The Toronto area's Glen Abbey Golf Club recently hosted the RBC Canadian Open for the 28th time. The question on everyone's mind: Will it be the last time? Probably so, it appears.
By now, you've probably heard that Glen Abbey, located in Oakville, close to Toronto, is on track to close. When that will be is somewhat in doubt, but every indication is that it's inevitable and could within the next couple years after ClubLink Corp., the largest owner and operator of golf courses in Canada, implements a redevelopment plan that would replace the course with more than 3,000 homes and 160,000 square feet of office and retail space.
The reason is simple. Closing the course and developing it with residential and retail development has a lot more profit potential than running a golf club. It's a fate so many courses have realized over the years, and this time, it has little to do with golf courses being overbuilt or the decline of golf. It just makes economic sense.
Glen Abbey, though not universally lauded, has history and has been a favorite for many locals and visitors alike. Besides it being Nicklaus' first course -- he designed it for the Royal Canadian Golf Association -- it's also been the stage some more than memorable moments in golf. None, of course, are more memorable than Tiger Woods' 6-iron out of a fairway bunker over a lake to 12 feet from the flagstick some 200 yards away to win the 2000 Canadian Open.
Glen Abbey isn't the only notable course whose days appear to be numbered. There are others currently on the endangered list, some with more hope than others. Here are a few:
Wynn Golf Club, Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas has seen a trio of golf properties close in the last two years -- Silverstone, Badlands and Legacy -- and those re-development battles are ongoing.
Meanwhile in town, casino mogul Steve Wynn has big plans for Tom Fazio's 7,042-yard, par-70 layout built upon the old Desert Inn Country Club. It is likely the course's 137 acres along the Las Vegas Strip will eventually become "Wynn Paradise Park" - an entertainment mecca featuring a 38-acre lagoon as its centerpiece. The elaborate water attraction will entertain both day (water sports) and night (fireworks shows). Other components could include premium meeting and convention space, a 1,000-room hotel tower, a small casino and extensive dining and nightlife venues. The billion-dollar development must still meet approval by the company's Board of Directors.
If (or when) Wynn eventually closes, golf will lose one of its most expensive rounds ($500), though Cascata and Shadow Creek is still available for high rollers.
Arizona State University Karsten Golf Course
Though no date has been announced, it appears inevitable that ASU Karsten Golf Course in Tempe, Ariz., will close because the university wants to develop the land to lease and raise money to improve its other athletic facilities (most prominently, the renovation of Sun Devil Stadium and a hockey arena).
In 2014, the university entered a 30-year lease to manage nearby Papago Golf Course, a longtime favorite municipal of the city of Phoenix. As part of the deal, the facility is being improved (which are ongoing) and will get a new clubhouse as well as facilities for the ASU golf teams, including a state-of-the-art short-game practice area. The ASU golf team's alumni include the likes of Phil Mickelson, Billy Mayfair and the late Heather Farr, who grew up playing Papago, which was renovated a few years ago.
The Karsten Course, which is privately funded – much of it by Ping Golf founder Karsten Solheim -- is a Pete Dye design that has been home of the ASU golf teams since 1989. It has long been a bargain for local residents and visitors alike. You can play it for less than $25 in the summertime, and is located on campus right next to Sun Devil Stadium. It remains open, but its days will be numbered once work is completed for ASU at Papago.
Heather Glen Golf Links, Myrtle Beach
The golf course business in Myrtle Beach has been tumultuous in recent years, full of multi-course acquisitions, mergers and closures. Earlier this month, Alan Blondin at the Myrtle Beach Sun reported Heather Glen Golf Links in Little River, S.C., and the course could close as soon as 2018 if a rezoning request by the owner is approved by the county.
Currently, a housing developer is contracted to purchase the course, contingent upon rezoning approval and other contingencies. A decision should be made sometime in August. As for the course, Heather Glen is a 27-hole, Scottish-inspired facility. Blondin reports the owners have vowed to maintain conditioning to a high level as long as the course stays open.
Other area courses that have closed, mostly due to development, in the last few years include Waterway Hills, Heron Point Golf Club, Wicked Stick Golf Links, Cypress Bay Golf Club and the nine-hole Carolinas Country Club. Around 2000, the Grand Strand had around 120 courses; now it's down to about 90.
We're optimistic about recent news at these embattled courses
As reported in a Golf Advisor story in March, a legal dispute at one of Maine's favorite daily fees has put Sunday River's future in jeopardy. Fortunately, the course is now under ownership of the course's creditor, Newry Holdings, and is operating as normal this summer with no immediate plans to close or sell the course. In fact, the original developer reportedly offered refunds to golfers who bought memberships before the course changed hands.
The Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course is the top-ranked daily fee course in Maine according to Golf Advisor raters. Playing nearly 7,200 yards from the tips, it is one of Maine's most dramatic layouts. With elevated tees and mountain topography, there's one great view after another and hardly any level lies. Public golfers can play it for $70 during the week and $90 on the weekends, including a cart.
Meanwhile, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, there are new reasons to be optimistic about the future of the Prince Course. Long ranked among America's top 100 golf courses by more than one publication (still ranked no. 20 on Golf Digest's best public list), the Prince, with its lush jungle vegetation, long carries and Pacific Ocean views, has been in limbo since the end of 2014. That's when the Prince Course, another RTJ Jr. design, closed with its future uncertain, although it had been reported that the plan was to soften the course (it has one of the most difficult opening holes in golf) and reopen it as a private course for an upscale membership within a year or so.
Apparently, that day is now imminent. According to a recent Forbes story by Erik Matuszewski, the Prince could open as soon as next year with a new community of 75 large home sites on Kauai's North Shore. The project would include a sustainable agriculture and ranch community with walking paths, bike paths, gardens, retail, a spa and groves of fruit trees as well as a refreshed golf course. The good news is that the course has been maintained to some degree all along and is apparently in decent shape, so it won't take long to get it ready. In fact, those associated with the project have even played a few holes on it from time to time.
Austin, Minneapolis munis in jeopardy
Austin's historic and beloved "Muny," Lions Municipal golf Course, was the first desegregated golf course in the south and a boyhood haunt of Ben Crenshaw among other Texas legends, but the landowners, the University of Texas, have considered developing this ultra-valuable piece of land in coveted west Austin. A recent push in the state legislature to transfer ownership of the property to Texas Parks & Wildlife ran out of steam. The latest reports from the Austin American-Statesman is that the city and university are in negotiations to extend the lease but at a much higher yearly fee. Crenshaw, a UT alum who lives nearby, revealed a plan to renovate and restore the course if the future can be secured. The threat to Lions is particularly concerning considering other historic public courses in Texas, including Glen Garden and Pecan Valley, have been among those to close permanently for redevelopment.
Meanwhile, a popular muni in Minneapolis, Hiawatha Golf Course, is in jeopardy for different reasons. The Star-Tribune reports new regulations about groundwater pumping may lead the city to close the course.
Big plans for Bandon's mysterious Sheep Ranch
If you haven't heard of the Sheep Ranch, you're not alone. But many who have made the trek to Bandon Dunes on the coast of Oregon know about it.
In its current form, Sheep Ranch is one of America's most unique courses. "Designed" by architect Tom Doak, the course has 13 greens, many of them with ocean views, but can be played in a variety of ways. In fact, it's really up to the imagination of the golfers playing it because they can play the course in any direction they want in any combination they want. It's golf without the confinements of a formal routing plan.
But that will be coming to an end, as Bandon Dunes owner and creator Mike Keiser has employed architect Gil Hanse to design the resort's next great course on this very site. That's certainly exciting news for Bandon Dunes' fans who would love to see a fifth championship course, but not so much for the lovers of the Sheep Ranch.
"If you are an old golfing soul, this is not be missed while it is around," wrote Local Golf Advisor Jeff Arenson. "I understand the economics of building a 5th course and Hanse has a great site to work with. I will just miss playing golf on a 'playground' without rules vs. a course."
Others worth mentioning
A longtime popular course in Kalamazoo, Mich., Thornapple Creek Golf Club is finishing out its last season, according to its website. A self-proclaimed "hidden gem," the Mike Shields design has plenty of scenery, wildlife, rolling hills, ponds and not a home on the property. In fact, it's more like the golf in Northern Michigan than southwestern Michigan. The loss, though, is being offset by this summer's opening of the Gull Lake View Golf Club and Resort's opening of Stoatin Brae in Augusta, about 15 miles from Kalamazoo.
And finally, just in case President Trump's wall ever gets built along the Mexican border along the Rio Grande, River Bend Resort & Country Club in Brownsville, Texas, could lose 15 of its 18 holes, meaning it would essentially close. The 6,825-yard par 72 golf course that opened in 1985 would be on the south side of the proposed wall, on the Rio Grande levee. The section includes some 200 homes, and the land on which they sit would be claimed by the federal government under eminent domain to complete the wall project. For more details, check out a story story we published earlier this year on River Bend.
There is no doubt a course in your town whose future is in jeopardy. We're curious which you're most nervous about. Tell us on Twitter or in the comments below.
Update: Bulle Rock, a Pete Dye design in Maryland, has a foggy future:
Jason Deegan and Brandon Tucker contributed to this report.