Hiawatha Golf Course, Minneapolis, MN

Controversial Hiawatha Golf Club Redesign Advances

The outcome of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s (MPRB) planning committee hearing on August 17 about the controversial proposed masterplan to redesign of the historic Hiawatha Golf Club from eighteen to nine holes came as no surprise – the plan was approved 3-1 (with one member absent). Notably, the same plan has failed to gain passage on multiple occasions since 2021. The event came two days after news that Hiawatha had been determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places according to an 83-page nomination filed with the Minneapolis State Historic Preservation Office (the nomination will come up for review in early 2023).

Harry Davis at the Hiawatha Golf Club, Minneapolis, MN, 2022
Harry Davis at the Hiawatha Golf Club, Minneapolis, MN, 2022 - Photo © Walter Griffin.


Nearly 100 people testified live or submitted written testimony that was read out loud.  The evening was notable for a sizeable representation by members of the Dakota community and the Coalition of 100 African Americans. The former largely support the nine-hole plan while the latter spoke on behalf of the historic eighteen-hole configuration. Seeking to brook the divide, Coalition of 100 African Americans co-chair Harry Davis addressed the MPRB and audience members. He introduced himself as a “fifth generation Minnesotan” later adding that his “grandfather was a Winnebago Dakota Sioux Indian.” Davis continued, “We love our Native American brothers. I’m part of you,” and decried what he sees as attempts to “divide and conquer” the African American and the Native communities. “Don’t let them do it.”

While there remain divisions about the course’s design, there does seem to be unanimity on the issue of pollution flowing into Lake Hiawatha. For members of the Dakota and African American communities, and other area residents who testified, addressing the pollution is a common goal. Of note, at the MPRB’s July 20 meeting, Commissioner Becka Thompson offered a motion to separate debate about the course’s redesign from discussion of the pollution remediation. The motion failed. In the August 17 hearing, Commissioner Thompson’s concluding remarks warned that passage of the master plan could prompt litigation and other actions that could lead to years of delays (Thompson’s comments begin at 3:18:44). Given Commission Thompson’s concerns, it might be prudent to deal with the pollution separately.


Hiawatha Golf Course, Minneapolis, MN
Hiawatha Golf Course, Minneapolis, MN - Photo by Charlene Roise, 2021

The most sweeping concluding remarks came from MPRB Vice President Alicia Smith in which she addressed Harry Davis’ concerns, the pollution, what Commission Thompson previously called a “one-sided compromise,” and the division within the community (Smith’s comments begin at 3:23:56):

“Thank you to the folks that showed up, that sacrificed their time today to share their perspective even if it is different from all of ours and those of us who share the same concerns about not only the historical events that took place to get us here, but the people who were murdered and pillaged for us to get this place to exist. That is the true reality in which we are dealing with. And it is a sad one. And it is one that we continue to acknowledge in speech, but we’re not ready to deal with the realities of what that looks like and we keep using the word compromise. There is no compromise.

“There is grave concern for the environment … there is. It isn’t just that the Black golfers are concerned with just golf. We care about the environment as well. There is no Black versus the indigenous people. We care about one another. We care about each other. It’s humanity. We show up and we show it every day. For those of you who were present in this city in May 2020, you saw that. Yet we continue to beg and plead for our humanity and for our comforts to be acknowledged. It is not about a compromise. Clearly there needs to be some discussion within our communities, and I’m saying our communities being that of I am a Black woman, and I see my indigenous brothers and sisters get up here and speak about the environment and their concerns, what they need back and the land that want to get back. So, there’s some conversation to be had there. But certainly, science and technology is in a different place than it was eight years ago.

“This has come before us and it has failed. It has failed with this new elected board and it’s failed with the previous board. So there needs to be … we need to go back to the drawing board. Back to the drawing board or back on a blank page. Yes, people have given up time and there have been dollars invested. And there have been people murdered in the places where 47 of our parks were originally built where Black folks could not go. So, it is a serious issue. This is the manifestation of white supremacy. It tells you that you have to pick either or and you can’t have both and. The reality of it is you can have both and. And so we just need to figure it out and if that’s a pause, it a pause. It’s going to cost us either way. We just need to figure it out. And this is an extremely divisive issue and we cannot afford that in this city right now, literally we cannot afford it. We can’t afford the division that it’s created.”

The MPRB will next meet on Wednesday, September 7, 2022, when the full board could yet again take up a master plan that has failed repeatedly to gain passage.