The debate over the future of the nine-hole golf course in Louisville’s Cherokee Park will soon come to a head in Metro Council.
District 8 Council Member Cassie Chambers Armstrong, a Democrat who represents the Highlands, introduced an ordinance Monday that would start the process of turning the course back into park land. The proposal follows two public meetings on the future of the Cherokee Golf Course that were held in April. An online survey was also open that month, with a majority of the 330 respondents supporting the change.
Chambers Armstrong said she came around to the idea of integrating the course back into Cherokee Park after seeing that it hasn’t been profitable for most of the last decade.
“I think some people will look at this ordinance and say it’s anti-golf, but I don’t think that’s the case,” she said. “I think this is about ensuring the health of the golf ecosystem for years to come, to make sure that all of our courses are being played and they’re earning money.”
Financial records provided by Louisville Metro’s Parks and Recreation Department show the Cherokee Golf Course has lost more than half a million dollars over the last decade. That’s roughly a third of the $1.6 million loss produced by the city’s 10 public courses since 2011.
Following the public input process, Parks and Recreation officials are also supporting repurposing the fairway in Cherokee Park. In a letter to Metro Council, Acting Director Margaret Brosko said 55% supported that plan, with 42% wanting to keep the course in operation and 3% advocating for some other option.
Brosko also argued that the underperforming Cherokee facility could be a drag on golf operations across Louisville Metro because of shared funding.
“The [city’s] golf program operates as an enterprise model, therefore all profits and losses either go back into or come out of the golf fund,” she said in the letter. “Under this setup, a low-performing course such as Cherokee can negatively impact the entire operation.”
The clubhouse, cart barn and other facilities at Cherokee are in need of $1.1 million in deferred maintenance, Brosko said, citing engineering estimates.
Chambers Armstrong said her discussions with parks officials also helped sway her to propose converting the course.
“I think that when you have the people working with a particular piece of land in a particular area every single saying that the public interest is better served by doing this other thing, our job as legislators is to give that a lot of weight and deference,” Chambers Armstrong said.
Her proposed ordinance is co-sponsored by Metro Council President David James, a Democrat representing District 6, which includes some of the West End and Old Louisville, and District 9 Council Member Bill Hollander. Hollander’s district includes the Crescent Hill Golf Course, a similar style course less than three miles away from Cherokee that could absorb some of those golfers.
The proposal will have to make it through Metro Council’s Parks and Sustainability Committee before it can get a final vote, a process that could take weeks or months. If it’s approved, residents probably won’t see any physical changes for years.
And city officials would be required to start talks with the Olmsted Parks Conservancy about its proposal for repurposing the Cherokee Golf Course. The Conservancy is a nonprofit that helps maintain some of Louisville’s largest parks, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the late 1800s, including Cherokee Park.
The Conservancy put forth a proposal in 2019 that would create a new gateway into Cherokee Park near the intersection of Grinstead Drive and Lexington Road. While the proposal was intentionally left vague, artist renderings included a boat house and water activities on the golf course pond as well as a restaurant and patio area in what is now the clubhouse. Under Chambers Armstrong’s proposed ordinance, the Conservancy would have to honor the history of the golf course in some way.
It’s not clear how many Metro Council Members will support Chambers Armstrong’s proposal, but Democrat Cindi Fowler of District 14 says she plans to fight it.
Fowler introduced a different ordinance last week that would require the city to put out a new request for proposals to see if a third-party group is interested in managing Cherokee Golf Course. The city is currently operating it, since no organization responded to a 2019 request for proposals.
Fowler’s measure would also prevent the city from selecting a nonprofit to manage the course.
She said the Cherokee course has a distinct niche within the city’s golfing community as a place for those just starting out.
“You have grandparents that want to teach their grandkids how to play golf, which takes more time and you don’t want to hold somebody up on one of the [bigger courses],” she said. “Then you have a lot of golf teams, high school golf teams, that want to use that course.”
Fowler also said that, while the Cherokee golf course lost money nine of the last 10 years, it was profitable in 2021. Parks and Recreation officials, however, say that was mainly because of an increase in tee off fees, as well as workers whose salaries aren’t paid out of the golf fund being reassigned to work the course.
She said she believes it’s a slippery slope from shutting down Cherokee to eliminating all of Louisville’s municipal golf courses.
“Every one of the courses have been in the red, except for three of them,” she said. “You go back 10 years and every one of them are losing money, maybe we should close them all?”
Metro Council’s Parks and Sustainability Committee will hold a special meeting on June 7 to discuss Fowler’s proposed ordinance.