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Talking Points: Golf course is community asset well worth saving

A recent conversation turned to the topic of perception and reality, and it brought me back to my sportswriting days.

It stuck with me how often people's perceptions of a university are shaped by such things as the successes or failures of its sports teams. Unfortunately, what serves as the most public face of a school or organization also serves as a barometer of their worth.

Having grown up in this area, I knew well the stellar academic reputation of the University of Minnesota, Morris. But back several years ago, when Cougar teams were winning a game a year or approaching records for consecutive losses, it was common for outsiders to form the opinion that UMM must be some cut-rate rural college in some dusty two-horse town.

I resisted the temptation to tell many of them that their high school transcripts wouldn't qualify for use as scratch paper in UMM's admissions office, but what they had to say was food for thought, especially given the state of affairs in Morris the last couple of years.

We all know the depressing details: Ethanol plant (until recently) shuts down operations; lumberyard goes out of business; layoffs at other companies; grocery store closes with no prospects for reopening on the horizon.

And then came the news that two of the area's most generous benefactors were sentenced to prison at a time when their former business - one of the county's largest employers - is struggling under state sanctions on where and on what it can work.

Taking this all in, it would appear to the outside world that the Morris area is on the verge of drying up and blowing away, and ignoring all the great things that happen daily in this community, you can see why perception would be able to trump reality. Big, glaring downers always seem to steal center stage from the accumulation of good will and good deeds.

Now, however, the community has a chance to control perception and reality.

It's brand spanking new golf club is in peril. The businessmen heading to prison are owners and they put it up for sale last week. Members quickly got together and, assured that the club could be saved, began a fundraising initiative to round up investors. The public is invited to a 7 p.m. meeting Sunday night at the Eagles Club in Morris to discuss how to put a deal together.

Whether you golf or not, whether you frequent parks or not, such things are valuable to the community. Just as vibrant businesses keep the economic engine humming, a community's amenities are important in attracting new residents and visitors.

Generally, the public has little control over whether a commercial entity like a grocery story or a building center go out of business, nor can we keep businesses from laying off workers or cutting back on production.

But the golf course is a unique opportunity for such a thing to be done. After almost two years, local investors put together a deal and got Morris' ethanol plant back up and running. A brand new golf course that is just now blossoming into a beautiful community asset is worth almost as much, if not in dollars and cents then in keeping the ghosts out of town.