Facing a shortage of soccer fields, park planners in St. Paul have identified one place to build new ones: on the Highland 9 golf course.
A plan to convert the nine-hole course in Highland Park into four turf fields, a skate park, pickleball courts and other amenities would cost $18 million to $22 million. Because the city doesn’t know where that money would come from, the project is likely a decade away from completion. But the proposal reflects the growing interest in soccer and the waning interest in golf that has led dozens of courses to close in recent years.
“We live in a built-up city, we have limited park space and we should continually re-examine if we are using our park space in the most efficient way, and in the way that supports the needs and the wants of people that live in the area,” said Council Member Chris Tolbert, who represents Highland Park. “Is 27 holes of golf the best use of our limited park space?”
There’s no plan to make changes to the adjacent 18-hole Highland National Golf Course.
Highland 9 had just shy of 20,000 rounds played last year, more than any year since 2009 but considerably down from 2005 when about 32,000 rounds were played.
The plan the Parks and Recreation Commission approved this month would add four multiuse fields accommodating soccer, baseball, lacrosse and football. Plans add pickleball courts, a skate park and two courts for futsal, a type of soccer played on a hard surface.
The project is at a standstill without funding to continue planning or begin construction. Brett Hussong, the project’s manager, said funding could come from the city’s capital improvement budget or from bonding dollars from the Legislature.
The plan could be carried out in phases, the first of which would retain golf, though the course would be reconfigured.
“It allows you, if you can’t find all the funding, to just build out portions of it,” Hussong said. “We are trying to be strategic and think about how it could be built out.”
Tolbert said he has heard support from residents and those involved in youth sports who would use the fields. But, as expected, some residents who play golf oppose the plan, he said.
At an October 2018 public meeting about the project, the second highest share of written comments favored keeping the nine-hole course.
“If we eliminate the most accessible (for many reasons) course in the neighborhood we will undoubtedly be shutting the door on many future golfers, both young and old,” one unnamed commenter wrote.
Since 2000, 73 of the state’s courses have closed, according to Foregonegolf.com, a website cataloging such closures.
Meanwhile, the demand for soccer is rising. Viktor Adamcsek, coaching director for the St. Paul Blackhawks Soccer Club, said he’s excited about the prospect of adding soccer fields in the city. He said the club sometimes schedules games in Blaine because of the shortage of fields in St. Paul.
Dylan Anderson is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.