For the last several years, Anthony Totoraitis would hustle to the Doyne Park Golf Course on Milwaukee’s west side nearly every day on his work lunch break to play a quick round on the nine-hole layout.
“I could play nine holes in about 35 minutes, if I hit it straight,” Totoraitis said.
He’d often spend weekends there, too, honing his skills on the course that is tucked into a neighborhood along West Wells Street that consists of small houses, a few apartment buildings and a church. Totoraitis, who first started playing the course with friends while a student at nearby Marquette University High School, could be found on the course nearly year-round, even in the cold of winter, provided snow wasn’t covering the course.
Much to Totoraitis’ disappointment, the Doyne Park course won’t be opening this season and is now permanently closed after 40 years in operation.
“Future use of the park has not been determined. First, we will seek public input on potential uses,” Milwaukee County Parks spokesman Ian Everett said. “Public engagement is expected to begin this summer.”
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Declining rounds played, increased costs for maintenance and changes in preferences for entry-level players led to the decision to close Doyne, Everett said.
The course, Totoraits said, allowed him to work on his golf game without paying prohibitive greens fees. All nine holes on the course were less than 110 yards from tee to green.
“I am a terrible golfer and the ability to practice, and the convenience was the most appealing,” he said. “Par 3s, in general, are perfect for people like me with families that can’t commit five hours to play a full round. And as recently as three years ago, the course was in wonderful shape.”
The condition of the course began deteriorating in recent years, however, Totoraitis said.
“It was brutal to see the course fall apart,” he said. “When the pandemic hit, I guess they stopped taking care of it altogether. The greens all cracked and died. Nothing was ever done to repair them and I’m sure that made the decision easier to just pull the plug.”
Totoraitis also developed a friendship with another golfer who had also played at the Doyne course at the same time, nearly every day.
“I would bump into this guy named Richard who was doing the same thing as me, playing on his lunch hour,” Totoraitis said. “That started about a three-year stretch of us playing every day with a standing tee time until he retired and had more time for full courses. He was invited to my wedding, and I was there for his wedding, as well. We are still buddies to this day.”
Totoraits said he understands that the Milwaukee County Parks Department is in an extremely difficult financial predicament.
“But I don’t agree with abandoning such a beautiful resource,” he said. “The park gets tremendous use from the public. The soccer field is full most nights. Walkers, runners, and bikers constantly enjoy the park from the trail. Families and kids are on the playground daily even though it’s in dire need of an update.”
The course often teemed with golfers, but many times there was no one on site to collect greens fees, Totoraitis said.
“I’m sure that hurt the county’s ability to keep it going,” he said.
Everett noted that county-owned courses at Warnimont Park and Hanson Park, which have slightly longer layouts and are deemed executive courses, have experienced strong growth in business over the past few seasons.
Totoraitis is now among them.
“I now play at Hansen whenever I can, which is usually on the weekends when my two little kids are napping,” he said. “But I wish there would have been a campaign to save the (Doyne) course or a chance for the community to have their voices heard about the future of the park.”
Doyne joins a growing list of shuttered traditional par-3 golf courses operated by Milwaukee County. 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.
For now, the only “pitch and putt” courses that remain are at Lake Park on the East Side, Noyes Park on the Northwest Side and Zablocki Park on the South Side.
Milwaukee County Parks has requested funding through American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for projects to improve irrigation at the Zablocki and Lake Park courses, Everett said. The project was recommended by the ARPA Task Force in March and is awaiting final approval.
The county has been upgrading some of its par-3 and longer courses with the new 2022 golf season now in full swing.
“All remaining courses are doing very well and remain very popular,” Everett said.
Over the winter, the clubhouses at the Whitnall and Warnimont golf courses were remodeled and a project to replace the parking lot at Dretzka Golf Course will begin soon. A project to replace the parking lot and update cart paths at Currie Golf Course is in the planning phase, too.
About 340,000 rounds of golf were played in 2021 at all the Milwaukee County courses, including par-3, executive, tournament, championship and regulation courses, a 46% increase compared with 2018.
“One of our biggest challenges now is hiring seasonal staff to help run the courses and pro shops,” Everett said of the 13 courses that remain under county ownership and management.
Despite other options, Totoraitis is still struggling to deal with the closing of the course where he spent so much time.
“I would seriously mow the lawn or do whatever the county would let me do to save the course,” he said. “I imagined getting my kids to golf on that course and it is heartbreaking to see it now as a field of dandelions.”