As he drove one of his out-of-state clients to the Salt Lake City International Airport, local businessman David Shipley tried to explain the abandoned clubhouse and dead grass in an adjacent parcel that was once home to a “world class” golf course.
Wingpointe, operated by Salt Lake City, was shuttered in 2015 after a series of events involving land use costs and the federal government, Shipley told the businessman, and it has since fallen into disrepair.
“And he looked back at me and he just kind of said, ‘Well, why don’t you do something about it?’” Shipley recalled. “And so that was the motivation for me to get involved.”
Shipley is now the president of Wingpointe Community Inc., a private sector group that’s working to resurrect a golf course once thought dead.
It won’t come cheap. The irrigation system will have to be rebuilt, the course redesigned, cart paths pulled up, greens resurfaced and bunkers replaced — all to the tune of around $10 million or $15 million, Shipley said. But he said he and other investors are committed to putting in the money needed to return the course to its former glory, without any cost to taxpayers.
“We want to make sure that when this renovation is completed that the redesign of the golf course, the enhancement of the facilities, is going to be something that will be commensurate with the entrance to a $4 billion airport project,” Shipley said after a public announcement of the plans at a news conference on Tuesday. “The gateway to the city.”
The Arthur Hills-designed links-style course, which lies south of the airport, opened in 1990. The airport bought the site in the 1970s and was leasing it to the city for $1 per year before the Federal Aviation Administration stepped in, in 2012, to insist the airport charge a fair-market rate for the property.
That led to an agreement under which the city, via its dedicated Golf Fund, would pay an increasing annual lease to the airport starting at $55,000 in 2014, rising to a full market-rate price of $150,000 the next year.
City officials said last year that a fair-market rent for the property could be as high as $2.4 million per year — more than twice Wingpointe’s highest-ever annual revenues.
Besides the lease payments, the City Council had in 2016 authorized $67,000 to keep up watering and other minimal maintenance to prevent the course from reverting to its natural state. But last November, the council voted to stop putting money into the course altogether, since it seemed unlikely to ever see action again.
President Donald Trump, however, recently signed a bill that included language from Utah Rep. Chris Stewart allowing the federal government to waive a property tax requirement on property like Wingpointe — making it much more feasible to reopen the course.
“Our objective was just to reauthorize the federal government to waive that property tax requirement,” Stewart told The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday. “We want to have that beautiful course back. It’s a beautiful thing for the city and for the community.”
The only obstacle that remains in the way for a projected 2020 reopening of the course — timed with completion of the first phase of reconstruction of the Salt Lake City International Airport — is Salt Lake City’s approval of a long-term land lease for use of the property.
Mayor Jackie Biskupski said she’s been working with Stewart for years on efforts to reopen Wingpointe and is excited to have a conversation with business leaders about what comes next now that Congress has weighed in on the issue.
“That first hurdle was a big hurdle that had to be overcome, and now that we have accomplished that, now we can sit down and work together on what is possible,” Biskupski said. "And that’s an exciting thing for me. It’s an exciting thing for many people in this community and in this state who were big fans of Wingpointe.”
While the project is still in its early phases, Shipley said he wants to see the new course become a permanent, dedicated home for the First Tee of Utah, a nonprofit organization dedicated to getting young people involved in golf. He’d also like the course to become home to the University of Utah’s golf team and to provide anti-recidivism landscaping programs for inmates from the new nearby state prison.
“This golf course is something more than just another course in the city,” Stewart said. “It really had a reputation of being one of the great courses in the country, and I look forward to going out and I want to be there the first day it opens and golf with those guys as we bring back this great course and one more reason for people to visit Salt Lake City.”