Disc golf course. Mountain biking trail or pump track. A prairie with native plants. Community Garden. Dog Park. Multi-use trail. Butterfly garden. Vendor area.
All are proposals that have been raised as possible uses for the former Doyne Park Golf Course, which permanently closed this year after 40 years in operation on Milwaukee’s West Side.
However, the Milwaukee County Parks Department claimed it no longer made financial sense to keep the nine-hole pitch-and-putt course open amid budget shortfalls and a lack of staff. The county cited declining rounds played, increased maintenance costs and changes in preferences for entry-level players for prompting the decision to close the Doyne course which featured nine holes that all were less than 110 yards from tee to green.
The county has since shifted its focus to gathering public input and developing a plan for new uses for the property located along West Wells Street.
A standing-room only crowd gathered last week in a meeting room at the Wisconsin Humane Society to discuss Doyne Park’s future.
The closing of the golf course leaves Doyne Park with basketball courts, a soccer field, a section of the Oak Leaf Trail and an outdated playground that is expected to be replaced in the next few years.
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A landfill on which the park is situated limits the future uses of the former golf course. The Parks Department installed a landfill gas control system in 1998 in response to concerns that landfill gas might migrate into neighboring residences. As such, amenities can’t include anything that penetrates the soil, such as a splash pad, pickle ball courts or picnic pavilion.
At last week’s meeting, residents had the opportunity to vote on potential future uses for the former golf course. Large sheets of paper with several proposals were pinned up around the meeting room and residents placed colored stickers on the sheets to indicate their most- and least-favorite ideas.
Residents favored options like a native prairie and butterfly garden while showing strong opposition to a dog park and disc golf course. A proposed pump track drew mixed reactions.
Jamie and Addison Chapman moved to the Doyne Park neighborhood earlier this year with their daughter, Hazel, and son, Dawson, after living in Milwaukee’s Metcalfe Park neighborhood for three years.
“The reason we moved was to provide a safer environment for our kids,” Jamie Chapman said. “Frankly, I love Doyne Park just the way it is but I’m so happy to see any and all improvements.”
Chapman said she prefers the community garden, native prairie and multi-purpose walking trails options as future uses for the former golf course site.
“They promote a sense of community engagement and promote health for our kids,” she said. “Having a garden is a beautiful thing and having a native prairie would make it awesome just to walk out there and see all the flowers.”
Hazel Chapman, who is 10 years old, said she prefers any option that will bring neighborhood residents together.
“I want to see people actually connecting and talking to each other and being social,” she said. “People who have things in common can start conversations that can bloom into friendships.”
Addison Chapman said Doyne could be revamped into an asset that extends beyond just the neighboring community but understands why some nearby residents have trepidation about the park becoming a regional draw.
“I can see why they might not want a dog park or a mountain bike track because they don’t want outsiders coming in but at the same time, we’re all from the same city and if it helps our city grow, that’s a good thing,” he said.
Milwaukee County Supervisor Peter Burgelis, who represents the area and co-hosted the meeting, said many residents expressed surprise when it became public knowledge that the Doyne Park Golf Course wouldn’t re-open this season.
“But once they understood the cost and the limited resources the Parks Department has, they all understood,” he said. “We have a number of other great golf courses, like Hansen, which isn’t too far away. It’s a great alternative.”
Hansen Golf Course, which the county touts as an executive course, is an 18-hole layout in Wauwatosa that offers slightly longer and more challenging holes than Doyne. Hansen is one of two executive courses operated by the county, along with the Warnimont Park Golf Course in Cudahy.
Burgelis said he was pleased to see a sizable and vocal group of neighborhood residents attend the meeting to discuss the future of the former Doyne Park Golf Course, which is situated just beyond the backyards of many of the homes that line the north side of West Wells Street.
“Our shared greens spaces are what makes Milwaukee County a great place to live,” he said. “The more community input, the better.”
Burgelis said he recognizes the concern among residents of the neighborhood when it comes to Doyne Park’s future.
“The neighbors really are concerned,” he said. “If you have neighbors who are concerned about the park, that’s a really strong neighborhood and a really strong community that Milwaukee County Parks and Milwaukee County needs to support and respect and let them help be the stewards of their community.”
Burgelis said he favors seeing a project that wouldn’t be limited to a single proposal.
“I’d like to see more than just one use,” he said. “There are a lot of good ideas.”
Public input, especially from those who reside close to Doyne Park, is crucial in developing new uses for the former Doyne Park course, Milwaukee County Parks Deputy Director Jim Tarantino said.
“This is the first time the park has changed its nature and character in 40 years,” he said. “It’s been a golf course for the longest time. This is large enough to be a regional park, but there is so much neighborhood investment.”
Tarantino outlined the factors that went into the difficult decision to close the Doyne Park Golf Course.
“Financially, it didn’t make sense to keep it open,” he said. “Our golf program, in general, is going gangbusters, but this par-3 course and the Noyes par 3, which also has seen a lack of investment, was just failing.”
Tarantino said the county was losing about $25,000 to $50,000 annually in operating the golf course at Doyne.
“Some may say the park system shouldn’t be oriented to making money, but that is our dynamic,” he said. “We’re forced to make decisions around what we can afford. We were getting to the point where the irrigation system needed to be replaced, and that’s about a million bucks. That would be a capital project that would be unlikely to be approved in the near future.”
Staffing issues and maintenance challenges also plagued Doyne, Tarantino said.
“The next closest golf course is Greenfield Park, which is four miles away in West Allis. When our folks there would finish for the day, they’d get in the truck and trailer a mower over to Doyne. But they just couldn’t keep up with it and we don’t just have the ability to create positions. Yes, the Doyne course was used but the greens were terrible. Noyes is also that way right now, but we are in the process of fixing the irrigation system there.”
Doyne, 5300 W. Wells St., joined a growing list of shuttered traditional par-3 golf courses operated by Milwaukee County, which has been facing budget shortfalls and staffing shortages.
The courses at Madison and Dineen parks closed for traditional golf use years ago. The Madison Park course, which opened in 1976, closed in 2019. It was converted into a disc golf course last year. The Dineen Park par-3 course, which operated from 1962 to 2004, also was converted to a disc golf course that opened in 2006 and was remodeled in 2020.
Transforming Doyne into a disc golf course would involve lower maintenance and staffing costs, Tarantino said.
“It’s a lot less labor intensive,” he said. “You just mow it as you would any other park field.”
The county’s disc golf courses have been successful, Tarantino said.
“Activity has been great but at what point do you reach saturation with disc golf,” he said. “We have so many facilities. I wonder how much more the game can grow. We converted Madison Park to disc golf and that has been wildly popular. Disc golfers love that course. But I wouldn’t say we are going to continue to do that.”
Residents who attended last week’s meeting expressed little to no desire for a disc golf course at Doyne.
The public meeting will serve as a “really big step toward making a decision” on Doyne’s future, Tarantino said. “We are going to notice some themes and some things that are just going to emerge as priorities, but we’re really going to need a capital project to make anything happen here.”
Given the budgeting process and supply chain issues, a changeover at Doyne isn’t likely to occur anytime soon.
“Even if we had money right now, it would still take at least a year to do anything,” Tarantino said.
As the Milwaukee County Parks Department and neighboring residents work in developing a plan for Doyne’s future, Jamie Chapman said she’s noticed that some aren’t yet willing to give up on Doyne’s past, even though few remnants of the golf course remain.
“I saw somebody out there golfing the other day,” she said. “I thought it was sweet. It wasn’t stopping him.”