Homer Williams isn't the only person eyeing golf courses as a way to free up more land for housing.

But several civic leaders suggest taking a far more direct approach: Close at least one of the five city-owned golf courses and build apartments on them.

The City Budget Office says the reserve fund that covers operation of the courses will run out of money by June 30.

The golf fund has been steadily depleting its reserves for at least the past five years, a reflection of the sport's waning popularity.

"The number of serious golfers has been in decline for some time, and new golfers are not taking up the sport at the same rate as in past generations," says Portland Parks and Recreation spokesman Mark Ross.

But parks officials say completed renovations at one course and, in the near term, an end to the rainy spring may turn things around. "Loss of the public golf facilities," Ross says, "would limit the sport largely to those with the financial means to belong to a country club."

Civic leaders say the Eastmoreland Golf Course, in particular, located adjacent to a MAX stop on the Orange Line, might have a better use.

"You've got 150 acres pretty close in, next to a major arterial roadway and an underutilized light-rail station, and your community center is already built," says Jeff Bachrach, a member of the city's Planning and Sustainability Commission.

"And, of course, more affordable housing is the city's top priority.
"On the other hand," Bachrach continues, "you have an empowered neighborhood that would fight it to death; you have environmental advocates that will oppose any development of public open space; and you've got a lot of golfers who probably enjoy playing on a really nice inner-city course at municipal rates."

Eastmoreland may be the most attractive for development, but unlike some of the city courses, it is still turning a profit.

And Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association treasurer Robert McCullough called the idea "odious," saying it would be "illegal" because the city is required to return the course to the original donor if it closes.

"Metro says we're not short on buildable land," he says. "We are short on oxygen and green things."

Former City Commissioner Steve Novick, however, says the housing crunch calls for giving the golf courses a careful look. "If there's a clear choice between golf and housing," Novick says,  "housing should win."