by Max Brantley
The ongoing study of War Memorial Park has stirred lots of controversy, particularly over the continuating of the golf course in its current form.
Today, free-lance sports columnist Robert Shields criticizes an omission from the consultant's study -- what about the use of the golf course for tailgating at Razorback games two or three times each year? Shields is right that those days probably put more people on that turf than walk it the rest of the year combined.
His column is on the jump.
ROBERT SHIELDS COLUMN
City Consultant Fails to Consider Razorback Tailgating in Park Plan
The Razorbacks basketball team is having a hard time passing GO so I do not want to dwell on them too long, but here’s a brief comment before getting to today’s topic. This team is hard to watch, even when they are winning. I do not find myself alone in this outlook as I ask others about the game and many do not even know they are playing, which means to me the fans do not care. When Scott Cain, the Razorback basketball beat writer for the statewide paper, comes on Drive Time Sports, he seldom gets asked questions about basketball. I think the interest level, especially outside northwest Arkansas for all the multitudes who do not make the drive to attend games, is just not there anymore. So since nobody is watching the hoop Hogs, I thought I would write about something else.
A little while back, more news came out about a Little Rock Parks and Recreation study into the potential future use of the War Memorial golf course. Let me start by stating that if anything is done to ruin the tailgating experience for Razorback games on that golf course, all games should be moved to Fayetteville. It is a package deal. Even though War Memorial Stadium is owned by the state, the beauty of playing games in Little Rock without that golf course drastically cuts the experience for the Hog faithful. If fans only wanted bad tailgating and a nice stadium to go sit inside, there is already a place to do it.
The bonding and connection many fans have through War Memorial is often in conjunction with that golf course. The intangible of that golf course can also be greatly attributed to the incredible 20-2 record Houston Nutt enjoys at the venue.
A rough estimate probably puts more than 20,000 fans using that golf course on game day. Those two game days are the single biggest uses for that golf course throughout the year. No other day on the calendar comes even remotely close to putting that many people in the park than those two game days. There is no place in America for game-day tailgating like that golf course before a Razorback game. It is a unique experience.
Yet I didn’t see anything reported about the study mentioning that the city’s hired consultants took Razorback tailgating into any consideration.
Any conclusion from a parks plan study should include the fact that two or three times a year (Frank, you still owe two more three-game seasons), that space is going to be used for tailgating before Razorback games.
I realize other things can be done with the space to make it an even better green space. I realize soccer fields can be put in over by where the archery range is and where the golf course holes run perpendicular to Interstate 630. Even more trees could be planted. A running track could be added. Another pond could be constructed to connect with the other creek that crosses Markham. More pavilions could be added in the space. All these things could be done and make the space better. Those things could be done with a shorter nine-hole course maintained, maybe even with lights for night golfing. Nonetheless, any plan should be amenable to cars and tailgating.
War Memorial has served a great purpose for many golfers as a learning course for beginners where you can hack away on a relatively short course. Currently, War Memorial runs a deficit, as do many of the city-run golf courses. If the problem is that it’s not a money maker, I do not know many of the city parks that do make money.
On two weekends a year, the park could not be more used than it is on those game days. Before Little Rock starts tearing up that course with grand ideas on how to make things better, it better remember what it already has before it loses it, and Razorback fans lose something of major importance to the program and the fan experience.