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Proposal to turn Cherokee Golf Course into park land is off the table

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 group of Metro Council members is backing away from a plan to reintegrate the Cherokee Golf Course in the Highlands neighborhood into the surrounding park. 

In April, Parks and Recreation Department officials held two public meetings on the future of the golf course and solicited responses to an online feedback form. While a majority of the 330 respondents agreed with a proposal to repurpose the course and its clubhouse and lake, the council’s Parks and Sustainability Committee voted Tuesday to move in a different direction. 

The seven-member committee approved an ordinance, sponsored by Democratic District 14 Council Member Cindi Fowler, that would require the city to try — again — to find a third-party company or nonprofit to manage the golf course. A previous request for proposals in 2019 received no responses aside from the plan to repurpose the land.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Fowler said she was opposed to that approach and wanted to preserve the city’s oldest municipal golf course. She said the Cherokee course also serves a niche purpose within Louisville’s golfing community.

“The students are using it, the senior citizens are using it to teach their grandkids how to play golf,” she said. “It’s not the same as the other courses because of how it’s laid out. I just think that it should have the opportunity to be opened up to the bid process.”

The committee approved Fowler’s ordinance in a 6-1 vote. The full Metro Council will take a final vote on whether to reissue the request for proposals Thursday night. 

Following the public engagement process in April, the Parks and Recreation Department recommended Metro Council accept a 2019 proposal from the Olmsted Parks Conservancy to merge the course back into Cherokee Park. The proposal included plans for a boathouse on Willow Pond and turning the clubhouse into a restaurant and patio. 

District 8 Council Member Cassie Chambers Armstrong, a Democrat who represents the Highlands, submitted a resolution on Monday to allow the city to begin talks with the Conservancy. The resolution was cosponsored by Council President David James, who represents District 6, and District 9 Council Member Bill Hollander.

They issued a joint statement after the Tuesday vote saying they were withdrawing that resolution because the vote made it clear that Metro Council did not support converting the golf course at this time.

“We respect that decision,” the joint statement said. “We are concerned that moving forward with our resolution to approve Metro Parks' request to repurpose the golf course before the [request for proposals] is complete could further complicate the process and produce inconsistent outcomes.”

Supporters of repurposing the golf course argued that it was underutilized and a drain on Louisville’s municipal golf system, which shares profits and losses across courses. Financial statements show the Cherokee course had lost money for nine of the last 10 years. The course also needs about $1.1 million in deferred maintenance, according to engineering estimates. 

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