Hiawatha Golf Course ‘compromise’ widely denounced
On February 17 the Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board (MPRB) approved a motion to reduce the Hiawatha Golf Course in Minneapolis to nine holes in order to prepare for cost-effective water management and better flood-mitigation. Originally 18 holes, the proposed course downsizing has raised concerns among many Blacks, Indigenous, and other People of Color in the Twin Cities’ community—especially Black golfers.
The Save Hiawatha 18 committee, a group of local golfers dedicated to preserving the course as 18 holes, has steadily worked to hold the Park Board accountable for initial plans to close the prized landmark. They attended years of Community Advisory Committee (CAC) meetings seeking to educate the community and the Park Board about the rich culture of the Hiawatha Golf Course. Their website provides resources for following their progress and obtaining lawn signs in support of saving the golf course’s original layout.
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In 2020, the Park Board amended their original plan from March 2015 to shut down the golf course, deciding to restructure the entire course to avoid closure, known as the Master Plan for the Nokomis-Hiawatha Regional Park Area. This plan would eliminate the existing 18 holes and reconstruct nine new holes to maintain the current flood plain and avoid pushing future flood waters to neighboring homes.
However, such a change to the plan once brought concerns of increased flooding and park congestion; it now raises additional concerns about the erasure of a rich culture and community history. Who gets to decide what remains and what goes?
The course opened in 1934 in South Minneapolis’ Standish-Ericsson neighborhood. When White-owned golf tourneys did not allow Black golfers to play, the players began to host their own events, including one at Hiawatha Golf Course. This has extended into years of Black golfers finding a home at the course, including a visit from the famed Tiger Woods in the 1990s.
Tyler Pederson, the MPRB design project manager, presented the master plan at the February 17 MPRB meeting. He said that the board had an obligation to ecology along with preservation, conservation and restoration. The current course downsizing issue extends beyond the number of holes as it adds more pressure on the MPRB to listen to the concerns of the Black community. Pederson referred to efforts to include these responsibilities in the plan, centering it on honoring Black history and hiring more people of color at courses.
Discussing how the board got to this point, Pederson added, “We had nine public meetings, dozens of email updates, four surveys, and several in-person meetings. A video presentation of the plan was viewed by more than 2,800 people.”
There are detailed plans on the MPRB website regarding the overall master plan, which is expected to take years to fully implement. According to the master plan, the project has an estimated cost of $43 million.
Pederson acknowledged that there is much more work to be done, calling the master plan a starting point. “It’s a really good compromise,” stated CAC chair David Kaplan. Many did not share his sentiments.
The February 17 board meeting provided some time for members of the public to speak. Charles Rodgers, a Save Hiawatha 18 organizer, said, “This board has some racial problems. It is a slap in the face for six White commissioners to decide what Black history is important. Your plan just doesn’t make any sense.”
Commissioner Londel French expressed disappointment that people seemed more concerned about Mother Nature, questioning where their concerns are for Black and Brown lives. “It’s really odd that now we want to talk about the environment and Mother Nature and do the right thing. But for years we haven’t done the right thing for Black folks, we haven’t done the right thing for Indigenous folks, but now we want to do the right thing.”