Rabalais: City Park golf course deserves to be preserved

Tom Bendelow had a vision.

He left his home in Scotland and emigrated to the United States in the late 1890s, spreading the game of his native land, golf, across his adopted country.

Bendelow is credited with designing more than 650 golf courses throughout America, many of them public courses that helped the game establish a foothold here. A 2006 biography called Bendelow the “Johnny Appleseed” of American golf.

One of Bendelow’s efforts was the nine-hole layout at Baton Rouge’s City-Brooks Community Park.

Completed in 1926, City Park Golf Course won’t live to see it’s 90th birthday if petitioners from Spark City Park have their way and turn the course into regular parkland.

Baton Rouge has already seen too many golf courses disappear, courses with far less history than City Park. Fairwood, Shenandoah, Briarwood and Gonzales country clubs are now gone.

Nine holes of Pelican Point’s Lakes course will soon follow. The Oaks of Sherwood (formerly Sherwood Forest Country Club), where Arnold Palmer won one of his two Baton Rouge Open titles, is currently closed, though there are hopes of reopening it as a private club.

City Park Golf Course isn’t a classic track. No one is going to confuse its hilly, scruffy fairways with Augusta National or Pebble Beach or St. Andrews.

But you can’t put a tee in the ground at Augusta without being or knowing someone important like Bill Gates or Lod Cook or Lou Holtz (OK, maybe not the last one). A two-night, two-round sojourn to Pebble Beach will currently set you back a little more than two grand. St. Andrews is a public course, but flying to Scotland is not quite as economical as driving down Perkins Road to get to City Park.

You can still walk City Park for $10, $12 on the weekend.

It deserves to be preserved. As Baton Rouge’s first public course, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. Simply for the fact that it’s a touchstone to Baton Rouge’s past, it shouldn’t be allowed to disappear like other old Baton Rouge landmarks such as the Paramount Theatre, a movie house that wasn’t spared the wrecking ball in 1979 despite being the first U.S. theater with lighted aisles.

The problem with the petition against City Park Golf Course is City-Brooks Community Park has plenty of other uses. It has excellent tennis courts, a dog park, an art gallery, a playground, splash pad, croquet lawn, places to fish on City Park Lake, jogging and biking trails, even a labyrinth out behind the clubhouse. A site for a children’s museum in the park has also been proposed, according to BREC spokeswoman Cheryl Michelet.

Glide through the park along Dalrymple Drive on any given day and you’re bound to see folks engaged in at least a half-dozen other activities besides playing golf.

All that, and there’s no room left for a nine-hole course?

Of course there is.

City-Brooks has enough acreage that golf should always be part of its mix. Plus, Michelet said, the course still pays for itself despite a recently slight downturn in rounds played.

Like any properly frugal Scotsman, Tom Bendelow would have loved that.