Metro: Please don’t replace golf course for regular folks with a sweat lodge

By Dave Lister

The Oregonian’s report by Eric Mortenson that the Metro regional government is studying what to do with Glendoveer Golf Course when its operating agreement comes to an end next year has left us worrying about the fate of our home course.

The quote “better represents Metro’s values” conjures up notions of Frisbee courses, sweat lodges or petting zoos. Who knows what nonsense could result from Metro imposing its idea of sustainability on the majestically wooded parcel that has been sustainable, as a golf course, since 1926?

We’re not talking about golf snobs here. A last recreational bastion of the blue-collar town Portland used to be, Glendoveer is no Pumpkin Ridge. Glendoveer is where the regular folks tee it up. Blue jeans and pocket T-shirts are more common than golf slacks and collars. It’s where your letter carrier, your mechanic and your hairdresser play. You see them every weekend, all ages and races, coughing up the 20 bucks for the nine holes that may be the high point of their week.

And when they check in with the starter to get their ticket punched, there’s a good chance that starter will be 90-year-old Jim Foley.

Foley, who served as a courier with Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s headquarters corps as they raced across Europe during the final year of World War II, likes to joke about his service. “I had a horrible fear of firearms,” he quips, “so they gave me a briefcase to run papers around to the big shots. If it was really important stuff, they handcuffed the briefcase to your wrist.”

After the war, Foley spent 39 years in the insurance industry and raised five children. When he retired in 1987, he started working at Glendoveer, the course he’d lived near and played over the decades. But his retirement career wasn’t entirely by choice. “My wife wanted me out of the house,” he laughs. “She said I was drawing flies.”

Foley filled me in on some history.

“Old man Stenzel, he had about 300 acres out there between Glisan and Halsey. He put in the east course in 1926 and the west in 1928. When he retired, his son Frank took it over. Frank did a good job and made a lot of improvements. But by the late’70s he was tired of it and wanted out. He thought he had a buyer in Adventist hospital. They were going to move in and put a hospital where the east course is and leave the west course, but the neighbors went wild. They figured Glendoveer neighborhood was their own, and it was pretty upscale back then. All that ruckus got the county involved, but they didn’t know how to run a golf course. That’s how Hickey (Glendoveer General Manager Joe Hickey) and the restaurant guys put together the deal with the county. I don’t remember when Metro took it over. Apparently Metro takes over everything the county can’t handle.”

Foley has punched the tickets for visitors from all over the country. “People from back East or the Midwest, they just can’t believe they built a golf course in this forest.”

If you’re out at the course, you can recognize Foley because of the aluminum walker strapped to the back of the cart with the starter’s sign. He uses it after his shift to shuffle into the lounge for a shot of Maker’s Mark. You should follow him in and buy him one. Like the rest of our greatest generation, he’ll soon be a memory. It will be a shame if the golf course he loves so much becomes a memory as well.

Dave Lister is a small-business owner who served on Portland’s Small Business Advisory Council.

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  • Fore

    Please keep this course. I have learned to love golf so much by emulating our brave leader. I play every single weekend whether my wife and kids like it or not. I am really loving the time on the links.

  • HBguy

    I don’t understand why Mr. Lister or any conservative/libertarian would advocate for the government to hold onto this property at all. I guess when its government spending that you approve of, it’s OK?

    Why not sell it and let the free market decide what to do with it? If it’s a golf course, so be it. Or, at the very least, if the public needs it as open space, lets figure out the least expensive use that gets max usage. Maybe take half of it and build a minor league baseball park. That would be a nice facility, a 9-18 hole course and a ballpark.

    • Robert Collins

      Glendoveer doesn’t cost Metro anything.  It makes Metro $880,000.00 per year.

      • wnd

        Like a petunia in Metro’s onion patch.  Jim Foley likely agree.

      • HBguy

        Well an ultimate frisbee course could make money as well. That’s not the question. The question is whether it could generate more revenue or benefit than it does as a golf course. Because we need to run government like a business right? And, why 20 bucks, when private course are two or three times that amount? If you sell 300 acres at 200k/ acre, and reduce taxes or invest that money and convert this property to real property tax roles, I am positive you’d generate much more than 880k/yr.
        Now if you’d like to defend Glendover on the basis of social good, open space, urban nature, the preservation of the commons, etc., that’s fine. Just cut the whole government needs to be run like a business. Or, even tell it like it is….we like government spending when it benefits us. Like when it helps subsidize the cost of my golf game. There are a lot of private golf courses out there and golf clubs looking for players. Quit sucking off the government teat.
        Oh, and here’s another thing. How can government possibly run a golf course cheaper than private industry and still make money. Answer…..government pays nothing for the ground, or in taxes. So if either the players are being heavily subsidized by the public, or government is efficient and can do private services better than private industry.

        • valley dude

          Stop picking on these poor conservatives. Its not fair to hoist them on their own petard.  

  • Nogolfer

    Golf is bad. It takes a lot of unnatural resources for people to play this silly game. Why not turn the site into a solar collection zone or something that will help us save our mother, the earth?
    These rich people who hit little white balls around make me sick.

