Proposals For Huron Hills Golf Course

Ann Arbor’s city golf courses have been the subject of much discussion over the past two years. With some questionable accounting measures, the city claims that they’ve been taking a loss and has been looking for ways to make them profitable. Leslie Park seems to be out of the woods, with a marked improvement in course conditions and the addition of an alcohol license. But the future of the lower end Huron Hills has been very much in doubt.

Huron Hills has been a unique course. The front seven, located on one side of Huron Parkway, is utterly boring, perfectly flat pasture golf. Holes 8 – 18, however, are more interesting, fixed on a ruggedly hilly stretch on the other side of the parkway. Until recent years, it’s been walking only. The appeal of the course has been mainly to juniors and beginners. You can see photos of the course here.

Worth noting about Huron Hills—it’s a Tom Bendelow design, and thus may be worth saving for its historic value.

The City apparently now has two proposals in hand for the course. One would turn course management over to a non-profit. The other would lease the facility to Miles of Golf, the local golf shop/driving range/learning center. Miles would close nine of the holes for a new store, driving range and learning facilities, and maintain the other nine as a course.

I’ve read both proposals and think there’s merit in both. I like the non profit because it would keep the entire course open. However, with the abundance of local courses, and the downward pressure on prices, I don’t see how it can stay in the black. The team proposing the financial restructuring is strong, though, and they might be able to make it work.

The Miles of Golf proposal is more interesting. It keeps the better part of the course open, while adding a range, shop and learning center that would be able to subsidize the remaining nine holes. And, as there are eleven holes on that side of Huron Parkway, I wonder if there isn’t a way to reroute the course to turn one of the existing holes into a par 5. The back currently runs 4, 3, 4, 4, 3, 4, 3, 3, 4.

My suspicion is that if the city accepts either proposal, it’ll be the non profit one. It promises immediate savings and keeps the course as-is. Ann Arborites generally seem to fear any sort of development within the city, especially on areas that currently are greenspace. Heck, they like greenspace so much that they are buying up land around the city.

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6 thoughts on “Proposals For Huron Hills Golf Course”

  1. We have a City charter amendment that does not allow the City to sell parkland without voter approval.  Our elected officials seem to want to ignore the explicit guidance of the citizens regarding prior approval.  Instead, they have opted to use the long-term lease to circumvent the voter approved amendment.

    Either of the two RFP approachs violates the spirit of the law by allowing an organization to take control of City owned parkland.  Frankly, the non-profit proposal is not very realistic.  The proposers assume they can somehow wring costs out of an already very lean operation.  At least the Miles of Golf option has a chance of matching expenses with revenue.

    Ultimately, the City should recognize that recreational properties are not desinged for everyone.  We get no revenue from bike lanes, neighborhood parks or tennis courts.  Nonetheless, we all benefit from subsidizing various resident’s passions.

  2. I’m totally in agreement with you on the other recreational properties. No one is asking the other facilities to make money. If you don’t play tennis or own a dog, why should you be asked to subsidize courts and dog parks.

    Miles probably has the best chance of keeping at least part of the course open, because it can subsidize operations. But I wonder if the non profit could pull it off by reducing prices and making Huron Hills THE low-price, family oriented place to play. It’s currently the only place I feel comfortable taking my low-skilled boys to play.

  3. “Golf is the least essential of non-essential government services.”—Governing magazine.

    I like to play golf, but there are plenty of people trying to make a buck by running a privately owned golf course. There’s no need for a local government to compete against those people. Instead, government should focus on the things that haven’t got a record of private-sector success, such as bike lanes or neighborhood parks.

    All this said, the AA city council ought to follow the law for dealing with such matters.

  4. NB—you’re on to something there. But in that case, I think it’s the “better” city course, Leslie Park, that should be shuttered. That’s the track that most nearly competes with privately owned courses in the area. Huron Hills offers something none of the others do—an entry level course.

  5. Huron Hills Golf Course has been operated by the city of Ann Arbor since the 1950’s. It is an important asset to the community as an open space park and entry-level course for juniors, seniors, and regular players who just want to get out and play the game for fun without the competitive pressures of a more advanced course like Leslie.

    Operationally, Huron Hills pays for itself (within a few percentage points). Regardless of the winning bidder, the $1/2 million additional
    fees levied on both courses by the City (costs for the Mayor, City Administrator, etc.) would likely then be passed on to Leslie alone. That in turn would force the last A2 course to be ‘privatized’ in order to resolve the same financial woes now being claimed by the city.

    The Ann Arbor Golf non-profit team could easily manage Huron Hills by shaving off a few percent in costs or by enhancing its revenue.
    However, the city (read Administrator) is bent on inviting Miles of Golf in to become cash cow or development patsy (hence the quiet RFP to ‘investigate’ commercial golf ideas).

    The sad fact is that Miles of Golf is a well-run but very small company. It could make more money if it had 114 acres of perfectly placed, tax-free land to develop under a 20 year lease, with the city chipping in an additional $3.2 million bond to help, but then who couldn’t?
    If it were to somehow fail, the city could then convince voters they must sell all immediately to cover their debt. Not that any big-money developer would want to change the beautiful landscape of Huron Hills Golf Course.

    Roger Fraser and his stooges should all be fired for their inept attempt to cut costs and raise capital. The city could easily improve its budget
    by bonding to build more green power and food production for a sustainable golf future than by bonding for more high-rise tenets, parking lots, and convention centers. That endlessly-expanding population story actually costs more per taxpayer – if it ever happens.


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