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For the price of a southeast Lincoln home, you can own a golf course — with view of Chimney Rock
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For the price of a southeast Lincoln home, you can own a golf course — with view of Chimney Rock

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The greens fees were never out of reach at Chimney Rock Golf Course in Bayard; last year, just $10 for nine holes, or $30 for all-you-can-play in one day.

But the city-owned course has a new number this year.

$400,000.

Pay that, and you can own the whole property. All 130 acres, most of it peppered with pine, elm and cottonwood trees, and cut through by Wildhorse Creek. The clubhouse that serves food and drink. The parking lot view of Chimney Rock, breaking the Panhandle horizon 6 miles to the south.

Greg Schmall puts on his salesman’s hat.

It’s a fantastic course, he said. Beautiful. Huge greens. And the price includes 20 nearby acres of undeveloped land leased to a farmer for hay. You could build on that land.

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Then he returns to his role as mayor.

The 30-year-old golf course is sinking his city of 1,100.

“We can’t subsidize it anymore. It’s got to the point where it’s become more of a load than we can handle financially.”

The course hasn’t broken even for years, he said: Since 2008, the city has had to pour $1.5 million into it just to cover wages and bills.

The council first floated the idea of selling the course in December, and a January audit of the city’s finances helped make the decision for council members.

“It was just obvious to us we had to make a change here. And the golf course appeared to be the biggest culprit.”

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After a special meeting later that month, the council voted unanimously in February to try to turn the public course private, either by selling it or leasing it, he said.

It was a bittersweet decision.

“It’s one of the best assets the city has, and we want to try to keep it intact,” the mayor said. “Regardless of lease or a sale, we want to make sure it stays a golf course.”

The course was built on the north edge of Bayard in 1991 by a private group that sold it to the city. It capitalized on the tourism traffic drawn to Chimney Rock, the 300-foot sandstone spire and national historic site, and it put people to work.

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The course employed two year-round full-timers, who kept the grass green in the summer and serviced the equipment in the winter, and a half-dozen seasonal employees who helped them and ran the clubhouse.

In the end, that wasn’t enough to justify the city’s subsidy.

“We need more play,” Schmall said. “Demographics have changed. We need more people to go into the clubhouse and buy beer and food.”

The bright spot, he said, has been the support of the Bayard Men’s Golf Association. And it could be the course’s savior.

The group has been exploring the possibility of taking over the course, said group treasurer Kevin Wolverton.

First, the president of Bayard’s Western States Bank branch wants to make it clear there is no formal plan. Yet.

“But we’re trying to understand the numbers the city has provided, trying to understand the accounting. We’re looking at options.”

The association’s goal is to keep the course open — even if that means leasing it from the city — because it’s an asset to the small city.

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This is bigger than the survival of their own league, he said. It’s about supporting their hometown. Chimney Rock draws tourism. So why not keep drawing some of those tourists to Bayard?

“I do golf, and I enjoy utilizing the facility. But on a larger scale, the economic importance of keeping it open — if run more efficiently — helps the overall well-being of the community.”

It’s not clear what will happen this spring. One of the course’s two full-time employees has already left.

The mayor will urge the council to keep the course closed, with just enough maintenance to keep the grass green. But he hopes to land a buyer or secure a lease arrangement before it comes to that.

“Because golfing season is getting closer.”

Chimney Rock photos

Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter

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