Golfing board changes course: Organization plans to move base out of Johnson County

The state’s central golf organization is selling its Franklin property and moving its home base and 10 full-time employees to Indianapolis.

Indiana Golf announced this week that its board has approved a plan to sell the current office space and property adjacent to The Legends Golf Club in Franklin and move to Indianapolis.

The property, which is 51 acres and includes a 24,000-square foot office building and an 18-hole par-3 golf course, is being listed at $2.5 million. Indiana Golf will continue to operate locally until the property is sold.

The Indiana Golf Office manages the Indiana Section PGA, Indiana Golf Association, Indiana Women’s Golf Association, Indiana Golf Foundation and The First Tee of Indiana. The property also is home to the Indiana Golf Hall of Fame and also has hosted the Gongaware Indiana Junior Golf Academy, which is now in its final year of operation. The decision was made in part due to declining interest in a junior golf camp and a major spike in interest in the First Tee golf program.

“We are forever grateful for the support shown over the years by Ted Bishop, The Legends Golf Club, and the entire Franklin community,” Indiana Golf said in a news release this week.

The First Tee junior golf program, part of a national program created to grow the game of golf, now reaches more than 65,000 junior golfers across all demographics in Indiana.

The increase in First Tee participation statewide — 10,000 kids were in the program five years ago — coupled with a decline in attendance at the Gongaware Junior Golf Academy on the par-3 course, led Indiana Golf to explore a move to a space that would better serve its shifting priorities.

“The numbers that we’re reaching through The First Tee are significant to the point that we had to start to look internally at some of the other programs we were running, and the camps were one of those programs,” Indiana Golf executive director Mike David said.

“The camp program, for the number of kids it was reaching, was costing us more from a financial and human resource standpoint than we could really justify.”

The Indiana Golf Office exists to give back to the community, and to the game that has given so much to Hoosier golfers statewide, the news release said. By refocusing financial resources, the organization hopes to dedicate even more funds and energy to expanding its programming and to better serving all Indiana golfers at the new location, the release said.

Along with the need for less space, the organization decided that being slightly more centrally located in the Indianapolis area will allow it to better grow The First Tee Indiana. The decision by the 32-member board was unanimous.

Indiana Golf has been headquartered at The Legends, at 2625 Hurricane Road in Franklin, since 1993, shortly after the course opened its first 18 holes. The Legends gifted the par-3 course to the organization in 1997 and has maintained those 47 acres for it since, per the agreement made at that time.

Those par-3 holes are likely nearing the end of their life cycle. Both David and Ted Bishop, general partner and director of golf at The Legends, expect that any potential buyer of the property will use that land for another purpose.

“We would like to see a residential developer come in there and do something with it,” Bishop said, “because that obviously would mean memberships and daily fees for our championship facility.”

“I’d be shocked if anyone came in to buy that and wanted to operate it as a golf course. There’s no question its maximum real estate value would be with some type of residential development.”

Regardless of the future plans for that property, Indiana Golf is likely to continue its working relationship with The Legends even after it moves. The course has hosted more statewide championships than any other site, and Bishop expects it will still serve as the home for numerous major events.

The decision to move, David said, had nothing to do with The Legends and was based strictly upon Indiana Golf’s changing needs.

“The Legends has been a tremendous partner over the years,” he said. “This move wasn’t taken lightly.

“From a business standpoint, (Bishop) completely understands.”

Bishop said that the versatility of The Legends’ 27-hole layout is well suited to fill any voids that could be left by the loss of the par-3 course in the future.

There are already markers set up on the existing holes that would enable golfers to play the course as a par-3, and Bishop added that the championship course could also potentially accommodate foot golf, which also is now played on the current par-3 course.

A potential plus for The Legends is that it would no longer have to bear the cost of maintaining the additional acreage at the par-3 course, which Bishop says has been “an underperforming entity, probably since it was built.”

Dana Monson of the Johnson County Development Corp., a public-private organization that works to recruit and retain area employers, said that organization had no comment on Indiana Golf’s plans to move, saying that its focus is on developing industry locally and that the group was not aware of and isn’t impacted by the decision.

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.