Plans for Hiawatha Golf Course stall out at Minneapolis park board

A golfer tries to roll in a putt at Hiawatha Golf Course in Minneapolis (FOX 9)

A plan to drastically redesign and drastically reduce Hiawatha Golf Course in Minneapolis stalled out again Wednesday night, failing to move forward in a tie vote by the Minneapolis Park Board.

The testimony to save the existing course lasted for several hours.  The debate over the proposed overhaul been going for years, with the legacy of Black golfers taking center stage.

"This is an important part of our history," testified LaJune Lang, a retired Hennepin County judge.

Many of those who came to testify to the Park Board spoke of the course’s role in allowing Black golfers to play at a time when most courses did not.

"In 1938, Hiawatha was the first course here to allow Black players," testified Reverend Alfred Babington-Johnson, CEO of Stair Step Foundation. "And in 1938, Hiawatha became the site of the first golf tournament in the Upper Midwest created by and for Black golfers."

RELATED: Group of Black golfers keep clubs swinging in Hiawatha Golf Course

The plans to redesign Hiawatha and shrink its 18 holes down to 9 began after the course flooded in 2014.  The course pumps several million gallons of groundwater into Hiawatha Lake each year to keep the course dry, raising pollution concerns.  The Park Board plan would reduce that in part by restoring wetlands.  The plan would also create more park space.

Photo of past flooding at Hiawatha GC (FOX 9)

Twice before, the plan was rejected.  Now with new commissioners in place, it was brought back for another try.

But several groups have been fighting to preserve the current 18-hole layout and argued for an alternative plan that would keep the 18-hole layout while also improving the groundwater drainage. 

Among them is the Bronze Foundation, which runs tournaments and youth programs at Hiawatha for disadvantaged communities.  And they have a big partner in professional golfer Tom Lehman, who also spoke to the board to push for an alternate plan.  Lehman also made note of Hiawatha’s historic role.

"Right now, there’s a tournament going on in Augusta, Georgia called the Masters," Lehman told the Park Board.  "Tiger Woods is playing. Tiger Woods is playing in big part because of what happened at Hiawatha Park Golf Course back in the fifties. This is no joke."

The vote to move the Hiawatha plan forward ended with a 4 to 4 vote with one member abstaining. So instead of moving to a public hearing later this month, the plan is once again off the table.  And for now, Hiawatha will stay as it is.