Requiem for a heavyweight

Requiem for a heavyweightBY ED FELIEN

Someone criticized me in a public forum saying, “Ed and the rest of the Hiawatha duffers are purposefully ignoring the facts because they want to continue to do what they have always done, where they have done it, whenever they want to do it; we’ve wasted enough time and money on them and their damned mindless activities.”

By all means, let’s look at the facts.

The Park Board wants to close Hiawatha Golf Course.  Their resolution says:  “RESOLVED, That the Board of Commissioners direct staff to apply for a Groundwater Appropriations Permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conforming to a reduced groundwater pumping scenario.”

The staff, led by a coalition of lame-duck commissioners headed by Steffanie Musich, wants to close the golf course, and the excuse they are giving is that the pumping necessary to keep the course dry enough to play exceeds the amount of water in the DNR permit.  The DNR hadn’t complained.  But the Park Board went to them and confessed to the crime and promised to reduce the pumping.

Earlier (in the Whereas part of the Resolution) the staff cite the engineering authority they say justified closing the course.  The resolution said, “Whereas, The MPRB engaged Barr Engineering Company (Barr) to investigate conditions related to groundwater pumping and its effects on Hiawatha Golf Course and surrounding properties, and the City of Minneapolis (City) engaged Barr to investigate storm water conditions in the areas surrounding and including Hiawatha Golf Course, and both agencies engaged Barr to develop alternatives for water management that would consider a range of groundwater pumping scenarios; Whereas, Barr prepared a series of water management alternatives and in concert with MPRB and City staff performed an initial screening of alternatives that identified two alternatives for more thorough assessments of property impacts, regulatory approval potential, water quality.”

In addition to describing what would happen if you reduced pumping at Hiawatha, the Barr Study also said you could lower the level of Lake Hiawatha (and, thereby, reduce the threat of flooding and the need for pumping) by removing the dam at 27th Avenue.  But that’s an Inconvenient Fact that the Park Board chose to ignore.

According to the Barr Engineering Minnehaha Creek Survey there is a 4-foot drop from the lake level at 812 feet above sea level to the base of the dam that is 808 feet above sea level.
Remove the dam and you lower the water level of Lake Hiawatha.  That’s pretty elementary physics.
But the critic says, “We’ve wasted enough time and money on them and their damned mindless activities.”

As I’ve said before: “Golf revenues for all the courses in 2015 were $4,786,526. Expenses were $5,081,284. Golf lost $294,758, about 6% of its budget, and that had to be made up from the General Fund. Skiing had revenues of $118,448 and expenses of $823,682. Skiing lost $705,234, about 85% of its budget, and that had to be made up from the General Fund. Nobody’s talking about doing away with skiing because they lost money—or baseball, tennis or soccer, for that matter.”

Requiem for a heavyweightCharlie Casserly, who grew up a stone’s throw from the outlet on 27th Avenue, stands on the dam in 1974 after it was installed, along with two of his siblings. The water level was more than a foot lower than the top of the dam. The 2014 Golf Convergence Study of Minneapolis municipal courses (commissioned by the Park Board) said Hiawatha was the course most likely to make money because of its location, and within a five-mile radius there are more than 8,000 active golfers.

And “mindless”???  Golf is a form of meditation.  You focus on everything and nothing.  More than any other sport it requires mental concentration.  It is frustrating and enlightening, but it is not “mindless.” It’s much more like “mindfulness.”

You say, “Ed and the rest of the Hiawatha duffers.”  Did you ever wonder where the term duffer comes from?  Duff was a common Gaelic name dating back to the 13th century. Mulligan?  obviously a slur against the Irish.  A Mulligan is a name for playing a second ball instead of playing the ball you just shot.  The prejudice of the English against the Irish and the Scots was made clear to me when I heard one of the starters say, “If you can’t keep up, play Paddy Golf: pick up your ball and place it farther down the hole.”

Prevailing prejudices meant restricted membership in private courses.  Golf courses were private until the end of the 19th century, and “No Irish Need Apply.”  Publicly owned municipal courses ended this prejudice, and golf became accessible to everyone by the early 20th century.

Hiawatha opened in 1934 and from its beginning it was open to everyone in South Minneapolis.  Blacks, Latinos, Asians, South Asians, Somalis— all play at Hiawatha.  In 1939 Hiawatha hosted the first African-American golf tournament in the country, the Upper Midwest Bronze Amateur Tournament.  Blacks were not admitted as members to Augusta National, the home of The Masters, until 1990.  Women weren’t allowed as members at Augusta until 2012.

One of the legends I grew up with, living a couple of blocks from Hiawatha, was that heavyweight champion Joe Louis, The Brown Bomber, hit a five iron on the third hole and put it through a picture window across 43rd Street at one of the early Bronze Tournaments.

It will be a shame to lose this community and cultural resource.

