Through a unique partnership between the city of Hartford, Conn., the Connecticut Section PGA and a local non-profit, the course that once saw 90,000 annual rounds and was the third-most active in the U.S., only to dip to 10,000 rounds in 2014, is now seeing a comeback that includes training ex-offenders for maintenance duties.
There were a few years when the greens of Goodwin Park Golf Course in Hartford, Conn. were a dull shade of brown, reported WNPR, Connecticut’s public radio outlet. The grass had faded, trees and weeds were overgrown, and several years of mismanagement and a poor economy left the course in such bad condition that it almost had to be closed.
But Beaky Gilbert and his golfing partners didn’t stop playing there, and their dedication might have paid off, WNPR reported. “The greens were bad and the tee boxes were just dirt,” Gilbert said, just before teeing off on a brisk November morning. “But the greens are nice now and the tee boxes are nice. They finally got a management company that did it right.”
As reported by the Hartford Courant in October, the 110-year-old Goodwin Park course has undergone extensive renovations costing more than $1 million while remaining open over the past two years, after reaching a point where it was estimated that as much as 80 percent of its greens had died.
The conditions were blamed on negligence by MDM Golf Enterprises LLC of Wallingford, Conn., which had signed a contract with the city of Hartford in 2009 to manage both Goodwin Park GC and Keney Park GC. In the fall of 2013, city auditors reported on horrible conditions at Goodwin, citing, among other things, a lack of fertilizer applications to turf; weeds that had overtaken fairways, tees, greens and bunkers; debris and overgrown brush that had not been removed; a leaking clubhouse roof; eroded cart paths, bridges and steps in poor condition; and fallen limbs throughout the property. In addition, about 75 more trees than a contract had stipulated had been cut down, with many of the stumps remaining as eyesores and reminders of course negligence.
“Many greens were unplayable,” Tom Baptist, Hartford’s Superintendent of Public Works, told the Courant. “At Goodwin, parts of the course were not irrigated because of the failure to maintain the equipment. Other parts of the course were flooded because of no repairs of the irrigation equipment.”
After the auditors made their report, the city terminated its contract with MDM in October 2013, and then filed a lawsuit in June 2014 seeking more than $15,000 in damages, in a case that is still pending.
In February 2014, the city of Hartford signed a one-year contract for $150,000 to pay the Connecticut Section PGA to be a business consultant for its Goodwin and Keney courses (Keney has been shut down since August 2013 while undergoing an even more extensive $6 million project, to restore its original 1927 Devereux Emmet design; it is scheduled to reopen in May 2016). Under the terms of the contract, which was later renewed through 2016, the city keeps all course profits.
Under this arrangement, annual rounds at Goodwin Park—which in 1973 totaled 90,000, WNPR reported, earning a ranking from Golf magazine as the third-most active course in the U.S.—have rebounded. From a low of 10,000 in 2014, with just five golf leagues, rounds are projected to more than double in 2015, with 15 leagues. The Connecticut Section PGA brought further exposure this year by holding its Match Play Championship on Goodwin Park’s 18-hole south course (it also has a nine-hole north course) in October.
As part of the new arrangement with the Connecticut Section PGA, WNPR reported, a local nonprofit organization, Knox Inc., is training city residents, some of them ex-offenders, to take jobs at the course. Additionally, a summer camp for city youth is held at the course, with instruction from Jim Goshdigian, formerly Hartford’s city golf professional.
Patrick Aldrich, the Connecticut PGA consultant who now helps Hartford manage its two courses, told WNPR that these programs connect the park to the community—an important aspect for a municipal golf course seeking to rebuild its reputation.
“In addition to introducing new people to the game—which is healthy long-term for the industry, because players which learn to play golf here will eventually go off the play other places as well—there are lots of things in golf that are good life lessons,” Aldrich said.
Ron Pitz, the executive director of Knox, Inc., told WNPR that the partnership with Goodwin is a good investment for the city.
“Before we had this situation, where we could just put [our trainees] to work at the golf courses, many would get work outside the city—and that’s fine, employment is employment,” Pitz said. “But it’s great to keep them in the city [so] they become taxpaying citizens, voters, and they’ll patronize city businesses.”
Paul Godwin, a Hartford resident and Goodwin Park employee, didn’t have experience in landscaping until he was accepted into the Knox training program, WNPR reported. Now, he’s a maintenance supervisor on the course.
“It was a pivotal point of my life where I needed to turn my life around,” Godwin said. “Knox gave me a chance [and] I’ve been good ever since. I haven’t been incarcerated in over four years—no police contact, no probation, no nothing since I’ve been with Knox and Goodwin.”
Two weeks into November, as Godwin and his crew were working on clearing the course of leaves before golfers teed off later in the morning, WNPR reported that his work has even sparked Godwin’s interest in learning to play the game. “[If] you feel like it’s too professional, you’re intimidated,” he told WNPR. “[But] this is not that.”