Solar industry putting golf courses in the dark

Two recent sales of golf courses will eventually lead to the development of solar farms, continuing a concerning trend for golfers.
More and more golf courses are becoming targets to be repurposed into solar farms.

The pandemic boom has been good for golf.

But, even in the midst of this mad rush of tee times, golf courses are still closing. And there's a new threat emerging for the long-term viability of your local golf course - the solar industry.

Skyline Country Club in Lanesboro, Mass., and Tomac Woods in Albion, Mich., are one step closer to becoming solar farms after the recent sales of the properties. They are just the two latest dominoes to fall in the solar industry's expansion into golf's outdoor acreage. Ideas for Us, an Orlando-based non-profit that touts global environmental solutions through local action, is pushing for more golf courses to become solar farms. Tomac Woods Owner Jeanne Kennedy announced the decision to sell with a heartfelt message on the course website:

Recently an opportunity presented itself that would allow Dave and I to retire and spend our time with our 9 grandsons, the rest of our family and our friends. The property will be sold and it will be repurposed as a solar farm. Obviously this has been a challenging decision to make. The course is open but will cease operations in mid-September. We will advise you of the timeline in the next few days. In the meantime, we hope you will continue to enjoy playing at Tomac Woods. We look forward to talking with many of you, answering your questions, sharing memories and especially expressing our great and deep appreciation for your business and friendship.
Jeanne Kennedy

Skyline never opened this year in anticipation of its redevelopment. The Berkshire Eagle recently reported that Mill Town Capital, a private investment firm, bought the course last month, so two different companies could build solar fields on each nine. Last year, Mill Town also bought the Pontoosuc Lake Country Club, a course in Pittsfield, Mass., whose former owner had previously tried to get permitting to create a solar farm. Despite its ties to A.W. Tillinghast, the shuttered course's future remains unclear.

The state of golf course closures in 2021

Thanks to the pandemic, golf is actually in a healthier place than it's been in decades. This could be the first year fewer than 100 courses close since the clutches of the recession from 2007-09.

Halfway through 2021, the National Golf Foundation reports U.S. closures are equal to the equivalent of 60 18-hole courses, a 46% drop from last year at this time. Projecting to year-end, the NGF believes that roughly 100 18-hole equivalents will close, about 0.7% of the total supply. In 2020, NGF recorded a total of 193 18-hole equivalent closures, about 1.3% of total supply. In 2019, that number was 246, the largest drop on record.

"This could be the year golf course supply in the U.S. levels out," wrote NGF President and Chief Executive Officer Joe Beditz, Ph.D., in an email. " ... Certainly, we don’t blame golf course owners for cashing out when presented with an attractive exit strategy. In many cases, let’s instead wish them a long and happy retirement."

The solar conundrum

The push for renewable energy in recent years has also coincided with golf's oversupply, opening the door of opportunity for the solar industry. The concept of investing in large-scale solar farms isn't all that new.

Tallgrass Golf Club, an early Gil Hanse design, was one of Long Island's best public courses until closing at the end of 2016 to become a solar farm. In its lifetime, that farm will “displace 29,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually,” according to the Ideas For Us article. Cape Cod Country Club in North Falmouth, Mass., is on track to becoming a solar farm as well. Talks are ongoing.

All this leaves golfers stuck in the middle. Would you rather:

A. Keep playing.
B. See the course, if it continues to struggle, become a housing development where families can grow up and make memories.
C. Watch the land transition into a field of solar panels that offers renewable energy, while also becoming an eyesore and still requiring the same amount of tree removal and land clearing as another commercial or residential development. It's a tricky situation.

It's one thing to put a solar farm on an already closed course, as is the case of the proposal for the nine-hole Pine Brook in Gloversville, N.Y., but closing a historic course like Cape Cod CC, which was designed by Devereux Emmet in 1928, feels like it could hurt the game a little more.

GolfPass user 'DBranca' left a glowing review of the course in May: "What an amazing course. Had one of the most enjoyable rounds of golf this year. The course was in astonishing shape. Lush green fairways , immaculate tee boxes and swift putting greens. I didn’t see a bare, brown or burnt spot on the course. I cannot wait to play this course more."

We'll see for how long.

December 16, 2020
According to the National Golf Foundation, the number of course closures has outweighed new openings every year since 2005. This page is dedicated to understanding why the closures are occurring, tracking the news when they happen and celebrating the memories of the playgrounds that so many golfers enjoyed.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
10 Comments
Commented on

I wish the article had made the point that there is a trade-off -- in that every solar farm constructed means that the greenhouse gases, particulate emissions, groundwater pollution and lung disease associated with producing electricity by conventional fossil fuel use is avoided. Avoiding those environmental harms benefits other golf courses as well as the health of the people who play on them. So there is silver (or silicon) lining to using a golf course to produce pollution-free solar energy.

Commented on

The Tallgrass closure is an abomination. A huge loss for an area that attracts vacationers. The amazing Tesla lab is across the street! It should be restored as a museum and attract money-spending tourists. Tallgrass closing was not what the majority of people wanted. The city council and the developer simply made a deal. Can't stop GREED. If you destroy a Donald Ross or Devereux Emmit you are destroying a Picasso, a real work of art.
Tallgrass is sorely missed by the area. It is up to the people to try and stop this from happening. Much corruption. If they close Ross or Emmit - it has to be stopped.

Commented on

A. Keep Playing

Commented on

I smell a rat. If you were going to buy a golf course to turn it into a solar farm wouldn't you buy one a little further below the Mason Dixon line?

Commented on

If you look at the number of rounds an average course can sell a year, the price they get, and the costs to run a the course, golf courses are not a very profitable endeavor without some other revenue stream. I love the game, but that's an unfortunate reality. I don't know what the profitability of solar generation is today, but when I considered solar and wind farms as a retirement investment a few years ago, the numbers did not add up without subsidies or tax breaks (capital costs and/or maintenance were not offset by energy sales alone). Perhaps the golf industry needs to see what additional subsidies it can generate, such as for green space preservation.

Commented on

What about the Donald Ross course in Homewood IL. Calumet Country Club..What a great track..Once a private club, it has been open to the public for 3 years. Rumor has it that it ihas been sold to Amazon.. What's up?

Commented on

I know that many family farms are not being farmed or about to not be farmed because the farmers' kids have no interest in farming. The old farms are frequently bought out by megafarms (big conglomerates). Seems to me that some of that unfarmed land could be used to build huge solar farms. Maybe the problem is that those farms available for purchase are nowhere near transmission infrastructure that could carry generated solar energy while golf courses are usually near population centers.

Commented on

That is the most puzzling thing. Why does it have to be a golf course? There is plenty of open land out there. One company buys a course and then they move further away and buy another golf course. Shady, shady shady. It is open war on golf courses. I smell rats.

Commented on

Just what golf needed, first it had the growth spurt thanks to the pandemic and the ban on most other recreational sports and activities. But the pandemic also brought the great exodus from urban areas and the building boom which caused the closing of many golf courses in the demand for land for development. Now those new developments will add to the need for more energy and the increased sale of golf courses for solar and wind farms they can be naturally secluded from existing homes and areas!

Commented on

I wouldn't "blame" the solar industry as it evolves.The course owners make the decision to sell.At least solar fields are "reversible" if it ever happens.It,however,remains a shame that such nice courses as Cape Cod CC go under.Then too solar should look to urban roof tops to apply it's panels.Wouldn't need golf course perhaps?

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Solar industry putting golf courses in the dark