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next week's column: Fore No More


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.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 28th, 2008 11:13 am (UTC)
County Park? State Park? Casino? (that would be giving it back to the Native Americans..."winks")
Aug. 29th, 2008 08:07 am (UTC)
Good ideas, but we already have a State Park a little ways south of town (Chain O' Lakes) -- which includes the site of the last known Native American town in the county. (!) I'm not a big fan of casinos; I don't think the money is worth the harm gambling ultimately causes. In fact, I'll bet it's not. Twenty bucks? What'ya say?
Aug. 28th, 2008 07:11 pm (UTC)
You cold very well be right. Be interesting to see what happens.
Aug. 29th, 2008 08:07 am (UTC)
It would be nice, to be right for once. :-)
Aug. 28th, 2008 08:00 pm (UTC)

I was gonna suggest they could either let it go back to natural land -- we seem to have less and less of that in our country -- but farmland sounds right. I think it would be great if farming made a comeback. I hate industrial crap taking over good, beautiful land.

On a totally different note.. You're a town official?! (;
Aug. 28th, 2008 08:01 pm (UTC)

PS: Good quickie history. Heh.
Aug. 29th, 2008 08:11 am (UTC)
I've seen so many eyes glaze over when I talk history that I've learned to speak fast!
Aug. 29th, 2008 08:09 am (UTC)
Actually, a large area of farmland here in Noble County was turned back to natural land in the form of Chain O' Lakes State Park, back in the 60's -- so we've done our part! :-)

We actually have more forest land in the US than we did a few decades ago, so maybe we're starting to make some progress there, too.

Yep, I was elected to the Albion Town Council 5 years ago, and reelected without opposition last year. Do I have people fooled, or what? :->

Edited at 2008-08-29 08:14 am (UTC)
Aug. 29th, 2008 12:37 am (UTC)
"My teacher says that horses have behooves." (That's a line from Star Trek Next Gen that never fails to make me laugh. I'm easily amused. *g*)

That's a thought-provoking column - I've never wondered before what happens to golf course land if the golf course closes. Going back to farm land sounds like a good idea to me.
Aug. 29th, 2008 08:11 am (UTC)
The new owner isn't saying much, but another piece of land he bought nearby was put back to farming. I suppose the golf course will either be for farming, or will just become a meadow for the time being. We'll see.
Sep. 9th, 2008 12:22 am (UTC)
My area doesn't have anything quite that quaint, but I can relate to what you're saying. There are entire strip malls that have just been abandoned because the businesses couldn't hold. And yet new buildings keep going up for stores. Let's build a Kohls in what used to be a nice wooded area. I think what we're really lacking here is an ability to think of creative uses for these abandoned buildings. Or, you know, common sense.
Sep. 9th, 2008 05:49 am (UTC)
Agreed. That doesn't happen in Albion often, because we don't have that many suitable buildings to begin with; but in the largest neighboring town they were constantly putting up new structures and abandoning the older ones. In Fort Wayne, it's ridiculous -- anyone with common sense could tell they were putting up retail establishments faster than the population could continue to support them. Now the economy is tanking and they'll have both older and newer buildings sitting there empty.

Who knows? Maybe Albion will benefit by having people who used to drive to other places save gas and shop here, instead.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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