Less than a decade ago, the DuPage County Forest Preserve District was looking to expand its golf empire.
Now some are suggesting it might be time to consider ending golfing operations at the three existing courses and let the land be used only as open space.
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The question over what should happen to Oak Meadows in Addison, Maple Meadows in Wood Dale and the nine-hole Green Meadows in Westmont has become an issue in the various races for forest preserve seats, including President Dewey Pierotti's re-election bid.
Dennis Clark, Pierotti's Democratic challenger, claims the golf courses, which made $1.8 million in 2000, are now losing money. He said the district should consider privatizing golf course operations.
Pierotti said the district used to have private contracts with various operators to run the golf courses and the banquet facilities. But those contracts were "extremely unfavorable to the forest preserve, he said. So the district let the deals expire in 2004 and took over the operation of the courses.
Further attempts at privatization have since failed, in large part, because of why the district acquired the golf courses in the first place: flood control.
"They have to be allowed to flood, Pierotti said. "There's not many private operators who want to sign a contract for running a golf course when they know they are going to be out of operation a minimum of four to six weeks during a golf season.
Commissioner Mike Formento said the only way an operator could make a decent profit is if they significantly increase greens fees or require golfers to buy memberships. Either way, the affordable and public nature of the courses would be lost, he said.
Formento's Democratic challenger, Eric Bergman, said he doesn't believe the forest preserve district should even be in golf course business. "A golf course is not an environmentally sensitive use of land, he said.
While the district can't sell or trade the courses to a private entity, Formento said, "I would be supportive of eliminating golf completely.
Pierotti said that if the board chose to do that, he would have no problem with it, especially if it's determined the courses are losing money.
"If the recommendation came down that the golf courses are a financial drain on the forest preserve, close them tomorrow, he said.
In fact, that is exactly what could happen to Country Lakes Golf Course if the district acquires the 240-acre parcel in northwest Naperville.
Nearly three years ago, a jury in the forest preserve's condemnation suit against Robert Krilich Sr. awarded the district the land for its appraised price of $10.7 million. But the sale hasn't happened because Krilich is appealing the decision.
When the condemnation proceedings started a decade ago, one of the district's long-term goals was to own a course in every corner of the county.
Pierotti said the only reason the district wants the land now is for stormwater detention. He said he would support shutting down the golfing operation at Country Lakes, razing the existing clubhouse and installing nature trails.
Formento strongly agrees.
"If you look at the layout of the golf course, it is so perfect to just let it go back (to a natural state), he said. "We should use the property for what we intended it to be used for conservation and flood control.
Of course, not everyone agrees with that suggestion.
Commissioner Joseph Cantore and his Democratic opponent, Hilary Denk, said the district should continue to explore options for privatization. But they don't support closing the golf operations.
"Those are beautiful open spaces, Denk said. "They were designed to be golf courses. To convert them back to natural open space, I think, would be quite costly.