Area golfers will have one fewer place to play beginning July 1 when Emerald Park Golf Course at Fort Roots closes July 1.
The property, which had been leased by the city of North Little Rock from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs since 1998, will become the site of the new state veterans home.
"They started looking for a place a year ago," said Joe Ralston, who has been the PGA professional at Emerald Park for 15 years. "It was the ideal place. It’s right across the street from the main hospital, close to everything, and the golf course itself — it just didn’t have enough play to support itself."
Steve Ralston, director of golf for North Little Rock, and Joe’s older brother, said play at the nine-hole Emerald Park had slipped from almost 12,000 rounds per year when the city first took over the course to fewer than 4,500 last year.
"That is not enough to sustain it, plus we’ve had to make cutbacks, " he said.
Joe Ralston said the property was never really a money-maker for the city but that it had remained pretty steady after 9-11, unlike many places, because it was the least expensive place to play in the area.
"But I think it’s a sign of the times," he said. "I really think now that people are playing less, so they may spend a little more and play a regulation course. Rather than playing (Emerald Park) a couple of times a month, they’ll go once a month and play an 18-hole course that’s a little more expensive."
Joe Ralston has moved to Burns Park as assistant pro, replacing the recently retired Pete Cook. Brian Fischer, a maintenance employee, will also move to Burns Park. All season passes already bought for Emerald Park will be honored at Burns Park’s tournament course at no extra charge. Daily fees will be comparable.
"For not much more money, they can play Burns Park, and it has two 18-hole courses," Joe Ralston said. "It’s just $1 or $2 more expensive."
His return to Burns Park is a family homecoming. Steve Ralston worked at the course while he was in college and has been head golf pro there since 1978. Joe worked there through high school and college and became assistant pro there in 1981.
"From the time I was 13 up until 24, I was out there all the time," Joe Ralston said.
His familiarity with the city system was a plus, but he had to apply for the position just like anyone else, his brother said.
"He’s very qualified for it," Steve Ralston said.
Steve Ralston said the North Little Rock Park Commission on Monday would address a veteran/senior discount for both courses at Burns Park.
"We’re going to make it convenient," he said.
The move will enable the city to focus on making Burns Park more efficient, both Ralstons agreed.
"Our employees at Burns Park spend hundreds of hours a year at Emerald mowing, catching up and trying to stay on top of things," Steve Ralston said. "We’ve had to transfer a lot of equipment, so we’re going to save hundreds of man-hours."
Added Joe Ralston: "You hate to see anything just shut down, but honestly, I know the VA is going to do what they need to do for the vets, and the city is going to do what’s in the best interest for the golfers and the city. It’s all worked out."