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New public-private proposal could bring Wingpointe Golf Course to life in 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — Ever since Wingpointe Golf Course officially closed in November 2015, news and rumors about a possible re-opening of the course have gone up and down like a roller coaster.

Once again there is renewed hope that the course can reopen, perhaps as soon 2020, thanks to a private-public proposal by a group called Wingpointe Community Initiative, Inc.

A meeting held last week in downtown Salt Lake City brought together a variety of individuals from government, business and the golf community to discuss and learn about possibilities for a new Wingpointe Golf Course that could open in conjunction with the renovated Salt Lake International Airport in late 2020.

The proposal involves several entities including the new state prison, the University of Utah and the First Tee of Utah, as well as local businesses. The course would no longer be a municipal course run by Salt Lake City, but would be a privately run public course.

The three organizers of the Wingpointe Community Initiative are Dave Owen, the owner of Owen Communications, Chris Kirk, a commercial real estate broker for Colliers International and local businessman Dave Shipley.

“Wingpointe is a beautiful course that sadly has been lost,” said Kirk. “It’s what hundreds of thousands of people see when they first enter our city. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Having a beautiful, busy golf course sends a message.”

Many details are still not formulated, but some of the basic ideas are these:

• Either a major sponsor or several small businesses would finance the new course along with corporate memberships or adopt-a-fairway programs.

• Inmates from the new nearby state prison, trained in horticulture and agronomy, would work at the course as part of an anti-recidivism program.

• To make a permanent, dedicated home for the First Tee of Utah, a non-profit organization dedicated to getting young people, particularly from disadvantaged and at-risk circumstances, involved in golf while teaching life lessons.

• To build a world-class practice facility on an adjoining 30 acres that could be funded in part by the University of Utah for use by its golf team as well as the public and the First Tee program.

• To eventually make the course the permanent home of the Web.com PGA Tour event, which has been in Utah for 27 years, but has been moved around to several different venues over the years.

Legislation sponsored by Utah Rep. Chris Stewart and helped crafted by Salt Lake mayor Jackie Biskupski, was passed by the House of Representatives in April, but hasn’t come up before the Senate yet. The legislation takes away the large fee the FAA was demanding for leasing the golf course land, which would save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Gary Webster, the district director from Stewart’s office, said he’s hoping the bill will be passed by the Senate in July before the August recess and says it must be passed by Sept. 30 or it will die.

Although the golf course won’t be run by Salt Lake City anymore, the city still must sign off on the new proposal and mayor Biskupski is on board.

“This is one that hits me in the heart and I really want to see this golf course come back to life,” she said. “It is really important to the city and to the new airport.”

While the support of Biskupski and the city is needed for the use of the land where Wingpointe sits, the city will not be involved in the operation or maintenance of the course.

The original designer of Wingpointe, which first opened in 1990, was Arthur Hills, a renowned golf architect who has designed nearly 200 golf courses around the world. His longtime partner, Steve Forrest, toured the Wingpointe property last week along with Terry Buchen from Golf Agronomy International.

Both Forrest and Buchen were impressed with the proposals to bring the course back and stressed that it will take an extensive renovation. They wouldn’t give a cost estimate, but another source said it will be in the $5 million to $8 million range.

“We lost a jewel, we know where it is, but we can clean it up with the most advanced technological products and make it brighter than ever before,” said Forrest. “There’s so much potential there to elevate it above even what it was before.”

Forrest said the course would have to be lengthened about 500 yards to make it championship-worthy, but that the course could also have tees in the 3,500-4,000 total-yards range to accommodate all golfers.

“We’re excited,” said Owen. “It’s been discouraging at times and we know we have a lot of work to do. The exciting thing is, we’re not just talking about bringing (Wingpointe) back, but bringing it back in a true championship state in a way that will really benefit the community.”