It’s not closing because of the money.  Of all the City courses it could be the most profitable, and it has contributed money to the general fund to finance other sports activities for most of its existence.
It’s not closing because it’s not natural.  What’s natural about damming up Lake Hiawatha and raising the water table by four feet?  If people really want Lake Hiawatha to return to its natural state, then they should ask the Park Board and the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District to take down the dam at 27th Avenue.  If they did that, they would lower the water level of Lake Hiawatha and the water table in the surrounding neighborhood.  They could probably eliminate the need for pumping altogether, and the natural wetland of Lake Hiawatha would probably stay pretty much the way it is right now.

One of the newer legends at Hiawatha Golf Course is that before the great flood of 2014, Park Board Commissioner Steffanie Musich brought her family out to play golf on a Sunday afternoon at Hiawatha.  They had clearly never played before and they were holding up play.  Tee times for foursomes start every 8 minutes.  A Ranger went down and threw them off the course and refunded their money with tokens for the driving range.  So, when the flood came and the course flooded, many people at the golf course believe, Musich must have thought, “This is a great time to get even.”

The Park Board candidates respond
We sent a One-Question Questionnaire to all candidates running for Park Board: Southside Pride is very interested in your position regarding Hiawatha Golf Course. Would you support keeping the 18-hole course?

Meg Forney, the only at-large incumbent running for re-election, answered: “Yes, I did not support the resolution to reduce groundwater pumping at Hiawatha based on three reasons.  Although I respect our park staff and Barr Engineering’s analysis, I am still optimistic that a resolve can be found.  Secondly, Hiawatha is a revenue producer—note please: It is not a profit maker.  But contrary to other assets in the park system, Hiawatha has helped to sustain itself. The impact on the taxpayer needs to be seriously weighed. Lastly, the fact that the Bronze Tournament originated here gives it historic importance. Since 1959, this tournament has been taking place in Minneapolis, started because of racial barriers for African-American golfers. In a time when there are so many racial disparities, the impact of loss of this community asset is profound.”

Mike Derus, another citywide candidate, wrote: “I have been doing research on the proposed changes to the Hiawatha Golf Course and I have come to the conclusion that we need to preserve and protect this course. Hiawatha has historic and practical value from an equity standpoint. Hiawatha is the first course in Minneapolis that allowed minorities to play, which I believe to be significant and worth preserving on its own merit.

“In addition, the neighborhood by and large does not appear to want the proposed changes. I know that if changes were being proposed in my neighborhood I would want my elected officials to give serious consideration to our opinions. I think we should extend the same courtesy to the impacted neighborhoods.

“I hope we can preserve this course for generations to come.”

Charlie Casserly, another at-large candidate, wrote: “Yes, I do support keeping Hiawatha at 18 holes. That’s what I want, the current 18-hole championship format.

“Ed Felien is absolutely right about the dam/weir at the outlet of Lake Hiawatha into Minnehaha Creek.

“Today, and for decades, the top of the weir is well under water, even during drought years. The lake level has risen artificially, there can be no doubt of that.

“Is the high water today the reason the golf course pumps have to work? I’d say likely. And is the dam/weir the reason there’s high water? I’d say there are likely multiple causes.

“If the watershed district likes to keep water flowing in the creek, that’s an admirable goal. Perhaps it is ‘unsustainable’ to do so. If we remove the dam/weir, the creek may run dry again as it did in the past, between rains. I can live with that.

“Let’s find a solution, or solutions, and save Hiawatha Golf Course.”

Those are the three responses we have received from the three at-large candidates. There are three open slots. You can vote for all three.

There are three candidates running for the Park Board seat from District 3, which includes all of the Phillips/Powderhorn delivery area. Two candidates responded to our One-Question Questionnaire:

Candidate Abdi Gurhan Mohamed wrote: “I look forward to having a strong community engagement and output in regards to Hiawatha Golf Course. It’s important that their voices are heard and they have a say in it. We have a lot at stake, and all parties involved have to come up with a solution that serves everyone.  I seek to be a fiscally prudent elected official so will analyse the pros and cons of the golf course seriously, and data will drive my decision making. I believe elected officials work for the voters, and it’s only fair that they listen to the communities they serve and take notes and implement the needs of the residents.”

Candidate Charles Exner wrote: “The MPRB must properly honor the history of the Hiawatha Golf Course as well as the wishes of those who use it as they proceed with the 6-3 decision to transition the golf course into a multi-use space, and end the illicit and ecology-blind water pumping that threatens homes and our environment. To respect the legacy of the course to African-American golfers, the park building should feature an exhibit of the effects of segregated sports and the importance of and struggle for diversity in athletics. As a compromise with the current golf aficionados, I support implementing a driving range and/or the consistently lucrative and family-friendly Putt-Putt course in the multi-use space. The other half can honor our indigenous history by becoming a food forest intermingled with native bog plants.”

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