Is a golf course a public park?

Jan 22, 2011

The Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday on the dispute around Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbor.

In 1917, some land along Lake Michigan was given to the city of Benton Harbor. The "Friends of Jean Klock Park" describe the gift this way:

In 1917, John and Carrie Klock deeded a half mile of lake Michigan frontage to the City of Benton Harbor Michigan in memory of their deceased daughter Jean. Their gift consisted of 90 acres of globally rare natural resources that included Great Lakes Dunes, a Great Lakes Marsh and interdunal wetlands. The donated land was named Jean Klock Park and was dedicated "FOR THE CHILDREN" - "in perpetuity" - "FOREVER."

Today, the city of Benton Harbor has leased part of the park to the Harbor Shores Community Redevelop Corporation. The Redevelop Corporation used the land, including sand dunes along the Lake Michigan shoreline for 3 holes of an 18 hole golf course.

Residents didn't like it and they filed a lawsuit. The case made it to the Michigan Supreme Court yesterday.

Here's a video released by the "Friends of Jean Klock Park":

Laura Weber, of the Michigan Public Radio Network, reported that representatives of the city say the golf course is available to any golfers for a $40 fee, and is open to the public at all times.

During arguments, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Stephen Markman said:

"So is Burger King. So is Walmart. They’re open to the public at all times too. We wouldn’t call them a public utility, would we?"

MPRN's Laura Weber filed this report on the case to Michigan Radio:

Opponents of a golf course development in Benton Harbor hope the state Supreme Court will rule the Jack Nicklaus-designed course should not have been built. They say the golf course was built on public park property never intended for that purpose when it was given to the city in 1917.

Scott Howard represents Benton Harbor residents who say they public park has been misused.

 "It's a legacy case, it’s a case about how do we respect people’s wishes and intentions when they give a gift, especially a substantial gift that is designed to benefit the community, the public, the citizens of this state and the citizens of the community."

Representatives for the city say the golf course serves a public purpose.

Justice Stephen Markman says it is important to figure out the primary purpose of  a public park:

"When one goes to the park, I think the ordinary person can understand what that means. I think the question is a fairly simple one. I’m not saying your position is right or wrong, but the question is, 'is a commercial golf course a park?'" 

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case in a few months.