Glenway Dunes, anyone? Or Glenway Valley?
Maybe not, but making Madison’s Glenway Golf Course even a distant kissing cousin of revered Bandon Dunes or Sand Valley Golf Resort can’t hurt.
Madison officials will have to move quickly to assess and accept an offer by Sand Valley Golf Resort’s Michael Keiser to “reimagine” the modest but beloved nine-hole course on the city’s west side if reconstruction is to be completed this year, but the race is on to get ready.
Keiser, whose father previously created one of America’s most popular golf destinations at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort before opening the much heralded Sand Valley in 2017, and his wife, Jocelyn, have offered to donate the funds for redesigning and reconstructing Glenway Golf Course. After reading about the financial troubles of the Madison golf course operation in recent years, Keiser contacted city officials with his offer to rebuild Glenway as a place for golfers of all ages and abilities.
If the city agrees, Glenway would close for the 2021 golf season and reopen in its new iteration in 2022. The review process will begin Thursday when Keiser’s offer will be discussed by the city’s Golf Subcommittee.
“It’s a short timeline, that’s for sure,” said Theran Steindl, golf operations supervisor for the city’s Parks Department. “We’re optimistic. We’re certainly in fast forward, as much as we can be. It certainly is a lofty goal (but) it’s one we think we can get done.”
Keiser, who now lives in Madison, said he wants Glenway to become the kind of golf course that would challenge him but also be a place where his family could learn to play golf and enjoy the game together. While he would donate funds for the project, Glenway would continue to be owned by the city.
Despite finishing in the black in 2020 thanks to higher than usual COVID-19 play, Madison’s four courses have been producing substantial losses over the past 20 years and need oft-delayed capital improvements estimated to cost between $34.7 million to more than $52 million, according to figures prepared by Parks Superintendent Eric Knepp. Last year, a special golf course task force recommended the closing of 18 holes at the 36-hole Yahara Hills Golf Course and turning control of the nine-hole Monona Golf Course to an outside organization.
The role of Glenway was little mentioned in task force deliberations, but Knepp said in a memo to the Golf Subcommittee that Keiser’s proposal “has the potential to serve as a prototype for future improvements of other City of Madison courses.” As Steindl put it in an interview Tuesday, “Glenway provides a way to try something new. (The plan) really speaks to Michael’s vision for more inclusionary golf.”
In addition to rebuilding new greens and opening up new vistas across the course, Keiser’s plan would include creating more hiking and bike trails on the property that could be enjoyed by non-golfers “and boost the city’s intrinsic value of the courses,” Knepp said. He noted that, as at Sand Valley, where thousands of acres of savanna prairie have been restored along with the development of three golf courses, ecological restoration would be part of the Glenway project.
In his memo, Knepp said the proposal meets a number of recommendations set forth by last year’s Task Force. It would improve Glenway for future generations at little cost to the city, allow golf to become more community and ecologically focused, make the course more enjoyable for all ages, genders and abilities and make the natural beauty of the course available to the public for purposes other than golf.
And, he said, Keiser’s connections at the highest level of golf architecture and management can’t be ignored.
“Michael has a deep understanding of golf course architecture and the ability to ensure high-level professional work on such a project,” he said. “This is certainly a unique opportunity where the donor has the demonstrated track record to allow for consideration of this unique approach and staff is confident it can be a success.”
Closing Glenway would be necessary for the reinvestment. But Knepp said despite ongoing discussions of closing part of Yahara and handing off the Monona course, the city plans to keep both courses open for 2021. “Staff thinks that (closing) in a year when all other holes are able to be operated is worth working towards a 2021 project at Glenway.”
Knepp’s memo did not offer any estimates of the cost of the project, but he told the Madison Capital Times that it would likely cost the city $500,000 to rebuild Glenway’s greens and green complexes, and additional work could raise the cost to $650,000.
Steindl said that after word of Keiser’s offer was made public this week, the city began hearing from lots of golfers who have fond memories of playing at Glenway, or whose parents recorded holes-in-one there or enjoyed other achievements. It’s gratifying to know “how many families have been touched by this course,” he said. “It’s kind of cool. We’re hearing a lot of those stories.”
If Keiser’s plan is realized, Glenway could reconnect with the community in new ways, Steindl said.