City Hall

Add That Fancy Golf Course in the Flood Zone to Our Municipal Trail of Tears

What could be more splendid, really, for one of the nation's poorest neighborhoods than an expensive golf course into which no one living nearby can afford to even set foot?
What could be more splendid, really, for one of the nation's poorest neighborhoods than an expensive golf course into which no one living nearby can afford to even set foot? The MacDonald boys playing golf by Jeremiah Davison / Wikipedia
I’m struggling through a bunch of dense academic articles and data about crime and social equity for a column I’m working on that I’m sure no one including my loved ones will ever read — well, they don’t really read my stuff anyway — because I think writing stuff that no one can stand to read even at gunpoint is what makes a person a serious print journalist. But, I wonder.

The physical carrying out of the plan to build the Trinity Forest Golf Club in a sensitive part of the floodway was always pretty much an environmental nightmare.

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Would you mind if I just took one quick break from self-flagellation and dashed off something quick about that golf course?

I am talking about the Trinity Forest Golf Course, which opened in 2016 — kind of like yesterday in terms of major capital projects — and is already losing its flagship event, the AT&T Byron Nelson tournament. As Lucas Manfield reported here yesterday in much greater detail than I’m about to bring you, the Nelson is bailing at the end of a three-year engagement with the club. Tournament officials have cited an array of problems with the venue best summarized as, “It sucks.”

Oh, my. You are absolutely kidding. The golf course thing didn’t work out? You mean spending $12 million in tax dollars to help develop a private golf course that costs something like $150,000 just to join, built on top of a city-owned toxic landfill, surrounded by some of the most abject poverty and egregious racial segregation in the nation, situated in a floodway: You mean that isn’t working out? Will you please just knock each and every one of us over with a feather.

The tax money always stuck in my craw, but I never gave a damn if the city wanted to give away a toxic landfill to a bunch of corporate jugheads so they could build a private golf course on it. Go ahead. We’ve got so much else to worry about.

The physical carrying out of the plan to build the Trinity Forest Golf Club in a sensitive part of the floodway, which began in 2014 and took two years to complete, was always pretty much an environmental nightmare, as chronicled by former Dallas Observer reporter Eric Nicholson.

But even that wasn’t what really got me. I always figured anything involving the mayor, the city’s old oligarchy, the Dallas city manager’s staff, golf and nature had to come out as a monumental atrocity. It did. Time and time again. At one point, bandit bulldozers were sent out to uproot trees and mine mountains of sand from the forest in violation of rules and laws that I think have roots in the Bible.

Grand promises of public access were made, just as they are being made again now by people of the same general ilk in the Reverchon Park giveaway. One shudders to think how humiliating it must have been for that first gullible member of the public who actually showed up at the golf course thinking she or he could somehow play.

Oh, forgot to mention. You have to be invited in by a member. You know — those people who paid over a hundred grand to join? Know anybody like that? No? Well, then, I’m afraid we’ll have to ask you to vacate the premises.

It pained me deeply to see bought-off, so-called advocates from the neighborhoods hauled up to the cameras by the napes of their necks to give testimonials about what a blessing it was going to be for them to be so close to the Byron Nelson. Hey, look, I’m sure Byron Nelson, whoever the hell he was, was probably a great guy, but I never heard of the dude before all this. For the longest time, I thought he was a country and western singer.

I don’t think the town criers were galloping through Bonton, Dixon Circle, Cedar Crest, Urbandale and the Grove, tooting their bugles and calling out, “The Byron Nelson is coming! The Byron Nelson is coming!” I don’t believe people were pouring out of their houses, wiping away tears of joy and scattering tulip petals.

Look, I don’t blame the so-called neighborhood advocates who were trotted out to sing this thing’s praises. If people are poor enough, you can get them to sing for a crust of bread. It’s not a tough trick to pull off, and then, after you do it, you should be shot. But it can be done.

That’s not what got me. This is. When it was announced this week that the Byron Nelson is already pulling out after a couple of bum shows, that a place built in the floodway floods a lot, that, lo and behold, rich white people are disinclined to drive through abject poverty in order to get to luxury, I was immediately reminded of the thing that really did render me apoplectic at the time.

