Does that flat, level putting green look like a good place to pour a slab? Does that sand trap next to it look like a handy source of clean, drainable fill?
Obviously, you're not a golfer.
And you're not alone: these days, there's more than one developer or builder looking at golf courses and wondering if they represent the best use of space. According an in-depth report in the News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware), turning golf courses into neighborhoods is an idea whose time may have arrived (see: "With land limited, builders target Delaware golf courses," by Xerxes Wilson).
"Properties that are home to failing golf courses have been seized upon by developers, especially in northern New Castle County, where large swaths of open space are a rare prize," the paper reported. "Five of the 10 golf courses on private property north of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal are being developed or have been targeted by builders. Clubs downstate are feeling similar pressures, but the greater availability of buildable farmland makes golf courses less of a draw for southern Delaware developers. The idea is fueled by struggling golf operations statewide, part of a national trend of country club memberships floundering and courses closing."
Homeowners who live next to golf courses don't like the idea of their green view being replaced by somebody else's house and yard, naturally. But for golf course owners, selling out can look pretty attractive. "It gets pretty enticing when someone waves money in front of you and says, 'You can continue to operate this club at a loss or I will give you this much money for this property because I can develop it,'" Bill Barrow, executive director of the Delaware State Golf Association, told the paper.
Building booms in the 1980s and 1990s left the U.S. with a nationwide surplus of golf courses built as part of housing developments. And changing demographics have undercut the business model of those facilities, the paper reported. "Families are changing with husbands and wives both working. Kids have electronic gizmos in their hands most of the time. You are competing for time and people can't afford to take a four-hour chunk away from their day to play golf," Barrow said.
There are stumbling blocks in the way for developers looking to build out a golf course, the paper reported. In some locations, legal and zoning challenges have slowed the process. And many courses are contaminated with pesticides, requiring costly remediation and time-consuming paperwork. But for a developer, there can also be a strong up side to repurposing a golf course. Said Wilmington, Delaware, developer Louis Capano III: ""They are typically the hole in the doughnut in a stable community where everything around it is already developed. It is an already established market and that is what makes it attractive."