The 15,753 golf courses in the United States take up more space than half the state of New Jersey. And though they devour so much land, much of it in suburbia, the sport is foundering — in part because of the enormous amount of time and distance it requires. Some real estate professionals and experts on aging have come together to suggest a solution both for the decline of the game and the land use problems posed by these massive courses: Build mixed-use development inside them.
“The simultaneous collapse in the value of homes and golf courses may make such suburban redevelopment, retrofitting, and regreening possible on an unprecedented scale,” wrote Jane Hickie of the Stanford Center on Longevity and James F. Dausch and Edward Bennett Vinson of Resolutions Real Estate Advisors in an article last month for the American Artchitectural Foundation. “Redevelopment could provide solutions for the financial problems that many homeowners associations and golf course operators are struggling to address through infill housing and retail more suitable for an older population.”
Hickie has written a book on independent living for seniors, and she knows that most seniors live in suburbia and want to stay in their own communities as they age. So here’s the challenge she laid out: “How do you transform suburbia quickly enough to deal with the coming tsunami of population change?” Repurposing golf courses, she says, could play an important role.
Many residential developments, often targeted at retirees, have grown up around golf courses, charging a premium to be near the course. But with the collapse of housing prices, especially in the drivable suburbs, and the decline in the game, homeowners’ associations are often left holding the bag for astronomical maintenance costs. By bringing retail, dining, office space, and other recreational opportunities to golf courses, Hickie suggests, developers could buoy home values and help pay for the costs of the land. These amenities could also attract a different demographic, whether or not they’re interested in golf, and the new residents could be accommodated in denser housing in the town center.
Separately, Hall of Fame golfer Tom Kite has also entertained the idea of shrinking golf courses. He’s speculated that the size of the courses may have become the sport’s Achilles heel. It can take upwards of five hours to finish 18 holes, and fewer and fewer people have that much time on their hands.