  • Edwardio

    They should allow HBguys to hang out in the fairways, about 280 yards out from the Ts. 

    • valley dude

      280 yards, middle of the fairway would be the safest possible place. 

  • Get with the plan – 300 acres at 50 people per acre could accommodate 15,000 new people to pay taxes to Portland. AND feed millions to politically connected developers, who will make massive campaign donations to elected officials.


  • Weedman

    High density housing is the only way to go for this parcel.
    Stop the madness. This could be a beautiful homeless/drug park like they have in Europe.
    Please – someone must care for the downtrodden.

  • Weedman

    What about a natural garden?

  • Anonymous

    I hate to tell this HB jerk the news – but the two mile walking and jogging track around the Glendoveer Golf Course is the most used part of the property.  Best of all it’s FREE to use during course operating hours. And it’s used by thousands of people every week of all ages.
        And sorry to say it – but since the schmucks at Metro took ove the opertion, the overall maintenance of both the jogging track and the golf courses has suffered. I’m not sure where the $800K in profit is going at Metro – but it certainly isn’t being used
    to keep up the property.

    • HBguy

      While it is tempting to refrain from responding to people who call others names instead of answering the critique, I will make one last attempt to engage with you and if you chose to answer the real issue, hope you can do so with respect.

      Hiking trails, parks, dog parks, open space. These are all things that the private market can’t provide because there is little or no private market that provides these amenities. Yet these activities provide a benefit to the community. (at least I think they do). Particularly in an otherwise urban environment of concrete, asphalt and carbon monoxide. So having the government provide these amenities can make sense for society in general. Anyone can use them. No equipment, no nothing.

      But there are private, for profit golf courses all over the place. They are readily available to anyone with the money to play them. They provide private jobs and profit opportunities for capital. 

      So what right does government have of using taxpayer resources to compete with these private businesses? How can private enterprise compete with a government owned business (whether that is golf of health care) when your competitor pays no taxes and doesn’t care if it makes a profit?

      The only reason I can see to have public golf courses is so people have a place to play cheap because of the government subsidy. There is no means testing for golfers. This is simply a redistribution of government assets to golfers when there is an adequate private alternative to those golfers. At least for those who have worked hard enough and saved enough to pay for their recreation.

      Ask Steve Buckstein what he thinks about publicly subsidized golf? I will accept his response and shut up now.

      • valley person

        There is another reason. Its generally a profitable enterprise for a parks department, and can help fund the other stuff. Clackamas County has done pretty well with their public course.

        • wnd

          The only think NOT to like about Stone Creek is the 14th hole.  It’s worse than TPC Sawgrass 17. 

        • HBguy

          When you don’t have to pay taxes on your income or your property, when you have no mortgage or required rate of return on your capital investment. It’s not too hard to show a positive cash flow. Should government build burger joints on all the vacant city properties? It could easily make money since the land was no cost, there are no property or income taxes to pay and they could undercut the joints down the road and use the “profit” to pay for food kitchens.
          Here are the questions for me. Is it a good idea for government to use public lands to conduct a business that competes with plenty of private enterprises. And if so, shouldn’t they at least charge the same price as the private providers so that they maximize the public good, and not compete unfairly with the private enterprise.

          • valley person

            Park departments and districts have a lot of facilities and programs. All of these have the advantage of no property taxes and no required return on investment. Few of these turn a positive cash flow. Golf happens to be one that (sometimes, not always) does.

            Land does have a cost to parks departments unless it is donated. Hillsboro for one was paying $500,000 an acre for land up until recently. I’m pretty sure Clackamas County purchased the land they later developed their golf course on. Glendoveer has been around a long time, but originally it may have been purchased. 

            To your questions: Yes, I think it is a good idea for government to compete (in selective cases) with the private sector. It helps keep both on their respective toes. The Postal Service competes with Fed ex and UPS, and this probably makes all 3 more efficient and better service deliverers than they would be otherwise. Public universities certainly compete for the best students with private colleges and universities. I think this is good for both.

            Yes, the government should probably lease some of their land out for burger joints or food carts if this makes sense economically and doesn’t diminish the public resource. A case in point is Pioneer Square, which leases space to various vendors and the Farmer’s Market among other venues. A park in Sellwood (SE Portland) makes a nice profit on renting an historic chapel for weddings. Timberline Lodge and Multnomah Falls Lodge are both owned by the government, yet leased to private operators. Just about every ski area in the western US is located on federal land and leased out. Every major National Park has concessions, and these make a lot of money that is plowed back into park management.

            Prices are all over the map in a market economy. There is no private sector equal to Pioneer Square or Timberline Lodge for example. The market will determine the rate a public entity can charge for space or a service. If it makes market sense for Metro to charge more for golf at Glendoveer, then they probably should. If they want to offer lower fees to lower income individuals, then that is fine as well.

            Conservatives say they want government run more like a business. Well, here is a case, park and open space management, where government is being run more like a business every day, including running some profit making enterprises like golf courses. I don’t see anything inherently wrong with this as long as we aren’t stringing banners across the Grand Canyon.   

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