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Clock Is Ticking On UMSL's Purchase Of Golf Course

As a deadline approaches for approval of the sale of NormandieGolf Course to the University of Missouri-St. Louis, those who are worried about the land disappearing as a place for duffers to enjoy hope the university will keep a pledge to save the course.

Officials at UMSL won’t say who the anonymous donor is or who has put up the $1.5 million to purchase the 118-acre course off St. Charles Rock Road, southwest of the current campus. Nor will they say when the offer expires, though they hope to wrap up the deal before the end of the year.

“Let me say the offer is not there indefinitely,” UMSL Chancellor Tom George said in an interview this week. “We don't have a hard deadline, but we'd like to do it as soon as possible.”

George and others have said that if UMSL does complete the purchase, for the immediate future the land will be operated as a golf course. And, he said, no state funds would be used for its operation.

“I can't tell you what it's going to look like 113 years from now,” George said in an interview. “Some people have said to me, we've had it as a golf course for 113 years -- please tell us it will be a golf course for the next 113 years. I can't say that, of course. But, in the immediate future, it will be a golf course.”

Those assurances aren’t quite as strong as fans of the course would like. Some of them attended this week’s meeting of the University of Missouri board of curators on the UMSL campus, hoping in vain to address the board about the purchase. Some held signs or wore shirts urging, “Save Normandie Golf Course.”

Real estate deals are usually discussed in closed session, and Don Downing of Webster Groves, the outgoing chairman of the board, would say only that the proposed purchase remains under discussion.

Joe Filla, a CPA whose home backs up to the golf course, leads the group trying to preserve the tract as a golf course; he wants more reassurance.

University of Missouri-St. Louis chancellor Tom George
Credit University of Missouri-St. Louis
UMSL Chancellor Tom George

“First of all,” he said in an interview after Friday’s curators’ session, “chancellors change. Business policies change for the universities. There's always the possibility of changes there. You're dealing with a course that's been around for over 100 years. We’re concerned it will be used as a political football down the road for some type of development.”

Filla and others cite not only the history of the golf course, which is considered the first public course west of the Mississippi River and has seen such illustrious players as Babe Ruth, Babe Didrikson and Bob Hope. They also point to its role as an anchor in a part of St. Louis County that has seen its share of unrest in recent months.

“It's a community asset,” he said. “Many people who don't play golf still want to preserve it as a golf course. It's an institution here. They want to keep it a golf course. Its value to the community is paramount.

“Our community needs all the physical assets it can keep and retain, and we're concerned that a parking lot or a maintenance shed going on that ground would not be in the best interests of the community.”

About 10 years ago, the property almost became a subdivision, but that deal fell through. Now, fans of the golf course have started a Facebook page and an online petition seeking to preserve it in its present form.

Joe Filla
Credit Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio
Joe Filla

“Regardless of which parties ultimately own, operate or otherwise manage the property,” the petition states, “we petition all Normandie Golf Course stakeholders – including current owners, investors, managers and potential buyers – to make a commitment, not just to the communities of Bel-Nor and Greendale, but also to the city of St. Louis and golf enthusiasts around the world, to protect the integrity of the golf course’s unique design, continue to operate the property as a golf course and develop plans that will allow the golf course to thrive for at least another 113 years of operation….

“We prevailed in securing the future of Normandie Golf Course before and, with the help of supporters throughout St. Louis, across the country and around the world, we will prevail again.”

Filla acknowledges that if the deal goes through, there is really nothing that anyone could do to stop UMSL from using the property in any way it wants. But, he said, he and others are willing to help the university make it work.

“If they do keep it as a golf course,” he said, “our option would be to help them create a profit, if you will, or not be a negative cash draw for the university.”

He said he has spoken individually with curators and UMSL officials, but they remain noncommittal.

“I've offered to do it pro bono,” Filla said about helping to operate the site as a golf course, “so I'm not looking for any money or anything. How could they turn down something that's free? That's the way I look at it. So they should be interested, but they haven't given me anything to encourage me.”

St. Louis Public Radio is a unit of the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.