Golf the Round on its last leg?Mar 31, 2023 01:03PM ● By Zak Sonntag
Golfers practice their swings on Golf the Round’s range (Zak Sonntag/City Journals)
On a windy spring afternoon at Golf the Round in South Salt Lake, the sound of a titanium driver rings out as Will Doyle whacks a ball down the range—a high, strait shot that bounces past the checkered flag at 200 yards.
He sighs with satisfaction.
Whether hitting a mid-week bucket or piling into a cart with friends to play nine holes, Golf the Round is Doyle’s preferred course, which he says residents love for its affordable prices and unintimidating atmosphere.
“It’s a place where if you want to be competitive you can, but you don’t have to. It’s mostly about getting outside and being with friends,” said Doyle, 30, whose played since the age of 6, and says the game has taught him life skills in “building resilience.”
Soon, however, he may need to find new links.
Golf the Round is in negotiations with Dakoda Pacific Corporation for the sale of its land lease agreement. If a deal is reached it will turn the 69-acre parcel of fairways into an industrial park of tilt-up warehousing.
Players say the potential demise of Golf the Round has big implications, as the SSL starter course is considered a needed welcome mat for newcomers in a sport often seen as exclusive or cost-prohibitive, according to those familiar with Salt Lake County’s golf culture.
“It’s not expensive to play or come to the range. And taking that barrier out of golf is fantastic. You don’t have to be a member at a private club. You don’t have to shell out a bunch of money. You can come here and pay 10 bucks for 75 balls,” said Doyle, who worries that higher prices and fewer options may deter future generations from taking up the sport.
The property is owned by Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility (CVW), who leases the land to Golf the Round, and who was approached by Dakoda Pacific in 2021 regarding a lease buyout of the course property.
The negotiations were kept quiet until January 2023 when the South Salt Lake City Council passed a rezone of the golf course area from Commercial Corridor to Flex Zone at the behest of Dakota Pacific—a move that seemed to seal the course’s fate.
Although that may not be the case.
Representatives for Golf the Round have remained tight-lipped, and while the company has not yet issued a public statement, sources say ownership is considering resisting the sale—even as pressure builds against them.
The rezone applications sailed through both the planning commission and city council with unanimous support for the Dakoda Pacific proposal. (Councilmember Corey Thomas, who works for Golf the Round, recused herself from discussions and abstained from voting.)
On its face, the move appears at odds with a community so vocally supportive of open space and affordable housing—considering the project does not appear to directly achieve either goal.
Nonetheless, leaders say the change is a win-win, based on estimates that show the new arrangement will produce over 400 additional jobs and up to $1.6 million in annual tax revenue, according to reports provided by the city and Dakoda Pacific.
Additionally, and perhaps more compelling, it will save millions of gallons of water, which will flow instead to the drought-depleted Great Salt Lake.
Phill Heck, general manager of CVW, confirmed that replacing the golf course will save up to 1 million gallons per day in the summer, with total annual water savings between 130 and 170 million gallons.
But it’s not just about water—it’s about revenue, too.
Central Valley Water, the largest wastewater treatment facility in Utah, is supportive of the Dakoda Pacific proposal in part because it promises to be more lucrative than the golf course—which is especially appealing now as the interlocal agency is under multi-million dollar renovations upgrading infrastructure and technology.
“We need to use our resources more effectively financially. It's just not viable to run the golf course for us. This (Dakoda Pacific proposal) is a much better financial situation for Central Valley, and the city as well,” Heck said.
The plan has brought attention to lesser known facts about the property, including its former history as the location of nuclear material processing operations, which left behind radioactive refuse and earned a designation as a “superfund” site.
In the 1950s through the late 1960’s Vitro Chemical operated a uranium enrichment facility as part of federal operations to enhance the military nuclear arsenal in the Cold War effort.
Radioactive tailings were impounded on the site before being excavated in a remediation process undertaken by the Department of Energy in the 1980s.
However, ongoing tests required by federal law show that radioactive materials Thorium and Radium still exist underground—exposure to which poses health hazard.
As a result the property is limited by deed restrictions that preclude residential development, and limits the depth at which commercial development can lay foundation and utilities.
Discussions of radioactive material caused anxiousness to bubble up during the public hearings, and councilmembers asked whether the Dakota Pacific project may inadvertently stir up contaminated particles at put residents at risk.
Jason Head, representing Dakoda Pacific, told the council that invasive geo-technical testing has shown the troublesome elements are “deep enough down and covered with enough soil that the EPA and DEQ both agreed that no further action was needed.”
City staff say the industrial park is one of the few feasible projects for the site partly due to its relatively shallow ground needs, with minimal excavation required for utilities that will not surpass 15 feet (Thorium and Radon at the site are shown to lie at depths between 25 to 40 feet.) And the site designs include radon gas mitigation systems.
Councilmember Sheryl Bynum, who represents the city on the CVW board, helped allay concerns and vouched for the safety of the plan.
“Central Valley has been very cautious. Many experts have analyzed this…and they have definitely done their due diligence,” Bynum said.
The agreement between Golf the Round and Dakoda Pacific remains in the air. In the meantime residents and golfers are having conversations about the proposals bigger meanings.
“If golf as a sport wants to continue it will have to adjust. Whether that’s changing turf or finding other ways to be more sustainable,” Doyle said.
“But I think if you’re going to give up a community resource like a golf course, it has to be for a very good reason. And this [Dakoda Pacific] idea doesn’t feel balanced.”