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updated: 2/9/2012 12:27 PM

Lake County board candidate wants out of the golf business

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  • Dan Donahue

    Dan Donahue

  • Carol Calabresa

    Carol Calabresa


Editor's note: This story was updated February 9 to correct information about what golf courses the board operates.

A Republican candidate for the Lake County Forest Preserve District board said the agency should get out of the golf business and dump the courses it owns.

"It's a problem when government competes with the private sector," Republican hopeful Dan Donahue told the Daily Herald during a recent interview at the newspaper's office in Libertyville.

The forest district, which doubles as the county board, operates three courses: Countryside near Mundelein, Brae Loch near Grayslake and ThunderHawk near Beach Park. A fourth course at the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve near Highland Park was torn up nearly a decade ago.

Donahue suggested waiting for the real-estate market for golf courses to improve and then selling the courses.

"We should sell them when we can get the most for them," said Donahue, who is running for the 15th District seat.

Donahue's opponent in the March 20 primary, incumbent Carol Calabresa, said the forest district board legally is unable to sell preserved land without the approval of the General Assembly. Donahue conceded the point.

Calabresa also said the district should stay in the golf business because of the investments made at Countryside and ThunderHawk.

But continued golf operations depend on the financial success of those two courses, she said.

"I wouldn't think we should get out of the business ... unless we are totally losing money," Calabresa said. "As long as we can have a cost benefit here and make some money and be able to maintain the golf courses, we could stay in the golf course business on our existing courses."

Calabresa said she opposes building a new course at Fort Sheridan. So does Donahue.

The 15th District includes Libertyville and part of Mundelein. The winner of the Republican primary will face Democrat Del Parra in the November general election.

All three candidates are from Libertyville.

Donahue, who is making his first bid for county elected office, objected to the forest district's budget subsidizing golf operations.

"You blur the lines," he said. "You don't know what is worth keeping and what is not, because one is holding the other up."

District officials should "stick to their core services, charge a fair rate and make sure it stays fair," Donahue said.

"If the forest preserve wasn't in the golf course business, we wouldn't have this problem," he said.

If the forest board can't sell the land without state approval, Donahue said, he'd like to see a financial evaluation of the courses.

Perhaps the sites can be converted to open space, he said.

In 2010, Calabresa led a committee that studied what to do about the Fort Sheridan golf plans and only recently went public with her opposition to building a new course there. She said forest district officials need to review whether they should stay in the golf business if Countryside or ThunderHawk go into the red.

The board's finance committee reviews the courses' fiscal picture quarterly, she said.

"I won't set a number at what threshold we should be out of the business," she said.

Calabresa also acknowledged the sport is weather dependent and that a rainy season could temporarily hurt business.

"You could have a year where it rains every single weekend in most of your season, and it could be very detrimental," she said. "You'd have to look at those figures and consider other conditions."

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