In a proposed deal, the University of Arizona would underwrite a majority of the costs to redevelop Randolph North Golf Course in exchange for allowing the UA’s golf team to practice there rather than Sewailo Golf Course at Casino Del Sol.
Millions of dollars could be put into the city-owned Randolph North Golf Course under an agreement the city council is close to approving with the UA.
The goal of redeveloping the midtown golf course — one of the only courses still generating annual revenue for the city — is to bring a Professional Golfers’ Association competition back to Tucson.
Facing mounting a multimillion-dollar backlog of maintenance issues at both of the 18-hole courses at Reid Park, the key selling point to many on the council is the partnership with the university, which could deliver those improvements without forcing the city to raise taxes or course fees.
In exchange for underwriting a majority of the costs to redevelop the 18-hole course so that it can again host professional tournaments, the new course would also allow the UA’s golf team to practice there rather than Sewailo Golf Course at Casino Del Sol. The casino course is about 9 miles from campus.
Few details are known about the proposal discussed by council with city attorneys behind closed doors last week. However, Councilman Paul Cunningham briefly set out his goals for the agreement following the executive session.
Key among them: making sure Randolph remains affordable and accessible to Tucsonans.
“Randolph North, including any redeveloped version of Randolph North, must remain an affordable public municipal golf course,” Cunningham told his colleagues. “Any and all improvements to Randolph North shall be for the purpose of establishing a world-class municipal golf facility that provides for an NCAA and professional tour-quality golf experience for the public and for the UA Golf program.”
Cunningham also said he wants the redeveloped course to help the city lure younger golfers to the midtown course, and create new programs to make the sport more affordable to low-income residents.
While a prolonged public process would proceed any formal action at the 18-hole-course, the real sticking point will be contingent on the UA securing funding for the deal.
While no public figure has been publicly disclosed, staffers estimated the total cost of improvements could exceed $20 million.
The city of Tucson has set aside about $2.5 million to replace aging water pipes underneath the golf course. That was approved by voters in 2018 as part of the $225 million bond package for capital improvements known as Proposition 407.
Key to the deal may be that UA President Robert Robbins personally supports the proposal and has met with city officials several times to discuss it.
Robbins told the Star on Friday that he fully supports the proposal, saying an investment in midtown Tucson in terms of the Randolph Golf Course would benefit the entire community and says it would be boon to bring the university’s team closer to campus.
While working in Houston as the head of the Texas Medical Center, Robbins supported efforts to transform the Memorial Park Golf Course to get private donations to renovate the city-owned property to bring it up to PGA standards with the goal of hosting the Houston Open by 2020.
The Astros Golf Foundation is expected to raise about $13.5 million in private funding to pay for the renovations and other new amenities, according to the city of Houston.
Dave Heeke, the University of Arizona’s athletic director, said in a written statement to the Star that his department is still assessing the potential of redeveloping Randolph North.
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“The city and the university are aligned in our interest to develop this course into a premier golf experience in Tucson for our community, for visitors from across the country, and for our nationally recognized University of Arizona golf programs,” Heeke said.
Left unanswered is how exactly the university would pay for the proposal, as this proposal is not part of the university’s latest budget proposal.
Heeke did not answer follow-up questions about funding sources and a timeline for the redevelopment of the Randolph North.
The university has been recently making investments in Reid Park. The UA’s baseball team already uses Hi Corbett Field, just west of Randolph North.
The proposal is similar to what the Tucson Conquistadores suggested last year. However, city insiders said it is unlikely that the city will sell up to 15 acres of the course along East Broadway for private development.
This was a pivotal aspect to the Conquistadores proposal, which was submitted, unsolicited, to the city in May 2018.
Joe has been with the Star for six years. He covers politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona. He graduated from the UA and previously worked for the Arizona Daily Sun.