Future of Highlands course uncertain with call for buyers

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The ownership group of the nine-hole Highlands Golf Course are seeking new owners as neighbors fear the course could become housing development. Photos courtesy of Highlands Golf Course

The owners of the Highlands Golf Course are seeking buyers who are interested in operating the nieghborhood course in Tacoma’s West End.

There is no timeline or even a pricetag at this point. But the 18 owners of the course are looking for options.

“We haven’t listed it with anybody or anything like that,” ownership member Wayne Thornson said. “We are getting older and it needs some new blood. Our hope is that it stays as a golf course, but we’ll have to see what happens.”

Highlands is a nine-hole, par 27, links-style course located in a quiet planned development in the shadow of State Route 16 that dates back to 1968. The course is public, although surrounded by private homes. The current owner group has operated the course for the last 37 years. Only one year in the last 10 broke even. That was in 2015 when the U.S. Open played at nearby Chambers Bay.

The owners have been approached by residential developers, but zoning rules and agreements with the city that date back to the course’s foundation have not been reviewed regarding restrictions, so those contacts are just inquiries at this point.

“We are hoping to find these answers pretty soon,” Thornson said, noting that the owners don’t even know what the course is worth.

News of the possible sale first came in the form of a posting that appeared on the course’s club house bulletin board earlier this year. It announced an intent to sell, with hopes that the new owners would continue to operate the course at a time when most small courses around the nation struggle as interest in golf shifts to other sports.

“It’s not cheap to run a golf course,” Thornson said. “Luckily, our group didn’t have to make a living from it.”

Understandably, news of the possible sale got residents anxious about visions of apartments, houses or duplexes filling in the green course and trees they see from their windows. The course’s financial picture, and the hot housing market, don’t help calm their concerns.

“Right now, they don’t make any money,” said Highlands neighbor and Help Save the Highlands Golf Course organizer Zach Zimmerman. “I see the reason why they are doing it (seeking buyers). I don’t blame them.”

His Facebook group gained more than 400 followers since it formed earlier this year, par with the number of followers the course itself has. Zimmerman noted that people interested in his effort to save the Highlands should also follow the course’s page and maybe shoot a quick round to help the club’s bottom line. The course is supported by $10 to $12 rounds of golf, rental of meeting spaces for 50 guests, and sales at a pro shop managed by Don Mojean that includes an Antique and Collectible Corner for people in search of older golf clubs. It’s slogan is: “Twice the fun in half the time.”

“It is a great place to play around with your family in 90 minutes,” Zimmerman said, while admitting that he isn’t much of a golfer.

The owner of a house in the neighborhood for the last seven years, however, fears that any new ownership group would look at the course’s greens and only see the green of cash by developing the 22-acre course into residential units.

“I don’t see how you can sell a golf course that isn’t making any money,” he said. “We just need to show support for them too.”

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