Superior National golf course again facing financial hurdles
WTIP file photo

Superior National golf course again facing financial hurdles

Officials from Superior National at Lutsen are once again talking with Cook County officials about the future of the local golf course. And, as was the case just over a decade before, there’s talk of using public dollars to enhance the course.

Representatives from the local Economic Development Authority (EDA) and other community members with longstanding ties to the golf course shared information about Superior National with the Cook County Commissioners during a committee of the whole work session July 18. The update focused on “options for maintaining (Superior National) into the future.”

A document submitted to the county board from the EDA and local residents affiliated with the golf course, including Mike Larson, states that “securing financial resources is the next step. And who may be the likely candidates? The EDA believes there are likely two suitable candidates, sell the golf course to a private party or secure working capital funds through Cook County.”

This will not be the first time the golf course is seeking public dollars.

In 2012, the Cook County Board of Commissioners agreed to provide $3.1 million of the county’s one percent recreation and infrastructure sales tax revenue to the golf course in Lutsen. An additional $600,000 came in during that same time period from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation organization. Renovation of the course was completed in 2018.

Despite these investments, the golf course needs more financial help, according to information shared during the county board work session. If the course does not “find more financial support,” it’s possible the course would need to be sold, according to former EDA Director Mary Somnis, who also serves on something known as the “Superior National Board of Governors.” Larson is also on the board, which has legal, contractual responsibility for the management of the golf course.

“If we can’t figure out how to keep the golf course at the caliber that it is today, as a destination golf course, then we might have to think about selling it,” Somnis said during the county board work session.

The roots of the local EDA are directly tied to the golf course in Lutsen. According to information provided to the county board this month, “the EDA was created by MN Statute in 1988 to hold title for the land for the development of Superior National at Lutsen.” The EDA continues to own the golf course. Prior to the 2012 investment from the local one-percent sales tax, the EDA attempted to transfer ownership of the Lutsen golf course to the county. At the time, Mark Sandbo, then chair of the Superior National Golf Course Committee, said “the golf course is a drain financially and mentally on the EDA.” The plan failed to move forward.

The golf course in Lutsen “has never been a cash burden to Cook County,” according to information provided to the county board this month, “and the golf course management team took the fiduciary responsibility to operate in such a manner as the highest priority.” Officials from the golf course, which includes the “board of governors,” note the number of homes that were built near the golf course during the past two decades. According to information shared during the July 18 work session of the county board, “since 2016, the development of properties around the golf course has generated over $1 million in new property tax revenues. These properties do not receive any services that are funded by local taxpayers. Road maintenance, snowplowing, water, and sewer are personal responsibilities of the property owners. There are 16 homes at (The Heritage), three under construction now and two more in 2024. All the lots have been sold.”

Approximately 14,000 rounds of golf are played each season at Superior National, according to public records. From mid-June through September it costs $109 per person to play 18 holes of golf at Superior National. The course has three full-time employees. More than 40 seasonal employees are also hired during the peak season, according to golf course officials. The payroll for the golf course is approximately $600,000.

Officials from Superior National claim the golf course offers “unmatched natural beauty that frankly cannot be found anywhere in the Midwest and even rivals the likes of Pebble Beach.” However, despite the public investment, including more than $3 million from the local sales tax pool of money, “such labor and capital budgets simply fell short to move Superior National to a premier course on the ‘highly manicured side’ of the operation,” according to the report shared with the county board.

Following the July 18 conversation, county officials will wait to hear more information from the EDA and officials at the golf course regarding the possibility of a request for more public dollars being allocated for Superior National at Lutsen.

“It’s a really valuable asset, it is something that generates income for people who work the golf course for adjacent businesses. And it’s something that that we need to make sure remains viable over time,” said Cook County Administrator James Joerke.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Joerke about the future of the Superior National golf course following the July 18 committee of the whole work session. Other topics discussed during the WTIP update include a funding request from North Shore Waste to improve how Cook County deals with garbage and other solid waste, funding for local childcare providers, and an updated timeline for the county’s capital improvement plan. Listen to the full interview in the audio below.