I had something of a revelation as I was thinking about the future of the Augusta Hills Golf Course recently. Or rather, apparently, the former Augusta Hills Golf Course.
The place has closed, apparently forever; and if the circumstances behind the closing are a bit odd, the future of the property is just as mysterious. What do you do with a place that’s been a golf course for decades?
First let’s go to the beginning, which would be the last Ice Age – a terrible time to play golf around here. Specifically, we were covered by a massive sheet of ice, which means it wasn’t a good time to do much of anything. But eventually the ice sheets retreated, leaving rolling hills and little kettle lakes that were soon surrounded by woods, meadows, deer and Native Americans. Maybe not in that order; but since there were no cars to thin them out, the deer were probably numerous enough to keep the Indians going.
Then all those illegal immigrants came in, calling themselves “settlers”. They looked around for a place to seat the new capital of Noble County, and settled on a place they called Augusta. This was in 1837, so I’ve gone through an awfully lot of history in a short time. Thank me later. Augusta was never a big town, and it can be assumed that most of what became the golf course was, at one time or another, simply farmland.
But time passes, and eventually the county seat ended up in Albion. The town of Augusta faded away, and its rolling hills became the perfect place for a nice, 18 hole golf course. Which went out of business, eventually.
Now, Augusta is just a short distance from Albion, and August Hills can be thought of as an Albion business, and I’m an Albion Town official. I always giggle a little when I think of myself as an “official”, but there you go. So it behooves me to do two things: Pay attention to the cause and effect of a business failure, and make $5 by betting someone I can find a way to use the word “behoove” in my column.
The short answer is that the economy stinks. That’s also the long answer.
A golf course would seem to be a place with low overhead, but think of the fuel it takes to keep all that land mowed, on property that can be used only during good weather -- but which is taxed year round. Add the cost of employees, and upkeep of everything from buildings to golf carts to buying those little flags to fighting off gophers, “Caddyshack” style. Now add to that the fact that other, brand new golf courses have been built around the area, adding competition that has nothing to do with sports.
I don’t play golf myself, because I can embarrass myself without paying for a membership, but I doubt the number of golfers has risen as quickly as the number of golf courses.
So, after various attempts to keep it going, our golf course is now gone. My question, as a member of the community and a town leader (insert giggle here), is: What’s going to be done with the property? It’s been bought, and you don’t buy a big piece of land without planning to use it for something.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
We know it’s not going to be used as a golf course. We can surmise that if a golf course can’t stay in business there, an amusement park complete with water slide is pretty much out of the question. The zoning can be changed, but it’s safe to assume putting any kind of industrial use would meet with a great deal of opposition.
At first glance, the best use for a piece of property that large, in that location, would be for a housing development. Nice middle class houses with big yards, a place where normal people with normal jobs could raise their kids. Low end housing wouldn’t be likely, because it’s not in the kind of area where they could easily get around various ordinances pertaining to land use. Also, they’d probably have to get water and sewer support from the town of Albion, which would mean a long, expensive lay of mains.
High end housing wouldn’t be likely, because there just aren’t that many rich people around here.
But that’s all a moot point, because there’s not going to be an Augusta Hills Housing Development. Why? Well, duh – nobody’s building houses. The housing market has crashed; it’ll be years before anyone starts up a housing development from scratch again, at least around here. There’s just no demand for it. When people start building new homes again, it’ll be in already developed areas or individual properties, not in the middle of the country.
So what’s the new owner going to do with this property?
Nuclear power plant? Wind farm? Race track? New county seat?
Here’s my theory: I think the Augusta Hills Golf Course, like other unused or underused land around the country, is going to go back to its roots; I think it’s going to be turned back into farmland.
The price of both food and fuel are going up, and farmland can be used to grow both food and fuel. There was a time that farmland was being sold off right and left, because it just wasn’t profitable. Farms were being sold, and the land turned into housing developments, industrial parks, and, yes, golf courses.
I think the all-important job of farming is going to come back, and where people once screamed “fore!” (or five, or six, or whatever), we’ll soon see amber waves of grain, or more likely green stalks of corn. It’s not economic development, exactly – then again, I guess it is – but it will feed us and lesson our dependency on foreign oil.
That’s a good thing. We’ll just have to depend on the Wii to improve our golf game.