KEVIN LEININGER: Lakeside Golf Club was hurt by flooding; perhaps its imminent demise will help prevent it elsewhere

Co-owner Bud Beard figures he knows more Lakeside Golf Club history than anybody. But that history is about to come to an end. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
Kevin Leininger

Friday dawned drizzly, dreary and downright dank, so as Bud Beard sat in the Lakeside Golf Club office the deserted course outside the window hardly came as a surprise. Soon, however, the empty landscape will be rule, not the exception. And not just this season, but forever.

Sixty years after his late father Robert designed the initial nine-hole par three course that was paired with a traditional 18-hole course by 1961, the tees, fairways and greens at 746 Coliseum Blvd. N. will soon pass into history now that the city of Fort Wayne has agreed to buy the 145-acre tract near the Maumee River to improve flood control and drainage in the Pierson Ditch area. The proposal was approved by the Board of Works this week and will also require City Council’s blessing. The appraised value of the land is about $391,075, and funding will come from City Utilities revenues.

To Beard, the club’s president and one of nine owners comprising Riverview Inc., the change is both bittersweet and ironic, since he believes previous flood-control measures contributed to the group’s willingness to sell.

“Until 2003, we would flood every 15 years. That year a flood in May shut is down for three weeks and another one in July decked us for the season,” Beard said. “Since then we’ve had 13 (warm-weather) floods in 15 years.”

“We’re not going out of business because we don’t have enough players. We don’t have enough days. When you flood, you can’t get the business back,” agreed General Manager Jim Baker, who like Beard suspects efforts to protect some areas from flooding diverted water away from homes and businesses and onto their course.

It’s a theory city officials dispute, and Beard said he’s been assured by attorneys that a lawsuit attempting to prove a cause-and-effect “wouldn’t be worth pursuing.”

But the memories are worth cherishing.

“Dad was an avid golfer who owned a body shop, and he and three others realized there weren’t enough golf courses in Fort Wayne. None had been built in 20 years,” Beard said. At the time, International Harvester, Magnavox, Zollner and other “east end” industries employed thousands, and the newly completed Coliseum Boulevard took many of them to and from work every day. So the property was purchased, and designed to require as little movement of dirt as possible to cut costs. The result, Beard said, is a course “the average player can play and get a respectable score, but with challenges. If the course is too tough, it’s no fun. This is everyman’s course.”

The business has about 45 employees; about 20 during the winter to operate the clubhouse and 12-lane bowling alley, which were not part of the deal and will stay — at least for now. Beard’s wife and three children have all worked there, and so have two of his four grandchildren and other relatives. The great-grandkids are out of luck. “(The course) is a part of me. It’s family history. I grew up here. It’s the people I’ll miss the most,” he said.

But there doesn’t seem to be as many people golfing these days. Even though Beard said business has been fairly good this year, the National Golf Federation reports that 2016 golf-course use fell 1.2 percent from 2015, to 23.8 million. Equipment sales are down, too, leading Matt Powell of the NPD (market research) Group to conclude that “the golf retail market in the U.S. remains challenged, largely impacted by the fact that Millennials are not picking up the game at the rate the Boomers are aging out of it.” In Allen County alone, several courses have been converted into other uses in recent years, such as housing or for other athletic purposes.

So even though Robert Beard might be saddened by the imminent demise of one 20 or so courses he helped design, his son figures that regret would be tempered by pragmatism.

“Dad was an excellent businessman,” Bud Beard said. “Things change. It’s time to move on.”

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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