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Rub of the Green

Golf course at T.O. Fuller State Park scheduled to close this fall.

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T.O. Fuller State Park in South Memphis may have been the second designated African-American state park in the United States, but that historical distinction doesn't seem to be enough to save its golf course from the chopping block.

The 75-acre golf course at T.O. Fuller is facing closure for the second time in two years, thanks to state budget cuts. The course is due to close in September.

Unhappy with the planned closure, the Friends of T.O. Fuller State Park, a nonprofit organization advocating for the park and golf course, has scheduled a rally for Wednesday, July 20th, at 6 p.m. at the park's baseball field.

"We hope people contact their elected officials and ask them to go back to the drawing board," said Ralph Thompson, president of Friends of T.O. Fuller State Park. "We're asking for fairness."

Built in 1937, T.O. Fuller State Park at 1500 West Mitchell was the second state park in the country created for African Americans, and it's one of two historically black parks in Tennessee. The golf course, added in 1954, was threatened with closure last year, but the state legislature and Governor Phil Bredesen negotiated to keep the course in the budget.

If the golf course is closed this fall, its eight employees will face termination. The course's five permanent full-time employees will have first preference for state job openings they qualify for, while the other three full-time seasonal employees will be out of luck.

Meg Lockhart, deputy communications director for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said the 2011 state budget does not include funds to subsidize the course due to ongoing budget constraints.

"With public funds unavailable, the department must make difficult decisions in order to keep revenue-generating operations, which include golf courses, inns, cabins, marinas, restaurants, and campgrounds, self-sufficient when taken as a whole across the state park system," Lockhart said.

According to Lockhart, from 2009 to 2010, the park posted a net loss of $298,483.

Lockhart said the department is open to lease agreements to bring another operator in to keep the course open, but there hasn't been an agreement secured.

The course is scheduled to close on September 18th, after the current golf season. The land will remain part of the park, which won't be affected in the decision.

Thompson said they've talked to elected officials, requesting they keep the park's golf course open, but efforts have fallen on deaf ears.

"This is a historic golf course and park, but the state is looking at it from an economic side," Thompson said. "We're looking at the economics and the historic value of it."

Thompson said he hopes that the golf course will stay in business. If closed, he fears the park may be next to go.

"The first thing I think about is the people who are going to lose their jobs," Thompson said. "The second thing I think about is, what are the alternatives to what they're doing now? We need to have some way to work this out, where the course and the park can stay open. There's a feeling that if you close the golf course down, the revenue-generating side, you're going to lose the park in short order."

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