To the point week of 3-3-11

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AS WORD MOVED AROUND THE county recently that Vineyard Golf Course near Quercus Grove was not going to open again, many residents of the county began wondering what the future of the county golf course would be.

At both Switzerland County High School and Rising Sun High School, athletic directors David Todd and Noel Bostic were scrambling to find a golf course where high school boys teams could play this Spring, as both schools have used Vineyard as their home course for years.

As speculation moved around the county about whether or not someone would buy the course and reopen it – or buy the land and develop it – another option was shared that I think merits consideration.

Bruce Tressler of near East Enterprise wondered if the county shouldn’t buy the course and make it a public park.

Now, before people jump to conclusions, I think that this is an idea with a lot of merit.

- First, it puts a county park in a geographic area of the county where there currently isn’t one. It would attract people not only from our county, but also from Ohio County and areas of Dearborn County.

– Next, it becomes not only a county park, but it also carries the potential of being profitable for the county, or at least break even with expenses.

There is a need for a public golf course in this area of the state, as shown by the fact that both Switzerland County and Rising Sun golf teams, boys and girls, used the course as their home course. To a degree, creating a county park with a municipal golf course would be a community service.

The park would also add, or maintain, some county employment. There are workers at the course who now don’t have jobs; and if the county bought the course and made it part of the county park system, those jobs, and possibly others, would return.

If the county hired a person with knowledge on running a golf course to take charge of Vineyard, it could be run properly and profitably.

But in Bruce Tressler’s mind and the minds of many others, making Vineyard a county park adds much more to the county than just a golf course.

There is a big lake on the back of the course property, which could be properly managed with fish for county anglers; and some shelter houses around the lake an in some other areas could give some wonderful areas for family picnics and reunions without the fear of being struck by an errand tee shot.

Put in an access road to those areas, and suddenly Switzerland County has way more than just a county-owned golf course, we have a vibrant and usable park for everyone with the benefit if it creating some income to offset its operation.

– For me, it also becomes a community service.

If the course is truly closed for good, then the clock is ticking on someone – the county or a private buyer – getting ownership of the property and getting it in shape. It won’t take long for the fairways and the greens and the tee beds to grow over, leaving the new ownership/leadership with quite a task just to get the course in playing shape.

Stocking the lake and shelter house construction and access roads can wait, but maintaining the integrity of the course itself cannot. This can’t be a six-month negotiation if it’s going to happen. The owners of the course have always been and continue to be community-minded and generous in their desire to aid this entire corner of the state; and the county should have a desire to develop one of the more desirable community properties into an even greater resource.

Does that mean the owners just give it away? Certainly not, but it means that if the county were serious about the purchase, neither side needs to spend time haggling over a few dollars one way or the other. Perhaps there are creative ways to put the deal together, either with tax incentives or philanthropic breaks or something.

Having Switzerland County purchase the golf course and turn it into a county park also provides a place for our high school teams, boys and girls, to play and develop their love for the game, both here and for Rising Sun High School; and also gives a less expensive option where dads (and moms) can take their kids to the course and teach them the game.

Golf is a sport that people of all ages can play. It’s a sport that people of all skill levels can play. It’s a sport where families can come together.

There are many benefits to the county looking into the purchase of the golf course. The Council and Commissioners may be able to bring entities like tourism and the school endowment corporation into the funding picture; even the Ohio County Foundation may see the benefit in investing because of the numbers that come from our neighboring county to play, as well as their high school teams using the facility as their home course.

But if the decision is going to be made, now is the time to make it. Gather a committee and meet with the owners and see if there is a common desire to get this done – and if there is, then do it.

This county has invested millions of dollars into economic development and tourism and infrastructure; this would truly be an investment in the county community.

As we seek to attract new industry, having community things like parks and golf courses help to add to the appeal of the county to potential businesses seeking a new place to locate their industry and their management team. If they just want land, businesses can get that anywhere. More and more they are looking at the quality of life in the community that they choose.

The new county park would only enhance all that we already have to offer.

So there it is, Switzerland Countians. An ambitious thought for an ambitious time. The chance to go “outside the box” and create an area of the county that could be a centerpiece for years to come; enhancing the county parks that we already have by locating one in an area that currently doesn’t have one.

I think it’s a great idea and a great use of this resource – and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

If you have an opinion – good or bad – email me at planman@jsouthvv.com. I would love to know what the county thinks of this idea; and I’d love to share those thoughts in the space of this column.

Can we do it? Everything is possible if the community is behind it and the powers that be want it to happen.

Let your voice be heard.