Too much water could shutter Mpls. golf course

The rules at Hiawatha Public Golf Course in Minneapolis
A sign at the Hiawatha Public Golf Course in Minneapolis reminds golfers of the rules as one golfer practices his swing on Tuesday.
George Dornbach | MPR News

The Hiawatha Golf Club in south Minneapolis sits so that it floods every once in a while.

To combat this, the city for years has pumped hundreds of gallons of groundwater from the course to keep it dry and open.

But the city recently found out it was pumping more water into Lake Hiawatha than the state allowed.

So, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will vote Wednesday afternoon on a measure that would reduce groundwater pumping.

Parks Commissioner Steffanie Musich thinks there's enough votes for the measure to pass, which would effectively close the course.

The course isn't aligned with state statutes for groundwater appropriations, said Michael Schroeder, the park board's assistant superintendent for planning.

"We have a permit to pump 36.5 million gallons of groundwater, we're pumping 242 million gallons of groundwater," Schroeder said. "We're pumping eight times as much groundwater as we're allowed to by the DNR."

Hiawatha isn't exactly the top end of golf. The airport's runway often sends planes right over the course.

But it's affordable, with greens fees of $26 for 18 holes and $16 for nine. And it has plenty of loyal golfers, like Craig Nichols.

"I think it's a great community resource. I think it's a place where people can meet and talk. It's just a good place to bring your family," said Nichols, who lives a few blocks from the course. "My daughter loved going over there with me. You know, if you go over there on an evening there's lot of people with their kids, lots of young couples are golfing together."

Nichols has started groups on social media to oppose closing it.

He said the inexpensive, public course gives people access to a sport that's usually set aside for the wealthy.

"The people who golf at that golf course are not rich people. And I think that's important," he said.

Nichols said he understands the water issue, but he wishes more scenarios were being considered. He'd like to see the 83-year-old course stay open.

The issues with the course are both financial and environmental, said Musich.

"[The club] has not broken even or brought in more revenue than it costs to run in quite some time," she said. "There's that issue to take into consideration, but the bigger issue, I think, is the pumping that we're doing."

Continuing with pumping won't address any of the underlying groundwater issues at the site, she said.

The park board runs five other 18-hole golf courses. And Musich said the park board's likely decision doesn't necessarily mean the end of golf at Hiawatha.

"Just because we can't have an 18-hole course at this site due to the ground water issues, that does not mean that as we move forward with planning the future of this site that there is not a place for conversation about golf being a part of that redesigned park space," Musich said.

If the park board votes to reduce groundwater pumping, the course would close in two or three years.

George Dornbach contributed to this report

Correction (Aug. 9, 2017): An earlier version of this story misspelled the names of Craig Nichols and Steffanie Musich and misstated the age of the Hiawatha Golf Club. It opened in 1934.