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Iconic airport golf course to reopen after years of abandonment

SALT LAKE CITY — Quentin Sasser started his golf career collecting balls at the driving range at Wingpointe Golf Course.

He now works as a golf professional at another course, but he can't wait for the place where he honed his skills to be restored to the challenging, unique, links-style course it once was.

Sasser and other golf enthusiasts gathered Tuesday in front of the dilapidated clubhouse on the outskirts of the Salt Lake International Airport to hear organizers talk about plans to restore the once popular city golf course that closed about three years ago due to financial and legislative issues.

"I can't wait for it to come back," Sasser said. "I'm tickled pink inside."

A private-public partnership is now working to restore, rebuild and reopen the course within a few years — this time, however, publicly open but privately funded, David Shipley said.

Shipley, a local business owner, is one of three founders of Wingpointe Community Initiative Inc.

He, political consultant Dave Owen, and real estate broker Chris Kirk are working to recruit more investors to fund the extensive restoration of the course, and Shipley said there are already a lot of interested parties.

After being unattended and unwatered for years, the formerly green land is hardly recognizable as a golf course anymore.

"You fly over the airport here," Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, joked with the crowd Wednesday, "and it looks like someone bombed this place out!"

The course closed after the Federal Aviation Administration told the city it would have to pay market value to lease the land from the airport, an amount that Stewart said was more than the golf course generated.

Stewart, however, upon finding out about the issue, authored a bill that reauthorized the golf course to pay a small "token amount" — more than its previous yearly lease of $1, but still an amount the course will be able to generate, he said.

Shipley and Owen praised Stewart's bill, saying the renewal would be impossible without it.

"We have a huge debt to Congressman Stewart," Owen said.

Shipley said he became involved in the project after a client he was taking to the airport noticed the clubhouse. When Shipley explained the area used to be a golf course, the client was surprised, and said, "Why don't you do something about this, David?"

He decided after that to get involved, and began working with Owen and Kirk.

Owen, who calls himself a "citizen activist," said he has been working behind the scenes to get the course back for more than four years — before the decision to close it was even finalized.

Owen estimated restoring the course will take at least two years and cost at least $7 million.

But Shipley emphasized none of the course restoration or upkeep costs will be funded by taxpayers — the only "public" portion of the project will be Mayor Jackie Biskupski's support and Stewart's bill allowing the course to pay a more affordable lease to the airport.

Shipley said they will have to practically start from scratch, but they plan to keep the "original design integrity."

The course was unique because of its position directly under the flight path of landing jets, but also its unique Scottish-inspired links style. It is full of rolling hills, and its open, practically treeless landscape makes it susceptible to high winds.

Sasser said the difficulty of the course was one of the best parts about it.

"If you wanted to come out here and test your game, this was the true test. "When all the (former Nike Tour) qualifiers were coming out here, there were only a few guys who could break par … I just can't wait."