Gehrke: An ambitious plan is underway to resurrect Salt Lake City’s Wingpointe golf course

Back when I would still occasionally swing a golf club, Wingpointe was my Kryptonite. Thanks to my unshakable snap hook, the little pond in the center of the course gobbled up at least six balls in one round alone and ended up with my 4-iron in its murky depths.

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune The Salt Lake Tribune staff portraits. Robert Gehrke.

But an effort is underway by a group of well-connected political types and golf nuts to revive and even improve the old links into a championship-caliber course. It won’t be easy — it will take an act of Congress, not to mention somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million, to bring it back to life.

And this is a crucial point: If they were looking for taxpayers to foot the bill, no way. Taxpayers pay enough to subsidize golfers already. They’re planning to do all of it without any government money. Several major corporate sponsors have been approached and discussions are ongoing.

The notion is getting at least conditional support from Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski.

“This is one of those that hits me in the heart and I really want to see this golf course come back to life,” she said.

The first step, the mayor said, is getting a business plan so she and the City Council can work out details with the airport authority board.

There will be plenty to do and not a lot of time to do it.

The goal is to reopen the course in conjunction with the completion of the reconstruction of the Salt Lake City International Airport in 18 months, which means work has to begin by February, said Terry Buchen, a golf agronomist.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Weeds and dead grass have taken over at the defunct and shuttered Wingpointe golf course near the Salt Lake International Airport, but a group of leaders, including Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Congressman Chris Steward are working on a plan to bring it back.

The entire course will have to be redesigned, said Steve Forrest, a noted golf course architect who partnered with Arthur Hills on Wingpointe’s original design and toured the course this week.

Originally, the course was designed based on the assumption top-flight golfers would hit about 270 yards off the tees; players can now drive the ball 300 yards or more — or as I call it: three wedge shots and a Mulligan.

The irrigation system will have to be rebuilt, cart paths pulled up, greens resurfaced and bunkers replaced.

The airport bought the land in 1970 and had leased it to the city for $1 per year. But the Federal Aviation Administration told the airport it had to start charging fair-market value. The lease was eventually renegotiated, but in the meantime it went without maintenance, the irrigation system sprung a leak and the greens withered.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Weeds and dead grass have taken over near the clubhouse of the Wingpointe golf course near the Salt Lake International Airport, but a group of leaders, including Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Congressman Chris Steward are working on a plan to bring it back.

Rep. Chris Stewart added a rider to the Federal Aviation Administration’s budget bill that would allow the FAA to sign a long-term lease to the land. Right now, that bill is waiting for a vote in the Senate, which could come in September or October, said Gary Webster, Stewart’s district director.

There are a couple of other novel twists in the planning, as well. Maintenance work and groundskeeping on the course would be done by inmates at the new state prison, being built about 2 miles away, as part of a work-training program.

The University of Utah golf team wants to use the revitalized course as a practice facility, said coach Garrett Clegg. And a nonprofit, First Tee of Utah, wants to run youth programs for kids in the surrounding Glendale and Rose Park neighborhoods, said executive director Paul Pugmire.

“Golf is an institution for me to be able to help minority kids. This is a game that will help kids learn life lessons,” said Kelepi Finau, the father of professional golfer Tony Finauwho taught his sons to play at Wingpointe and other neighborhood courses.

And really, what else can we do with that land around the airport that could someday be surrounded by the envisioned inland shipping port?

So I’m hoping they can pull this off and maybe by 2020 I can get another shot at conquering the reviled Wingpointe golf course.

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