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UMSL's Normandie Golf Deal Doesn't Reassure Everyone

Normandie Golf Course in north St. Louis County has been saved, for at least 10 years, but some of the officials who had worried about its future aren’t completely at ease.

The University of Missouri-St. Louis, which had been in talks to buy the 117-acre site that sits on the southwestern edge of its campus, announced Tuesday that it would buy the land for $1.4 million, which will come from private funds. A university spokesman said that three individuals had obtained an option to buy the tract, and the money to finalize the purchase came from a donor who wants to remain anonymous.

“The Normandie Golf Course has been an important community asset for more than 100 years,” UMSL Chancellor Thomas George said in a statement. “We want to make sure that over the long term it is operated and developed in a manner that benefits UMSL students and the surrounding community.”

George said that a management agreement that the campus signed with Walters Golf Management will be the “best way in which UMSL can ensure Normandie thrives” over the next decade without directly investing university or tax dollars.

“We promised the local community that every effort would be made to keep Normandie as a golf course for the foreseeable future,” George said. “The agreement with Walters provides it with financial flexibility to improve and market the course.”

Walters manages several golf courses in the St. Louis area, including Innsbrook, Sunset Hills and Bogey Hills.

The University of Missouri board of curators approved the purchase in December, a university system spokesman said in an email. The agreement with Walters was signed on Jan. 9. The 10-year lease agreement was released Wednesday by the university.

An UMSL spokesman said that no other bids were sought for the management agreement because "various officials at UMSL and UM System were comfortable that Walters represented the best way forward."

The statement released by the university quoted Jeffrey Smith, managing partner of Walters, as saying the firm would start immediately to improve the clubhouse and playing conditions at Normandie “as well as create a long-term plan for other potential improvements.” The rate of improvements, Smith said, will be dictated largely by the support shown by area golfers.

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

But that reassurance wasn’t enough for Kevin Buchek, who heads the board of trustees for the village of Bel-Nor, where the Normandie course is located. He has been active in a group that has worked for years to secure the future of the golf course, which has been in operation for more than 113 years. Nearly 10 years ago, they fought off a plan to build houses on the site.

Buchek is concerned that deferred maintenance on the property, such as greens and tee boxes, may not be covered by the lease agreement. And he’s concerned that the university did not seek other bids before drawing up the agreement with Walters, even though the public university is using private funds for the project.

“From the perspective of Bel-Nor,” said Buchek, who is in real estate, “we expressed interest in purchasing the course. We expressed interest in leasing the course. We have been in conversations with several other municipalities about a joint municipal golf course. I talked to several of our neighboring mayors about doing a joint parkland application if we were to obtain control of the golf course.

“So I think we had the resources available to do the necessary upgrades if the village of Bel-Nor or the village of Bel-Nor along with some of the other municipalitie3s had gained control of the course.”

He also is unhappy with the process that led to Walters.

“I got the impression from several folks at UMSL that once an announcement was made that the course had been purchased,” Buchek said, “those conversations could take place. So I was frankly shocked that they had already signed an agreement with Walters before having those conversations with us….

“My hope would have been that the university, once they purchased the golf course, would have communicated with some folks from the public (and) some folks that play a lot of golf in the community, and get some input. Admittedly, UMSL doesn’t have a lot of experience with golf course management or even the experience of playing much golf, so the folks that made the decision at UMSL could have used probably some outside input, and I know that several people have volunteered to provide that input.”

Kevin Buchek
Kevin Buchek

Calling Normandie “probably the best resource we have in the village of Bel-Nor,” Buchek said those who want to save the golf course aren’t totally reassured.

“Even though there’s an agreement signed for 10 years,” he said, “what happens in year 11?”

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.