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Some Fear UNM Golf Course May Be Next Victim of Urbanization

By Glen Rosales
For the Journal
    Early in the mornings and toward dusk, coyotes can be seen cruising the grounds of the University of New Mexico North Golf Course. Roadrunners are flourishing and migratory birds use the nine-hole, public course as a layover on their way north or south.
    The area is also well-used by the people who not only live in the surrounding community, but also UNM students and workers.
    Although the course may not be as crowded as many others around the metro area, primarily because it is just nine holes, it still has a fervent following from the many longtime golfers who love it. In 2006, 42,000 rounds were played at the course, where greens fees are a modest $12 per nine holes on weekdays and a buck more on weekends. Seniors and UNM students and staff play for $9.
    "I play four times a week," said Kurt Caffen, president of the course's golf club. "I work two part-time jobs so I can spend as much time as I can out here. I'd hate to see anything happen to it."
    Even on a recent cloudy, cool February weekday morning, there was a bit of a backup for the first tee box.
    Yet this speck of green amidst the city center within view of the Big I is, if not threatened, at least under scrutiny as a possibility to make way for urbanization.
    Framed on three sides by University of New Mexico Hospital, the university law's school and the Domenici Center, the course is not just an inexpensive, convenient home for golfers.
    The paths skirting the course are beloved by walkers, joggers, dog walkers, bird watchers and those who are looking for a respite— however brief— from busy city life.
    Several hundred friends of the course gathered Sunday to let their feelings be known, even as the university has put out a request for information seeking development plans not only for the North Course, but also the areas near and including UNM's Championship Course and the south athletic complex that includes the Pit, University Stadium and the athletic offices.
    This comes despite assurances from the Board of Regents that there are no development plans for the North Course.
    In a Feb. 20 e-mail from Jamie Koch, president of the board of regents, he claimed the university is not looking to turn the area into a retirement center, something that was briefly discussed during the regents' January meeting.
    "I'd like to make it perfectly clear at this time that the university has no plans to build a retirement community for alumni or faculty on any property the university owns," he wrote. "I've repeatedly said that the UNM North Golf Course has not been discussed by the regents nor has there been any request from university personnel for use of the golf course for a retirement community."
    According to the request for information that was dated Feb. 12, the university is looking to create a variety of gateway uses including retail, entertainment, recreation, and office and housing uses to serve the UNM community and surrounding neighborhoods, with an eye toward student and faculty recruitment and retention.
    The request also notes that of the existing uses in the various areas under discussion, "respondents may choose to maintain and incorporate these UNM facilities within an overall commercial development plan or remove and redevelop the UNM facilities within an overall commercial development/ redevelopment plan."
    Responses are due back by April 6.
    Completed with 18 holes in 1942 as a WPA project that was designed by noted golf course architect William Tucker, the links once stretched as far as Central Avenue near Johnson Field. As recently as 20 years ago, the course covered almost 100 acres, but the university has nibbled at its edges, whittling it down to about 85 acres.
    "In the past 20 years, five different buildings have been built on the course," said Sara Koplik, who grew up across the street from the course and is president of the North Campus Neighborhood Association. "We want a permanent assurance that the university will not do anything to the golf course."
    The course and its future has quickly become a local hot-button issue, with both liberals and conservatives joining ranks in protest.
    "We want to see it settled," said area resident Les Field. "The support has been across the board."
    The New Mexico House of Representatives last week unanimously passed a memorial requesting the university "undertake action to permanently set aside the property commonly known as the 'north golf course' for continued beneficial use."