I think the rich white people who thought this thing was going to be really great for the area around it were absolutely sincere. I do not believe they were cynical. I wish they were. Seriously.

I would rather picture the rich white people who were behind this thing sitting on mounds of gold like Scrooge McDuck, scooping up great fistfuls of coin and pouring them over each other’s heads, cackling fiendishly about how they had foisted off a clever scam. But sadly, I’m pretty sure that would be giving them way too much credit.

No, I think the people behind this project, very much including our former mayor and a majority of the City Council, truly believed in it. They were sincere. They honestly believed that an expensive private golf course in the middle of a Third World economic desert would be a splendid thing, and why? Because they believed that expensive golf courses are splendid. It’s what’s splendid to them. They couldn’t imagine a greater favor, a more charitable act than bringing something this splendid to the needy.

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This is what was left of the great fake kayak rapids in the Trinity River after an expenditure of $6 million in tax money.
Jim Schutze
The same general leadership in this city had earlier devoted great energy and resources to defeating a California developer’s vision of a massive warehousing and shipping center in southern Dallas that would have provided tens of thousands of well-paid jobs. They have campaigned to rid the area of recycling yards, which they deem to be dirty and unsightly even when tight environmental standards are met.

I don’t think the town criers were galloping through Bonton, Dixon Circle, Cedar Crest, Urbandale and the Grove, tooting their bugles and calling out, “The Byron Nelson is coming! The Byron Nelson is coming!”

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But a fancy golf course, they think, is just what the doctor ordered. My question is, what doctor? I have been working for the last several weeks to get through a mountain of research on what really does help people escape poverty, which I will begin writing about tomorrow.

I don’t blame rich people for not knowing this stuff. None of it was especially intuitive for me. There are links between diet and reading, violence and reading, reading and everything else, none of which I would have guessed at without looking at the research. But the thing is, people are working on these problems all over the country and all over the world and have been for some time.

Is it really asking too much, before the city commits major scarce taxpayer resources, for the city’s leadership to lift its gaze from its 9-irons or whatever you call those things and ask: “How many other cities are attacking poverty with exclusive private golf courses?

“How many other cities are trying to make things better by giving away their parks to for-profit baseball promoters (who don’t even have a baseball team yet)? How can we measure what we are doing here against what has been done and learned elsewhere?”

The exciting thing for Dallas right now is that a consensus seems to be welling up out of the ground about the right way to build a better city. It’s especially visible in a plan being considered by the school board called “equity in bond planning,” by which the district would steer some of its capital investments to areas suffering the worst poverty.

Sadly, none of that promise of new thinking is visible in the new establishment-backed mayor’s own laughably superficial crime-fighting plan, nor is it visible in his desk-pounding insistence that someone somewhere just make the crime go away. I’m going to start calling him Dr. Insisto: “I insist that murder cease!” Just as with the golf course, time will be the test of Dr. Insisto’s method, and, don’t worry, it won’t take much time.

In the meantime, let’s stack ’em up. Let’s take a look at all of the downtown and Park Cities oligarchy’s great schemes for building a better city. There was the fake kayak rapids in the Trinity River. Four mil to build, two mil to tear out, a dismal and idiotic failure from day one.

I hope you haven’t forgotten the Margaret McDermott (Calatrava) Bridge over the Trinity River. Built at a cost of $115 million, most of which came out of the taxpayers’ pockets, the McDermott was completed four years ago but still is not open because it’s not safe. It needs a $7 million repair that will take three years to complete.

What am I forgetting? Elaborate paved trails along the river built at ungodly public cost through the Great Trinity Forest began caving in and falling into the river not long after completion because … river.

They were going to give Fair Park, the city’s 277-acre albatross south of downtown, to some of the mayor's golfing friends until former council members Philip Kingston and Scott Griggs stopped them, for which they were accused of lacking civility.

But the big one was the Trinity Toll Road — 20 years of endless, exhausting battle and hundreds of millions of tax dollars squandered until somebody figured out that if you build a freeway out in the floodway where it floods, when it floods it will flood.

Looks like we’re going to be able to add the Trinity Forest Golf Course to this rained-out wedding ceremony soon enough. Does anybody else think we might have a leadership problem?
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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze