Kansas City development company buys Lawrence golf course; west Lawrence Walmart gets a remodel

Lawrence’s golf course industry is changing again. A Kansas City development company — who traditionally has not been a golf course operator — has purchased a nine-hole course that is just down the road from the University of Kansas.

Block & Company, a Kansas City-based commercial real estate firm, recently bought the Orchards by Cobblestone Golf Course at 3000 Bob Billings Parkway. You remember the Orchards golf course. It is a nine-hole, relatively short course that you would play when you didn’t have enough money to play Alvamar or when the course marshall at Alvamar started eyeing you funny because your golf bag had a chainsaw in it.

In a press release, Block & Company said it will operate the course, and it hopes to improve its condition.

“We are planning to do a number of upgrades and improvements to the property in the upcoming year and give the course the attention it deserves,” said David M. Block, president of the real estate company.

Now, I’m the first to admit that when it comes to strategy on a golf course I’m often “befuddled.” (I think that is a fancy word for “in a creek.”) This transaction has left me a tad befuddled as well. In a normal situation, I would think that a commercial real estate company is purchasing a golf course like this for the land and not the course. The course sits on about 30 acres of property, which the release noted several times is very near the KU campus. Think of all the very profitable things you could build on 30 acres just a couple of blocks from KU.

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But this isn’t a normal situation. As the Journal-World reported years ago, neighbors of the golf course were concerned that the struggling course was going to be sold and turned into apartments. So, the neighbors banded together, raised about $280,000 and gave it to the then-owner of the course in exchange for a covenant that ensured the course would either remain a golf course or open space. As far as I know, those covenants still exist. Although, I suppose Block could try to buy the development rights back from the neighbors.

Of course, it is possible that Block may just see an opportunity in the golf business in Lawrence. The community has lost 18 holes of public golf, as Alvamar has now converted to an entirely members-only golf course.

Block & Company noted several times that the Orchards course is set up for FootGolf in addition to traditional golf. FootGolf is a sport that uses a soccer ball and participants count the number of kicks it takes to get the ball to a specific spot on the course. Block says Orchards is one of only five FootGolf courses in the greater Kansas City area.

So, that could be a strategy for turning the business around. But generally, golf has been a tough business in Lawrence. The city struggles to make any money at Eagle Bend Golf Course, and that course has the advantage of not having a water bill or property taxes to pay. The former owners of Alvamar sold that course after they too struggled to make golf profitable. The new owners — led by Lawrence’s Fritzel family — have made it clear that the strategy for profitable golf is to build more apartments and living units around the course.

Plus, Lawrence soon will have nine more holes of golf in the market. The Links — the huge apartment complex under construction just east of Rock Chalk Park — will have a nine-hole golf course in the center of it. My understanding is that course will have some public tee times.

I’ve got a call into officials with Block. I’ll let you know if I hear more details.

In other news and notes from around town:

Walmart has announced that its remodeling project at is store near Sixth and Wakarusa is now complete. The project involved:

• A new electronics department that includes a lot of interactive displays.

• New LED lighting in the produce, deli and meat departments.

• Changes to the pharmacy department, including more service lanes and a new consultation room.

• Wider aisles and lower shelving in many parts of the store.

The store is hosting an event to celebrate the remodel from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Oct. 13. The event will include music, free food and lots of samples throughout the store.