This story is part of the Madison Commons series, exploring how people in Madison and Dane counties find different ways to grow culture within our communities, finding opportunities to connect with each other to learn more about our world.
Recent developments about public golf courses highlight growing problems in Madison golf community
On the east side of Madison, half a mile from I-90, lies Yahara Hills, the city’s largest golf course.
With its two 18-hole courses, rolling green hills and rows of tall trees that keep the outside world at bay, Yahara has been a favorite with the average golfer since it opened in 1968. But with the recent sale of the East Course, the number of people playing at Yahara Hills is dwindling, while at the same time it’s — so to speak — part of Madison’s golf culture.
Given its history, the golf course has hosted many events over the years, including several city, state and national championships.
Not all of these events are strictly golf-related. In December 2019, Yahara was selected to host the USATF National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships after Madison won the honor through a successful bidding war. As expected, the tournament gave many outside viewers a taste of life in Madison over the weekend, boosting the local economy.
However, this fiscal stimulus has proven difficult to transfer to the city’s main golf courses.
Like Madison’s other municipal golf courses, Yahara’s infrastructure is aging. The budget deficit plus the millions needed for bunker repairs and drainage improvements didn’t help. These issues alone required more than $20 million in funding after the site suffered severe flooding in recent years.
Yahara’s attendance also dwindled during golf season, further exacerbating its problems. Many golfers continue to play at Yahara each spring and summer, but in the end the numbers simply aren’t enough to cover routine maintenance.
Worse, under pressure to address these growing problems, with no long-term solutions in sight, city managers have been grappling with the fact that a return to a sustainable state may no longer be possible.
Perhaps that’s why the Madison City Council sold some of Yahara’s land to Dane County in May 2022, a first step toward expanding the city’s landfill. The county is focusing on this particular piece of land because the current landfill, located across the 12/18 highway from Yahara, is expected to reach capacity by 2030.
As part of the deal, 230 acres east of Yahara will be dedicated to the construction of the expansion site, a process that will take several years. Unfortunately, those 230 acres also happen to make up Yahara’s entire 18-hole East Course—a move that would effectively cut Yahara’s total golf course offering in half. The Eastern Course will remain open through the 2024 season, but the number of holes will steadily decrease from there, leaving Yahara with just 18 holes in total for players by spring 2042.
Understandably, the recent sale has drawn mixed reactions in the golf world.
“I’ve loved golfing at Yahara for years,” says Madison resident and avid golfer DJ Lamichane. “It’s a beautiful piece of scenery and provides a lot of fun for me and my friends. I’m really sad to hear that part of the stadium is going to be converted into a landfill. I may be biased here to say that I hope The land continues to be used for my enjoyment, but I also understand that repurposing some of the course into landfill will meet the needs of Madison’s growing population. It’s a difficult process.”
Although necessary, it cannot be denied that the sale would prevent the average golfer from enjoying the course. With 2024 fast approaching, players have little time to fully experience Yahara Hills before new developments begin.
The overall impact of Yahara’s sale on the larger golfing community is certainly small, considering the city’s many other golf courses, but that’s not to say the changes are insignificant. Soon, golfers will be playing one less game. One less course to practice your short and long game, return a golfer’s lost ball, or enjoy the peaceful scenery with friends.
Yahara’s East Course may be a small piece in its larger golfing picture, but it’s an important one. A man who is felt as soon as he is gone.
“I play Yahara East as much as I can now,” says regular golfer Alex Haugen. “This promotion motivates me to play out there more and I rarely tire of it. It feels like this course was built for me. Plenty of room on the fairways but if you miss it, the rough is soft and the Even enough that it doesn’t affect your shot too much. I also like to play up and down the hill the course is on. It’s an all-around course that suits my playing style very well.”
The silver lining in this situation is that Madison residents still have time to experience Yahara East. Yahara Hills will now officially open in Spring 2023, marking its 55th anniversary. However, golfers do well to remember that such a historic milestone doesn’t come without a price.