CLEVELAND, OH — The City of Cleveland intends to hire a nonprofit organization to operate the historic, city-owned Highland Park Golf Course as part of Mayor Justin Bibb’s goal of revitalizing the course, preserving and expanding Cleveland residents’ access to golf and possibly attracting tournaments.
The city is looking to hire the newly formed Highland Park Golf Foundation, which includes Cleveland area business leaders who frequent the course, to oversee management.
(A list of some of the Foundation’s members can be found at the end of this story.)
The foundation intends to hire Troon, an Arizona-based company that operates 140 local training courses in the United States and hundreds more around the world, to handle day-to-day operations.
Pape intends to introduce legislation to the city council on Monday that, if approved, would allow the city to enter into a management agreement with the foundation. The hope is that the foundation will take over sometime this spring, said Bonnie Tywin, COO.
Over the next five years, the institution plans to improve the 36-hole course and its clubhouse, build a driving range, chipping and putting center, and make other upgrades.
The foundation was formed in October, a few weeks after Pep put out a call for proposals aimed at revitalizing the course. It has been operating at a loss, and in the past five years has required up to $1 million in annual subsidies from the General Fund, which is used to pay for essential city services, such as the police and fire.
Under the new administration, the city hopes the course will start to generate profits, which can be reinvested into the course through capital improvements, Teeuwen said.
The transition to nonprofit management carries a major benefit, Tewin said, in that the foundation can raise money and attract outside donations in hopes of helping pay for golf course improvements, which would not happen if the city contracted directly with a golf course operator like Troon.
Six proposals have been submitted, including a mix of nonprofits, developers, architects and designers, said Abe Boesky, a city employee who works on special projects and initiatives.
Teeuwen said the foundation’s proposal, which included the partnership with Troon, rose above the rest in large part because of its plan to celebrate the historic significance of the course, and because of its board members’ love and passion for the course.
“A lot of them grew up playing the track, they still play the course and they really understand and have a passion for the historical significance of the course. That was important to us, they understand that this is a gem of an asset that Cleveland has, and we don’t want to let it go,” said Tywin, who Help screen proposals.
The city of Cleveland has long owned Highland Golf Course, which opened in 1928 and is located in the suburbs of Highland Hills. It has welcomed minority golfers before many other courses, and has been home to “two pioneering African American golf leagues that played primarily” on the course: Sixth City Golf Club, established in 1946, and Forest City Golf Club, according to one town. New release.
It has played host to a host of black golf stars over the years, including Charlie Sifford, known as the “Jackie Robinson of golf”, who once considered it his “home course” and participated in the inaugural PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship at Highland in 1987.
It has hosted other golf greats over the years as well, including Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus during the Cleveland Open on the PGA Tour in 1964 and 1965, according to the city.
“The Highland Park Golf Foundation’s proposal reflects the commitment to celebrate the course’s rich history as a course for minorities,” Pep said in a press release. “We are delighted with the team that has come together to preserve and elevate this ancient asset.”
According to city records, the attendance rate of city residents to the golf course has fallen sharply in recent years. Records show that in 2019, nearly 76% of visitors were residents, but that dropped to 46% in 2020, 39% in 2021 and 29% in 2022.
Teeuwen said the foundation plans to run a marketing campaign aimed at getting more Clevelanders to visit the course, which offers—and will continue to offer—discounts to city residents. She said she also plans to partner with Cleveland schools to get more of the city’s young residents involved in golf.
A spokeswoman for Pep said some of the Foundation’s team participants:
- Bob Fleischer (Vice President and Owner of Mr. Excavator Inc.)
- Bruce Dirks (Vice President, Corporate Development, Via Sat)
- David Wagner (CEO and Principal Director, Hanna Commercial Real Estate)
- Darrell McNair (CEO/President MVP Plastics)
- Nicholas Petty (Director of Student Success at Cleveland State)
- Drew Pearson (PGA Professional and Co-Owner/Director of Instructions at The Clubhouse Cleveland)
- Brett Stinson (American Society of Golf Course Engineers) President
- Dave Wallace (Partner at Taft Law)
- Patrick Hawkins (President/CEO Hawkins Industrial)
- Coach Ted Gein (Glenville High School)
- David Trimble (lawyer)
- John Pearce (SIRVA Senior Vice President)
- Robyn Minter Smyers (*serves in an advisory capacity to the Board of Directors, Partner, Thompson Hine)