From a new name to a mix of golf and other public uses, the reimagined “Glenway Golf Park” on the West Side will be like no other golf course in Madison — or most anywhere.
The nine-hole, 42-acre course underwent a privately funded $750,000 upgrade in 2021 that significantly boosted native plantings, redesigned holes and tees to make the course playable for people at all skill levels, created a free-to-use putting course and added walking paths.
But the city is also making plans to set aside off-peak golfing hours for history, science, art and athletic programs, cross-country races, disc golf, hiking, movie nights, community events, picnics, fitness classes and more. In the winter, the course could host cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, fat tire biking, even skijoring, in which skiers are pulled by dogs.
“Historically, at least in Madison and mostly across America, golf courses are very single utilization,” Assistant Parks Superintendent Lisa Laschinger said. “We think this is a part of the problem with golf, especially in the municipal context. Golf is and will be the core of the property, but getting more people involved in the game and using the land is important to us.”
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Two Park Commission subcommittees voiced support for the park’s programming plan with concern and questions about finances and some other details in online meetings this week.
“It’s a very innovative undertaking, transitioning the golf course to more of a golf park and opening the land up to be a true community asset,” said Ald. Tag Evers, 13th District, who represents the area.
“Residents seem excited about this more inclusive concept, that a variety of recreational activities, not just golf, will be offered,” he said.
“There are a few golf traditionalists who are less than enthusiastic about these changes,” Evers said. “But this is wise stewardship, both in the ecological improvements that will result in reduced chemical treatments — a key consideration for the Wingra watershed — and in the cultural adaptations which will create a more welcoming space for non-golfers and those new to the sport.”
On the course
Glenway, opened at 3747 Speedway Road in 1927, features large hills and mature oak trees and has long attracted players of all abilities and generations.
But in recent decades, the city’s Golf Enterprise Program, which operates the city’s four courses as a stand-alone business, has been hit by competition, failing infrastructure and unstable revenues.
In 2019, with the program running deficits, the City Council created a nine-member Task Force on Municipal Golf in Madison Parks to explore the future of the courses. In its final report, adopted by the City Council in 2021, the group advised that the city should continue to offer affordable golf while investing in making the courses more sustainable and with a focus on racial equity and inclusion.
In early 2021, well-known golf course developer Michael Keiser and his wife, Jocelyn, approached the city with a plan, including a substantial donation of time, talent and resources, to improve Glenway. In March, the council gave authority to work with the Keisers and Madison Parks Foundation to improve the golf experience, focus on non-golf activities, and make substantial improvements to the environmental stewardship of the property.
Redesign work at Glenway began in April with the course scheduled to reopen this year. The city’s three other municipal golf courses — Monona, Odana Hills and Yahara Hills — are set to operate as normal this season, with 63 public holes. The Parks Division hopes to reopen Glenway in the early summer.
“For municipal golf to survive long term, it needs to reimagine the experience and how the land is used, in a much more inclusive way than historically operated,” Laschinger said. “The course updates are a key part of this. The entire design was thoughtfully laid out with diverse recreation and programming opportunities and their potential in mind.”
The clubhouse and patio also will be improved through support by the Keisers and Madison Parks Foundation. The food and beverage menus are being reevaluated, with the possibility of integrating food trucks through the city’s Carts in Parks program.
“We are hopeful that this vision of a shared public space that centers on golf and includes other uses will be embraced by almost everyone,” Laschinger said. “Certainly there may be people who see it differently, but we feel the direction and vision from the task force is worth pursuing.”
A new brand
In February, to signal the beginning of a new era, staff will ask the Park Commission to officially change the course name to Glenway Golf Park. The city has engaged a local firm to help create a new brand for the course, and plans are being made to offer new merchandise and souvenir items at the golf shop.
A long-term goal of the new branding is to create a sense of belonging and reduce barriers for those who may not now feel welcome at the course and to change the face and reputation of American golf, the plan says.
Golf will continue to be the primary use with a focus on introducing youths to the sport through various programs, partnerships and special fees. The Parks Division is also proposing an increase in regular greens fees to subsidize some of the other recreational activities.
“The proposed possible activities were gathered through community feedback and surveys,” Laschinger said. “We see activities such as classes, movies, food carts, and entertainment just scratching the surface of potential. Staff are intentionally taking a flexible approach in order to allow innovation and easy adjustment to programming as needed.
“We think golf and non-golf uses can and must coexist for the future of golf in our parks system,” she said. “We believe creating a facility and inclusive welcoming environment will help grow overall interest to the property. In turn we believe many people who either never had interest or felt uncomfortable trying the game of golf will in turn create new prospective users.”
A possible program schedule shows most core hours still being reserved for golf. But it would allow the course to be reserved for recreational programming from 5 to 8 p.m. Mondays; 5 to 8 a.m. Wednesdays; 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays; 6 to 8 p.m. Fridays; 5 to 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 1 to 8 p.m. Sundays. Through smart scheduling, some golf could still happen on the course during those times, officials said.
“Neighbors are excited to see the Glenway Golf Park be open to more uses and how environmental stewardship was a core part of the design,” said Diego Saenz, president of the Dudgeon-Monroe Neighborhood Association.
On Monday, the Park Commission’s Facilities, Programs and Fees Subcommittee voiced support for the plan with an interest in efforts to pursue equity and getting youths to the course, metrics and opportunities for public input. The Golf Subcommittee on Thursday also expressed strong support for the plan, but had questions about the use of resources charged to the golf enterprise for other activities, impacts on leagues and other details and referred the plan to its February meeting. The commission will consider the plan at a later date.
It’s possible that added uses could cause damage to the course, “but we have great confidence in the public being responsible users of shared park spaces,” Laschinger said.
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