Hiawatha Golf Course saga continues

Darwin Dean
Photo by Charles Hallman

Community members fight to preserve historic landmark

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) is expected to vote on a resolution Wednesday, August 3 to hold a public meeting on the fate of Hiawatha Golf Course in South Minneapolis.

 A Park Board spokesperson told the MSR that the resolution, passed by its Planning Committee on July 20, is only a directive for the board to hold a meeting no earlier than August 17.  

Since a major flooding of the course in 2014, MPRB has been looking at the historic Hiawatha course. A resulting “Master Plan” calls for reducing it from 18 holes to nine holes. The plan has drawn much criticism from community members, course regulars and others, and has been defeated several times when brought to a vote at board meetings.  

 The Bronze Foundation has led an effort to preserve Hiawatha and improve it as well. An application to have it designated as a historic landmark was recently submitted to the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office and would eventually go to the National Park Service in Washington, D.C.

Others want the Park Board to fully recognize Hiawatha’s significance to the Black community as the first golf course to allow Blacks to play there and as a gathering place for Black residents and others over the years.

“I was at that [July Park Board] meeting,” noted Bronze Foundation President Darwin Dean. His organization is currently working with others on an alternative plan that would preserve Hiawatha’s 18 holes as well as help address the longstanding water issue. 

He told the MSR that the board is rushing too quickly to get their plan approved and has basically ignored the community’s wishes to keep it as is, as well as not waiting on the ruling that would determine if the golf course would be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.. “I voiced my opinion…and I let them know that I was disappointed,” added Dean.

“This current board, they’re not listening to the community,” he continued. “They’re not listening to what the community wants. Their agenda is not the community’s agenda,” Dean said.

Charles A. Birnbaum, president and CEO of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, told the MSR last week that the application is still pending. “If the Hiawatha Golf Club is determined to be National Register-eligible, we would hope the Park Board [would] act appropriately” and heed its findings, he stressed.

“They [the Park Board] know that we’re trying to get this golf course on the national registry,” said Dean outside the Hiawatha’s Solomon Hughes, Sr. clubhouse last Thursday prior to his organization’s annual Bronze Golf Tournament regularly played at the course.  

“They know that we have an alternative plan that we’re trying to develop and hope to release next year that will not only clean up the water, but clean up the surrounding areas, assist with the flooding that the community is concerned with, and make it more environmentally sound.”

However, some believe that the MPRB is bound and determined to push their plan through.  Robert Foster of St. Paul, who regularly plays at Hiawatha, expressed his concern on the course’s ultimate fate.

“I’d like to see it be saved,” said Foster, “but I know that it’s gonna be hard…because there’s so many obstacles in the way.” No matter what the MPRB decides, “[They] have to spend the money. They can fix up all the other courses but they can’t fix this [one]?” 

Solomon Hughes, Jr., whose late father Solomon Hughes, Sr.’s name is on the Hiawatha Clubhouse, reaffirmed, “My family’s against changing the course. I’ve said this on record many times.”

“I want to do the right thing,” said Dean. “I’ve been involved with that process [of saving the course] for four years now. The right thing is simply this: I’m a spiritual individual. God is driving my spirit to be involved with this process and preserve the golf course for the youth of tomorrow, and they can see the cultural and historical value that this golf course actually means to this community.”

The MSR will continue to follow this story as it develops.

Updated 8/3/2022: This story was updated to note that the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office and National Park Service in Washington, D.C. will determine if Hiawatha Golf Course is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, not the Cultural Landscape Foundation.