Many cities and towns in Greater Boston own and operate their own golf courses. These take up large amounts of land. Land is an interesting resource. It’s difficult to make more of it and it’s needed for everything. Golf has its place, but in the midst of a housing crisis, is the region wasting an important resource by continuing to operate these courses?
Consider the William J Devine Golf Course. Owned and operated by the City of Boston, it sits in a section of the city between Stonybrook and Blue Hill Avenue. Judging by an area mapping app, it’s around 142.25 acres. Accordintg to the Boston Parks and Recreation Department’s annual report, in 2015 72,968 rounds of golf were played between the Devine Golf Course and the City’s other municipal golf course, the George Wright. This is approximately $2.8 million in revenue to the City. For FY2017, the City plans on spending $7.39 million on improvements to the George Wright Golf Course and $2.06 million on the William Devine Golf Course. That’s $9.45 million in total.
Meanwhile the popularity of golf is on the decline, according to The Economist, thanks to slow play and increasingly complex rules. The magazine also noted that stagnant middle class incomes has also made golf once more the domain of the wealthy Miniature golf courses around the country are closing, according to USA Today.
Just a few days ago NIKE announced that it would cease manufacturing golfing equipment, joining Adidas, according to reporter David Moulton. He also wrote that courses are closing at a high rate and the number of rounds played has declined 20 percent since 2000.
According to the Boston Redevelopment Authority, in 2010 Boston had 272,481 housing units and residential land accounted for 36 percent of the City’s 48.4 square miles. This works out to 24.4 housing units per acre. Meaning that at existing Boston densities, about 3,481 units of housing could be built on the area occupied by the William J Devine Golf Course. It could be home to nearly 8,000 people. At the 275 dwelling units per acre of the North End in the 1960s, over 39,000 homes could be built there.
Instead, that valuable land is devoted to a declining, elitist game. It is at least as baffling that a city with a housing crisis should devote any amount of land to golf over housing as it should devote vast swathes of land to parking. It’s even more striking when those courses appear to be money pits, inexpensive as they are compared to other city expenditures.