now: If you want to convince the masses that nobody is playing the courses anymore, let the playing surfaces degrade to deplorable and you’ll get your wish — no one will play. That was the city’s game plan all along.

Also, make sure to follow PR 101, rule 8C, and put out numbers that most suit your argument. Don’t say that 10,000 or so rounds were played at Hindman last year, or even explain where you came up with that number. No, rather, divide that five-figure number by the number of days in a year (even though Little Rock has at least 100 days a year that are mostly unplayable for golf, and Hindman’s annual flooding probably knocks out many more) and come up with really disheartening figures for the golf community, where you can say Hindman Park averaged 28 golfers a day last year. Then sell that as an accurate indicator that the game of golf is wasting this wonderful city acreage that could serve thousands of others, like the disk golfers and mountain bikers.

No, I’ve been convinced that our novice mayor decided even before the runoff election results were final late last December that two of the big three public golf courses in Little Rock were getting axed. I’d say from the looks of things, Parks and Rec officials were angling in that direction well before that. They just couldn’t say it out loud. And that’s what is most concerning, not that golf is going away at two sentimental but out-dated tracts in Little Rock, but that the city is going about this in such a shady way.

As I said last week, both Hindman Park and War Memorial Park are past due for closing, both having been beaten down by time and care and the changing game of golf itself. Yes, there are millions of people trying golf now in nontraditional ways (that means non-golf-course-type places like Topgolf, which I have to say I LOVED when I played it recently in a St. Louis suburb). On the plus side, War Memorial has served families as a great beginner course, it doesn’t require much money or golf talent to play, and it has been a great neighborhood destination for local Hillcrest residents. Its quirkiness can be a joy for the not-easily-frustrated golfer, which is why those really great state amateurs golfers have loved the course’s annual Fourth of July Classic.

Truth is, though, the city has all but made sure no one really cared outside of a few hundred golfers. What may be saddest for me today, though, is seeing that while War Memorial will remain open for its traditional Classic this week, then close after Sunday’s final round, they probably shouldn’t have bothered with it. I’ll address that momentarily.

If you played either of these courses recently, you’d see why play is down. What the City of Little Rock and Parks and Rec failed to tell the board of directors (and who on there plays golf?) and the mayor (who I’d guess has never played golf and may not be able to find the local courses) is that they apparently quit taking care of anything but basic mowing since the year started. At Hindman, from midsummer last year on, there were large areas of no grass on fairways, thick and bouncy turf on the greens, and more examples of a lack of full attention.

But War Memorial is the biggest shock for me. I played there yesterday (Sunday, June 30). They have their 87th Classic coming up starting Thursday. Point of fact: Initially, reporters on hand for the decisive City Board meeting about the courses reported that the facilities would close June 28. Obviously, somebody had to remind our non-golf-playing mayor later that “Hey, Mr. Mayor, War Memorial already has an ASGA-designated golf tournament scheduled there, the Fourth of July Classic, you know, the one they’ve played there since 1933.” And our mayor likely then said, “OK, we’ll close it on July 5. They can play their Fourth of July Classic.” 

Being as he told me via Twitter the course would now close July 5 (actually, it will be at end-of-day July 7), I don’t think it ever dawned on him the Classic is not a one-day, July 4 event, but rather a three-day tournament.

Anyway, I found War Memorial’s greens Sunday almost unplayable for anything but the most casual of rounds. There doesn’t appear to be much effort to prep the course for a major tournament, not like in years’ past. And by major, I mean that for years and years the Arkansas State Golf Association folks and the better amateurs in the state have praised this event as being one of Arkansas’s “major” tournaments along with the ASGA’s stroke play and match play events and the Maumelle Classic, even if it’s staged on a course now better suited for windmills and clowns’ mouths. For gosh sakes, just look at the names of some past winners: PGA golfers John Daly, Stan Lee and Ken Duke (Ken, now playing the PGA Tour Champions senior circuit, was the first to win three in a row); state Hall of Famer Chris Jenkins literally owned the trophy for what seemed like a generation, when he wasn’t outdueled at the finish by Jay Fox, Alex Carpenter, Joey Nichols or couple others.

I can’t imagine the course’s Champion Bermuda greens, the top-of-the-line putting surface if you’re going with Bermudagrass, in worse shape as July begins. Yes, we’ve had lots of rain and weird temps and all for April, May and even into June. But it’s also apparent the city cut off most funding, too. One broken sprinkler has highway cones surrounding it in the middle of a fairway. There are parts of the course that look like it was recently used for football game parking. It’s downright sad. I was looking forward to getting my butt whipped in the match play portion of the tournament one last time; I’ll sit it out now.

Realize that I’ve seen a good War Memorial greenskeeping crew make these greens play like high-falutin’ country club putting surfaces in past years. What I saw the other day were signs of crabgrass and other weeds, big brown pockmarks and the looks of blight or fungus or something going on. Of course something IS going on: They’re being allowed to die from neglect, because after Sunday these surfaces won’t serve as putting greens ever again.

Expect a few frustrated golfers to play the final Fourth of July Classic this week, unless they all go into it expecting little more than a bad joke being played on them by Parks and Rec, the mayor and a few other city smart guys and gals. Little Rock city leadership chose not to publicize it, but obviously there was no intent whatsoever to have the two courses playable, beyond being mowed, in 2019.

Meanwhile, the city plans to reimagine First Tee of Central Arkansas as Hindman Park II, moving two full-time people over there from Hindman, already dismissing the well-liked First Tee greens superintendent who was doing AMAZING things with their greens (I’m told he quickly landed a six-figure job in Dallas after a couple of phone calls, and he’s THAT good), and force-feeding this course – with nine regulation-size holes and a par-3 pitch-and-putt short nine – to its aging, dwindling Hindman clientele.

Oh, there is a bit of good news: First Tee will now be open Mondays, along with the rest of the week, and it will be open early now on Sundays instead of waiting for the church crowd to make it home to change.

And the big news for public golf hackers, we’re told, is that they’ll sell beer at First Tee. Jack Stephens has to be spinning over that. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if the city would make all this known, now, if not earlier than now, with perhaps a press release that’s carried by the local news outlets, instead of hearing this through the proverbial grapevine? It’s almost like the city leaders could not care less if anyone plays golf or that their remaining courses make money.

Lady- Golf


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