Story and photos by Doug Petrowski
A “passive park?” A city-operated golf course? A vendor-operated golf course? With the absence of a course manager, the Mountlake Terrace City Council is now considering future options for the vacant Ballinger Lake Golf Course along Lakeside Drive in Mountlake Terrace.
Tyrone and Carol Hardy, owners of Hardy Golf LLC, were the most recent managers but ended operations of the course on Nov. 4. The course’s clubhouse and gates have been locked and no rounds of golf have been played since. The clubhouse has been used only on a rental basis by private parties.
City officials have now outlined three options for the property: finding a new concessionaire to take over golf management operations, having the city operate it themselves as a golf course, or turning the area into a park for non-sporting activities.
The 42-acre property at the north end of Ballinger Lake has operated as a golf course for decades, even before the city purchased the land in 1970 for $439,410. Hardy Golf LLC had been managing the course since 2006, but with declining revenues was unable to meet rent and utility payments. The Hardy’s lease agreement with the city to manage the course runs through 2015; it is yet to be determined how the Hardys and the city will resolve financial requirements outlined in the lease.
The city has taken over limited maintenance of the course, but there is no public access to the grounds.
While there is support among many city officials and councilmembers for turning the area into park land, there is also general agreement that seeking a possible contractor to continue running it as a golf course should be pursued.
“Just to be fair, I would like to see us try to pursue option A, to see if there is anyone out there that wants to give it another go as its current use before we decide to cut it loose as open space, which I am not opposed to,” said Councilmember Doug McCardle.
The city council tabled until its next regular meeting on Jan. 7 a motion to begin pursuit of a new concessionaire to operate the golf course immediately. Mayor Jerry Smith and Mayor Pro Tem Laura Sonmore wanted to put the search into motion right away, but the other five council members wanted more time to consider all options.
Figures show the number of rounds of golf played at the course has dropped dramatically since a high of more than 61,000 in 1987 to less than 17,000 in 2011. Area golfers’ declining interest in Lake Ballinger has many city officials convinced that they won’t find a vendor wanting to run the course. “Based on the empirical evidence, the graph is very telling. I don’t think you will find anybody, but I think it would be important for the council to go out there and have the market tell you that as well, so you don’t have any regrets,” said City Manager John Caulfield.
One option that will not be considered is making the land available for development due to its sensitive environmental nature. “Developing on that land is not possible,” said Caulfield. The course is built upon a floodplain that experiences high water often during rainy winter months.