First Tee puts $1 mil­lion plan on hold for talks on golf course sale

The Wichita Eagle (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY DION LEFLER

A prom­i­nent golf or­ga­ni­za­tion founded to teach the game to un­der­priv­i­leged youth has put a hold on its plans for a $1 mil­lion train­ing cen­ter at Wichita’s Mac­Don­ald Golf Course, pend­ing the out­come of a city re­quest for pro­pos­als aimed at sell­ing the course.

Tom West, the pres­i­dent of the First Tee of Greater Wichita, said in an e-mail this week that the or­ga­ni­za­tion is re­think­ing its plans be­cause it isn’t con­fi­dent that the ju­nior golfers they plan to teach would be wel­come on the course if it goes into pri­vate, for-profit own­er­ship.

“The First Tee has sus­pended any fur­ther de­vel­op­ment of the prop­erty un­til there is a res­o­lu­tion to the sale,” West said in the e-mail. “We will re-eval­u­ate our plans at that point.”

The e-mail was sent to mem­bers of the Park Board, who will de­cide whether to sell the course. It also went to nu­mer­ous city staff mem­bers and other stake­hold­ers in the city’s golf sys­tem.

West told The Ea­gle that First Tee has com­pleted the first phase of its planned de­vel­op­ment at the golf course, a $500,000 driv­ing range for First Tee par­tic­i­pants and other golfers.

“We’re just wait­ing for the grass to grow on it,” he said.

But he said First Tee might have to seek an­other site for its train­ing cen­ter if the city sells the course.

He said Mac­Don­ald is still con­sid­ered the best site be­cause it’s the clos­est to low-in­come ar­eas of north­east Wichita, the main tar­get au­di­ence for First Tee’s pro­gram.

Clapp Golf Course, at Harry

and Oliver, would be a po­ten­tial se­cond choice be­cause it’s also close to low-in­come neigh­bor­hoods, he said.

But Clapp is op­er­at­ing on life sup­port. Ear­lier this year, the Park Board voted to close it. That de­ci­sion was waved off by the City Coun­cil un­til a mas­ter plan can be com­pleted on how it could be re­de­vel­oped as a park, maybe with some golf com­po­nent.

The de­vel­op­ment of the First Tee cen­ter was hailed as a ma­jor pub­licpri­vate part­ner­ship for the golf sys­tem when it won unan­i­mous ap­proval at a City Coun­cil meet­ing April 3.

First Tee has agreed to in­vest $1.5 mil­lion in im­prove­ments at the course, in the $500,000 driv­ing range and $1 mil­lion ed­u­ca­tion cen­ter.

Un­der that agree­ment, the city would main­tain the driv­ing range and reap the $50,000 a year it’s ex­pected to gen­er­ate in rev­enue, while First Tee would get ac­cess to the course at off-peak times so its ju­nior golfers would have a place to play.

If the Park Board de­cides to sell Mac­Don­ald, the City Coun­cil won’t be able to stop it.

The city bought the course, which was the orig­i­nal Wichita Coun­try Club, back when the Park Board was a sep­a­rately elected body of gov­ern­ment and the board, not the city, still holds the deeds.

The pos­si­bil­ity of a sale arose when Johnny Stevens, a lo­cal de­vel­oper and for­mer tour­ing pro, made an un­so­licited of­fer to buy the course in Au­gust. City Hall has since is­sued a re­quest for pro­pos­als al­low­ing him and/ or any­one else who might be in­ter­ested to put in a bid to pur­chase Mac­Don­ald.

The dead­line for pro­pos­als to be filed is Tues­day, said city golf man­ager Troy Hen­dricks.

He said the pro­pos­als will be re­viewed by a board of three parks com­mis­sion­ers, three mem­bers of the city Golf Ad­vi­sory Board, and three mem­bers of the paid City Hall staff.

They plan to make a rec­om­men­da­tion at the Dec. 10 Park Board meet­ing.

Dion Lefler; 316-268-6527, @DionKansas

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