Grain Worth More Than Golf to Iowa Course Owner

By | May 6th, 2011

The Whittemore Golf Club is being plowed under to take advantage of rising prices for and grain.

Rising prices for land and grain has led the owner of an Iowa golf club to plow the course under and plant crops over where fairways, traps and greens had been for over 40 years.

The decision to close Whittemore (Iowa) Golf Club was made by its new owner, Kelly Tilges, who runs a sandblasting business in nearby St. Joseph, Iowa. “I hope to put in a crop this year,” Tilges told the Des Moines Register, before declining further comment, noting that “I’ve already gotten a lot of static over this.”

The nine-hole course was built by the Elbert family, which operates an automobile dealership in Whittemore, in 1969. Mick Elbert, son of the original builder of the course, Ed Elbert, confirmed to the Register that “There are a lot of hard feelings around town about this.

“There are other courses around, but it’s something special for a town to have its own course,” said Elbert, who then added, “I’m a good player, but I may give up the game.”

Jeff Wendel, head of the Iowa Golf Course Superintendents Association, seconded Elbert’s notion of the value of Iowa’s nine-hole courses to small towns. “I know there were discussions about the possible sale of a couple of courses in Iowa over the winter, but they didn’t happen because people felt it was too important to a town to keep the course,” Wendel said.

The sale of the course and conversion to farmland couldn’t be considered surprising, however, the Register noted, even though Whittemore GC sits in creek-bottom land that is considered less desirable for farming. The prices of corn has doubled and soybean prices have risen 55 percent since mid-2010, causing Iowa farmland prices to rise in turn by about 25 percent in March 2010, to about $5,700 per acre.

Fifteen-year lows in corn and soybean supplies have caused prices to rise, which in turn has caused farmers in Iowa to convert previously idled conservation and creek-bottom lands for cultivation, the Register reports. In all, Iowa is expected to plant about 500,000 more acres for corn this year than in 2010.

According to the latest survey by the Iowa Farm & Land Chapter of the Realtors Land Institute, high-quality farmland in north-central Iowa sold for an average of $7,308 through March and even low-quality ground, such as the golf course site, was selling for $4,368 per acre, up from $3,818 per acre last September.

Added incentive to create more farmland from plots now used for golf and other purposes may now come from additional crop shortfalls created by this spring’s severe flooding of the Mississippi River and its tributaries—a situation exacerbated by federal authorities’ decision to destroy levees and flood farmland in an effort to minimize damage and risk to towns and citizens.

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