Photo by Patricia O'Blenes

Oakland County considers turning Red Oaks Golf Course into a park

By: Andy Kozlowski | C&G Newspapers | Published September 16, 2022


OAKLAND COUNTY — Oakland County Parks and Recreation is developing plans to possibly convert the Red Oaks Golf Course into a walkable park with open space, trails and other amenities.

The nine-hole, par-31 course on John R Road northeast of 12 Mile Road has seen fewer users in recent times, and is expected to lose around $90,000 this fiscal year.

Oakland County Parks and Recreation Director Chris Ward said via email that 55% of the golf course’s users live outside the county, and thus don’t pay the property taxes needed to operate it. There is also the fact that a golf course is niche in appeal. Ward said that the Parks Commission finds it “difficult to justify” using public dollars for a service that “benefits individuals rather than the general public.”

As such, Oakland County has been exploring the idea of converting the golf course into something with broader appeal. The county plans to invest more in the overall Red Oaks parks system, using federal funds from the American Rescue Plan along with matching county parks and recreation funds. This could include a possible conversion of the golf course.

“We have made Red Oaks County Park a priority for the investment of these funds, given the important role the park fulfills in serving the needs of southeastern Oakland County. This plan would provide for a much-improved dog park, walking trails, play areas, gardens, and family-friendly gathering spaces,” Ward said. “We are also evaluating alternative plans that would maintain the golf course and shift those resources to other investments in the park and the county park system.”

Estimates put the cost of all potential improvements at $4.75 million. This would include the incorporation of Ambassador Park northeast of the golf course on 13 Mile Road near John R, as well as connecting cart paths and more trails for pedestrian and bicycle use, a new dog park near the entrance off John R, new nature-themed play areas, pavilions and shelters, restrooms, garden spaces, and more.

Much of the golf course property would be restored to open prairie habitat that benefits local pollinators and wildlife, and serves as a stopover for migrating birds. The prairie would also require less water and fewer chemicals to maintain. The turf restoration and tree plantings are estimated to cost about $1 million.

“The most work-intensive component of the project would be the restoration of portions of the golf course to a more native, less manicured landscape,” said Melissa Prowse, manager of planning and development for Oakland County Parks and Recreation, in an email. “This process will likely take several years to fully establish new trees, shrubs and gardens around the park.

“We think a park at this location would provide not only new recreational opportunities for residents and visitors, but it will help with pedestrian and bicycle connectivity in this area of the county as well, by providing non-motorized access across the span of the park — from John R to 13 Mile, then across the existing trail along the waterpark and dog park to Dequindre (Road),” she continued.

“City officials have noted the significant number of residents who shop, work and do business in the area around the park, and non-motorized connectivity off the sidewalks would likely be a welcome amenity,” Prowse said. “While there are sidewalks in the city, and a few loop paths in the woods at the nature center, a converted golf course would provide a different type of park experience than is currently available in this area, with open prairie, trails connecting different parts of the community, and areas for gathering, rest and relaxation.”

The county has been surveying the public, and plans to hold community workshops in the coming months to gather more feedback. Separately, the Parks Commission is exploring ways to eliminate the taxpayer subsidy required to operate the golf course. A final decision is expected at the Dec. 7 meeting of the Parks Commission, with the approval of an update to the Red Oaks County Park master plan.

Roslyn Grafstein, the mayor of Madison Heights, said she sees potential in the idea.

“This would provide more public park amenities to all our residents, especially those who live directly in the area, making the area an even more attractive place to live,” Grafstein said via email. “Right now I bike around the city, and I can bike around Ambassador Park next to the golf course, or I can go behind Hiller (Elementary) over the golf course, but I cannot walk or bike in the golf course. So this opens up a whole new place for people to bike and walk, without having to leave the city.”

Mark Bliss, a member of the Madison Heights City Council, said he was originally skeptical about the proposal, but he warmed to the idea when he realized how much a revamped park would connect neighborhoods.

“This would give our city a walkable park that spans more than a mile from the soccer park all the way to the nature center and waterpark, with millions of dollars of investments coming into things like trails, ponds, playscapes, splash pads, and even space for a farmers market,” he said via email, noting that these ideas were included in surveys and at public meetings with the city’s quality-of-life boards and commissions. “It’s not to say that these things will all be in the final concept, should this project move forward, but … should Oakland County move forward on this proposal, it could be a huge win for our residents.”