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Proposal would see Louisville golf course turned back into woodlands

Parks and recreation officials are collecting feedback on a proposal that would turn Cherokee Golf Course back into parkland.
Parks and recreation officials are collecting feedback on a proposal that would turn Cherokee Golf Course back into parkland.

A proposal is on the table to return Cherokee Golf Course back to parkland. 

Louisville Parks and Recreation officials are soliciting public feedback on the proposal through email and a series of public meetings, starting 6 p.m. Monday at the Douglass Community Center. The Olmsted Parks Conservancy, which manages many of the city’s largest parks, submitted a proposal to integrate the course along Cherokee Parkway and Grinstead Drive into the adjacent woodland in 2019. Some residents and golfers opposed the plan, and in-person community meetings were put on hold at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The golf course land was originally part of Cherokee Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1891. According to Conservancy leaders, some people began playing golf on the land and its use was officially changed nearly a decade later. It’s since become the oldest municipal golf course in Louisville, and one of the oldest in the country.

“It was against the recommendation of the Olmsted Firm,” said Layla George, the Conservancy’s president. “There was a letter John Charles Olmsted wrote in 1896 … saying that he was disappointed to see people still golfing at Cherokee.”

George said the Olmsted Parks Conservancy would like to revamp the course and allow for different types of programming.

“Cherokee Park is one of the most busy and popular parks in the entire city, and the majority of people who visit Cherokee on a daily basis have never stepped foot on those 60 acres,” she said.

The 2019 proposal was intentionally left somewhat vague, but artist renderings show a potential boathouse near Willow Pond and a golfing clubhouse repurposed into a restaurant and patio area.

Louisville Metro has not been successful in getting a third-party manager for the Cherokee Golf Course, in part, because it has not been profitable in recent years. Parks and Recreation officials said in a statement that it is currently the only municipal golf course the city manages. The other nine courses have lease agreements with a nonprofit or PGA professional organization. 

The Cherokee Golf Course is one of three 9-hole courses, including one less than three miles away in the Crescent Hill neighborhood. They have historically been less popular than the larger, 18-hole courses.

District 8 Metro Council member Cassie Chambers Armstrong will also be present at the public meetings. Her district includes the golf course and surrounding Highlands neighborhoods. 

Chambers Armstrong said her office has already received some feedback from nearby residents, many of whom are opposed to getting rid of the golf course.

“I think it has nostalgic significance for some folks,” she said. “I’ve talked to people that grew up playing golf there, they played as a child, maybe their grandparent taught them golf there. That’s a very powerful thing.”

Louisville residents should not expect rapid changes. Chambers Armstrong said they are approaching the proposal with caution and want to make sure everyone feels heard.

“For a lot of people, it is just an integral part of the backdrop of their everyday life, to go to these different green spaces, to utilize our public lands in these ways,” she said. “It’s something that we really have to get right, and getting it right takes time.”

After soliciting public feedback, officials can decide to go one of two ways. 

The Parks and Recreation Department could submit a proposal to Metro Council to end golf in Cherokee. A majority of council members would have to sign off on the plan before the Olmsted Parks Conservancy could move on to creating a master plan for the land. That planning process would also include more public meetings. 

If Parks officials decide against the Conservancy’s proposal, they’ll likely put out another bid to get a third-party manager for the golf course. 

A second public meeting on the proposal will be held April 25 at 6 p.m. inside the Cherokee Golf Course Clubhouse.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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