Everybody eats; not everybody plays golf. And there, in a nutshell, you have why a private club’s offer to take over most of a large parcel of town-owned former farmland in Amagansett should be rejected out of hand.
Some weeks ago, after successfully negotiating a community preservation fund purchase of a multi-parcel site for which luxury housing for the over-50 crowd had been planned, the East Hampton Town Board called for proposals about how the property might be used. Among the responses was a thick document from the South Fork Country Club offering to set up a driving range and instruction tees and greens there. A fine horse barn there would be used for club equipment and about a third of the land would be returned to farming. While the new site would serve the club’s members, the proposal notes that the public would be able to use the facility, presumably for a fee. The club said it would pay the town $75,000 a year for the land’s use and return it in better shape than when it was purchased.
Even though the preservation fund law allows municipalities to buy land for recreation, and golf is indeed a form of recreation, the South Fork’s proposal should be rejected. Perhaps 1 in 10 people in the United States occasionally golf, but only a fraction of that number do so more than a few times a year. According to a recent report from the National Golf Foundation, the sport suffered a net loss of 400,000 players last year. Looking toward the future, golf’s biggest defections were seen among those under 35. This is hardly the kind of trend the East Hampton Town Board should consider hitching itself to — especially on such a visible and, at $10.1 million, expensive recent land buy.
As we understand it, there are several other proposals making the rounds, and apparently most of them involve better agricultural purposes. Several East Hampton Town Board members have expressed a preference for farming or related uses there, and we agree. Food production is preferable, as it would revitalize the site, preserving community access and providing educational opportunities for a much larger proportion of local residents than golf ever could. You can’t fault the South Fork Country Club, which has an 18-hole course and clubhouse nearby, for asking. Nevertheless, its option should be placed on the bottom of the pile.