When the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced in Spring 2016 that it would close the Fort Ridgely State park golf course, it came as a surprise to many.

After all, about a decade prior to the decision a $2.1 million investment had been made to improve the course. Area golf enthusiasts, friends of the state park and others interested in maintaining the amenity went into action and began looking for options to keep the course open.

Those suggestions were rejected by DNR leadership, but the group remained undaunted and got some additional help along the way. Determined not to give up, a local group has now moved forward with another plan that would turn over operation of the golf course to another entity, and this time the proposal has an added level of potential impact – a proposed bill in the Minnesota legislature.

The bill, which has been submitted as Senate File 245 and House File 332, would require the DNR to “work out an agreement with the City of Fairfax that allows the city to lease and operate the golf course at Fort Ridgely State Park.” Introduced by District 17 Senator Andrew Lang and District 17A Representative Tim Miller, the bill also requires the agreement between the DNR and the City of Fairfax to include:

• The lease of the irrigation system, the chalet and a storage building

• The allowance of golf cart use on the course 

• The allowance of the sale of liquor, public access to the course without a required state park permit

• The ability to make course improvements

According to Lang, the proposed legislation would include an agreement to lease the course for 12 months with an annual renewal under an agreement that would continue for at least 10 years.

Lang, who was elected to the Minnesota Senate for the first time in 2016, said when he began campaigning one of the first issues he heard about was the closure of the golf course. So, when he began working this session one of the first bills he authored addressed the issue.

Lang and Miller are not the only supporters of the bills, said Loran Kaardal, a member of the Friends of Fort Ridgely who is helping to push this effort forward, as a bipartisan group of legislators have demonstrated their support. Area legislators, including Sen. Gary Dahms and Rep. Paul Torkelson have also co-authored the bill.

Randy Krzmarzick, Friends of Fort Ridgely board member, added what the group wants is for the DNR to just give them a fair chance to try and make it a success. Krzmarzick and Kaardal both said the DNR has rejected some of the proposals, including the added use of golf carts and the sale of alcohol, because they are not allowed on state park property.

That, added Kaardal, is not entirely true, as another DNR-owned golf course at Fort Snelling does allow it. That course, the only other one under the jurisdiction of the DNR, is currently leased and operated by the City of Minneapolis.

“We just want the same opportunity they have,” said Krzmarzick.

Being that the proposal would allow the City of Fairfax to lease and operate the course would require funding, a capital campaign has been initiated to help raise $100,000 to invest in the equipment and personnel that is needed to operate the course.

According to Kaardal, the current course equipment is leased by the DNR from the Fleet division of the state, with an annual lease cost of approximately $40,000. Over the past decade, that has meant the DNR has paid lease costs in the neighborhood of $400,000 just in equipment leases.

Kaardal believes under a different operator in an effort similar to private golf courses, that same equipment could be leased under a three-year agreement for $50,000 a year with the option to purchase the equipment at the end of the lease agreement for $1. P

ledges are currently being requested, and Kaardal said as of earlier this week there was already $10,000 that had been pledged. The hope is to have 25 percent of the goal committed by Valentine’s Day. The pledges would not be collected until after the proposed legislation is approved.

Information about how to make a pledge may be found on the Friends of Fort Ridgely Facebook Page and at the City of Fairfax office. Pledges may also be mailed to the City of Fairfax at P.O. Box K, Fairfax, MN, 55332. One may also call Marcia Siebert-Volz, Fairfax clerk, at (507) 426-7255.

The Fort Ridgely golf course was established in 1927, which means it will be 90 years old this year. As one of the oldest golf courses in southwestern Minnesota, it has been enjoyed by many in its natural setting and historic background.

“It is unfortunate that it has come to this,” said Krzmarzick, adding the Friends of Fort Ridgely has offered many solutions but has received little, if any, response from the DNR.

Kaardal and Krzmarzick believe they should be given the chance to give their idea a try to save this iconic golf course.