Gaughan's plan for golf in Buffalo comes with jobs, education, national model

Sep 17, 2018

Jack Nicklaus toured Buffalo's Delaware Park by golf cart on Monday.
Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

Public golf in the City of Buffalo could see a significant redesign in the coming years with help from one of the sport’s best-known players.


Standing in the lush green grass of Buffalo’s Delaware Park, golf icon Jack Nicklaus gave his estimation of the city’s public park system on Monday afternoon.

“What Olmsted did was he built a park, and he put a little bit of golf in it for recreation. Of course he did other things – he did soccer fields, and baseball fields, and everything else within the park, too, which is what a park is all about,” said Nicklaus. “So I don’t think you want to change that. I think you want to enhance it.”

Nicklaus was talking about plans for two of the Olmsted Parks Conservancy’s golf courses, which he’s been enlisted to redesign as part of a proposal put forth by Buffalo attorney Kevin Gaughan.

Kevin Gaughan (left) is behind the proposal for a revamp of Buffalo's public golf courses, with designs by Jack Nicklaus (right).
Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

Early thoughts from Nicklaus indicate his design would restore more vegetation in the Delaware Park course, give it some modern enhancements like irrigation and fairways, and keep its 18-hole length. At South Park, next to the city’s botanical gardens, the current nine-hole course would be removed after a new course was built on land along Hopkins Street.

Gaughan said the land next to South Park was chosen so residents of the surrounding community who have come to cherish the course wouldn’t have to travel far to enjoy its replacement.

The project’s estimated budget stands at $42 million, and is intended to be funded without public money.

“That includes both design and construction of the South Buffalo course, contributing to the Conservancy by making a substantial donation to help them remove the golf course and begin to restore and fully revive the arboretum,” said Gaughan. “Most important, the reason why that number is so high, is that it includes the establishment of a $12 million perpetual trust.”

That trust was a requirement for Nicklaus to get involved. It ensures the work he and his company will do – at cost – will be maintained in years to come.

But more than just some new holes to sink a ball into, the plan also calls for creation of a center for education and job training in golf-related vocations like land conservation, course maintenance, and botany. It, too, would be built next to South Park along Hopkins Street.

Lucy Lawliss, co-chair of the National Association for Olmsted Parks calls the project a one-of-a-kind in the country. She said nothing is more valuable than its education component.

“In my experience, working with the National Parks Service, we are not training the next generation around historic landscapes, horticultural services, the care of trees, arborists,” said Lawliss. “None of these parks survive unless you are fully engaged and have people who know how to take care of them.”

Reverend Mark Blue, President of the Buffalo Chapter of the NAACP and a member of the project’s committee, said having the center for education will do a lot for Buffalo’s black and Latino youth.

Jack Nicklaus spent part of his day in Buffalo meeting with members of the city's East Side community and the Jim Horne Golf Foundation at the Merriweather Library.
Credit Sandy White / WBFO News

“They need this project to stay where it is so we can have an opportunity to excel in all other areas – not only in sports, but advancement of the horticultural society as well,” said Blue.

With a portfolio of golf courses built in 45 countries around the world, Nicklaus could have done his next design anywhere. He said he agreed to work in Buffalo because he likes “causes” and envisions the project’s mix of recreation, education, and job creation as a model for the scores of public parks Frederick Law Olmsted designed across the country, many of which are in urban settings.

But building in an Olmsted Park presents concerns.

“We just need to make sure that anything that is proposed meets with the fact that this park is on the National Register of Historic Places,” said Buffalo Olmsted Parks Executive Director Stephanie Crockatt. “You can’t just start building mounds and bunkers. There’s a lot that would need to go into it.”

This isn’t the first major restoration to take place in Buffalo’s parks in recent history – think the river rock garden in Riverside Park, and the five acre splash pad at MLK Park. Crockatt and her team are ultimately in charge of those major changes in partnership with the City of Buffalo. Both entities have to give their approval before any kind of construction on new golf courses can begin. And there’s already a vision in place for many of those sites, including Delaware Park.

“Our master plan calls for the restoration of the meadow, bringing back the meadow for all users,” said Crockatt. “And so a reduction in the impact of the golf course is what we’ve had in our master plan since 2008. So we would hope that any proposal for design would take that into consideration.”

The design stage is still in its infancy. In the meantime Gaughan, Nicklaus, and their committee are soliciting donors and scouting the golf courses more closely.

Nicklaus said if the project is approved and funded, redesign of the Delaware course could be completed within the span of a spring to fall timeframe. Creation of the new South Park course would take longer.