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University made bad deal when it leased golf course to Springdale Golf Club

When warm weather came upon us a few weeks ago, my first thought, like most golfers, was to head to the golf course.

Unfortunately, Princeton doesn't have a golf club. That's right – Princeton, the same university that is currently building a multi-million dollar football stadium, has one of the nations best libraries and has more money than it knows what to do with, doesn't even own a golf club.

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What about Springdale Golf Club? Sadly, while the University does own the land upon which the golf course sits, the course is, in fact, privately run. Princeton has set up a longstanding agreement leasing the land to the Springdale Golf Club, which runs the course.

In the summer of 1922, all the responsibility for running the club was shifted from the University to the Springdale members. Princeton students and faculty have been paying – both literally and figuratively – ever since. The problems this arrangement has caused to members of the University community are endless.

Some nice day, try strolling over to the golf course to play a few holes. If this nice day happens to fall on a Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or Monday before 3 p.m. Tuesday before 3 p.m., or on any day when Jupiter, Saturn and Venus are aligned, you'd be out of luck.

Princeton students without a student membership at Springdale can only play Monday or Tuesday after 3 p.m. and all day Thursday.

Buying a membership doesn't make things much better. With a membership, which costs $235 for an academic year, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturday and Sunday afternoons become available to students. Prime golfing times of Saturday and Sunday mornings are still off limits.

Compared to other "college" golf courses, Springdale is more expensive and less accessible than most other places. My hometown of Hamilton, N.Y. – location of Colgate University – is the site of Seven Oaks, unquestionably one of the best college golf courses in the country. The course has hosted numerous big tournaments, including the 1977 NCAA championship and a 1991 Hogan Tour (now Nike Tour) stop.

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Springdale cannot boast any such honors. Nevertheless, greens fees are $20, while Colgate students pay only $13 to play a world class course. More importantly students have no limits on when they can play. A Colgate student can make a tee time at 10 o'clock on a Saturday morning, the same way a member from the community can. On top of that student memberships cost only $100 for the academic year.

Colgate is not the only example. Yale and Cornell are just two other examples of schools that have topnotch golf courses that are cheaper and more accessible to students.

The difference? All those schools own their golf courses. Consequently their students are rewarded with better playing privileges than we enjoy here at Princeton.

While the plight of the average student golfer is upsetting, the situation the golf teams face is even more disturbing.

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Springdale is home course for both the men's and women's golf teams, though the men only play two tournaments and the women only one there every year. Both of Princeton's golf teams are traditionally among the top programs in the Northeast. Nonetheless both teams play second fiddle to the members of Springdale.

While members of the golf teams can play Springdale for free, their options are still limited. Even the golf teams can't play or practice at Springdale Saturday or Sunday mornings. More importantly, the golf teams do not have absolute priority when it comes to tee times.

Women's golf head coach Eric Stein said that there really isn't a conflict between members and the golf team, and that the pro shop and the team try to work together to ensure both the members' and the teams' needs are met.

However, conflicts could occur. It is certainly possible that a member would want to tee off while one of the golf teams is sending players off to practice. The pro shop and the team may work together in such situations, but David Cohen, the President of Springdale Golf Club said that as a rule in such situations, "the member would go out first."

This is absolutely unacceptable. Princeton's golf teams, like all of the University's other varsity teams, are Division I programs. Imagine the men's basketball team getting thrown off its practice court at Jadwin Gym because some local over-30 church league team wanted to play a game. Or football head coach Steve Tosches having to cancel practice because the local Pop Warner team wanted to use the field to work on its two-minute offense.

It would never happen. And it shouldn't happen at Springdale either. There shouldn't even be the possibility that it could happen.The golf teams, like all Princeton sports, deserve the best facilities and complete access to those facilities. The golf teams needs to have absolute priority on playing time over anyone else at their home golf courses. Since Springdale is privately run, they don't.

To compete at the highest level members of the golf team need to be able to get out and practice whenever they want. At least the members of the teams can use the driving range, something a student member can't do. Students members also can not use the locker room facilities or eat in the club house.

All these problems caused by the private ownership of Springdale would be more tolerable if students were simply treated with some respect at the golf course. Most – but not all – of the employees at Springdale are unfriendly and generally make students fell unwelcome and uncomfortable. Anyone who has ever played at Springdale knows exactly what I'm talking about.

Members of the golf team I know feel pretty much the same way. They of all people should not feel unwelcome on their home course.

The way students are treated at Springdale makes the fact that they can only play a few days a week and aren't given complete access to everything the golf course has to offer even more difficult to swallow.

In the end, all the problems at Springdale stem from the fact that the club is not run by the University. Vice President of Facilities Gene McPartland said that the University leases the land to Springdale Golf Club for "economic reasons."

The golf club pays all the taxes on the land and expenses for running the course, and the University golf teams are allowed to use it for free. McPartland termed the relationship between the club and the University "mutually beneficial."

In reality, the relationship benefits the University very little, if at all. What does the University really gain? If it ran the club itself, its students, teams and staff would have greater access to the course, probably at a reduced price. The university would another impressive facility to attract students and faculty. And, in all likelihood, it would make money.

I do not know the exact budget figures of Springdale, but it seems almost certain that the club – in its 77th year of existence – is making money. It would not have lasted that long if it is not.

At this stage, there is probably little that can be done to change the existing situation. But the University needs to know that the current situation does not benefit its students or its varsity golf teams.

While the current arrangement may be impossible to change, the University does need to examine it. The University needs to find a way to ensure that its students and teams have better privileges at a golf course and are at least treated with some respect.

Cohen said, "In my 15 years as a member, I can't think of a problem we've had with the University." McPartland also termed the relationship outstanding. I have no doubt that both believe they are speaking the truth.

While the relationship between Princeton University and Springdale Golf Club may be outstanding, the relationship between Princeton students and the golf club is not.

The quality of that relationship is far more important than the 77-year lease between the University and Springdale.

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