Norwalk's Gambit on Golf

Dec 3, 2014

The golf clubs may be stored away until next spring, but some of Iowa’s 400 golf courses are still buzzing with activity, especially in a suburb of Des Moines. Iowa Public Radio’s Rick Fredericksen has the story from Norwalk.

This town of nearly 10,000 residents has the feel of a vacation resort. There are half a dozen golf properties within a few minutes’ drive; four have Norwalk addresses. Streets are named after golf courses: Pinehurst, Echo Valley Drive, Legacy Parkway and Wakonda.  In this municipality south of Des Moines, where you find golf, you often find housing developments.

(Groundbreaking) “Thank you.” (Applause)

Hubbell Realty broke ground last month for Legacy Landing, a $12-million project on its property surrounding Legacy Golf Club, where neighborhoods are filled with homes, townhouses and apartments. CEO Rick Tollakson says the company is also building golf communities in two other Des Moines suburbs.

"Overall we have probably developed right around 600 to 700 homes that back up into golf courses.”

And the links have generated ripples of new construction extending out farther than a golfer can drive a ball. At Warrior Run, the course has been cut in half; nine holes remain, the rest is being prepared for a golf course community. As Norwalk’s community development director, Josh Heggen approved more than a hundred new homes last year.

"I think that’s kind of our niche, a little bit different in Norwalk than some other areas. We hosted the Home Show Expo this year on a golf course, so really a majority of our growth in our residential market is all on golf courses.”

Former golf pro J.D. Schlotterback is with Iowa Realty in Cedar Rapids and enjoys the solitude of fairway living at Hunters Ridge.

“Really in eastern Iowa we have not had that many golf courses built in the last really, 15 years. I think you’re seeing more trends in the middle part of the state, specifically because there’s more industry moving in to that area and there’s more opportunities for golf courses to make it financially.”

And there’s the hazard: financial survival of golf courses as the sport struggles to attract a new generation. A few have even reverted to cropland. Hubbell Realty President Rick Tollakson.

“Golf courses have been tapped out, we’re over golfed, the demographics have you know cause we own two golf courses and operate them and I can tell you it’s a very, very difficult business. You’d think the Baby Boomers would start golfing and they do, we need to get more of that younger generation.”

It’s reached the point that one of the sports chief Iowa promoters says, “housing adds to golf courses, not the other way around.”  Iowa Realty manager J.D. Schlotterback predicts a new wave of millennial players.

“Once you’re out of college and out of the shape you were in in college and high school they look for other things to do for the rest of their life and golf of course is one of the big items, so actually I think the opposite I think you’re going to see the trend of golf starting to pick back up in the next 10-15 years because of the millenniums getting into the game.”

Like champion Tiger Woods at the peak of his career, this suburb is winning with golf; residents want to live near golf courses, home builders are filling the demand, and local governments are relishing the property taxes. In Norwalk, I’m Rick Fredericksen, Iowa Public Radio News.

(Golf play-by-play commentator) “In your life have you seen anything like that?”