Eminent domain is used by government as a means of providing essential services to a vast majority of citizens by condemning private property in the name of the “common good.” Examples over the years have included the development of our interstate highway system and the establishment of military forts and bases. Eminent domain is also sometimes used as a tool by government to boost local economies, implying that the responsibility of government to stimulate economic growth is sometimes greater than the responsibility of government to protect the rights of property owners and to safeguard free enterprise.
The “takings” clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits private property being taken for public use without just compensation, thus denoting the right of government to seize private property. The terms “public use” and “just compensation” have been interpreted by courts and elected officials in local, state and federal government in many different ways over the past two hundred years.
As custodians of large tracts of land, golf course owners and operators may become targets of eminent domain actions. In 2006 such an instance came to the golf industry’s attention in a high profile manner in the Village of North Hills, New York. That’s where city officials moved to claim eminent domain over Deepdale Golf Club, a highly regarded private club approximately 20 miles from Manhattan. The mayor of North Hills claimed that converting Deepdale to a municipal facility in the name of “economic development” would provide an amenity to village residents and boost property values.
While Deepdale was saved when the state legislature stepped in to approve a unique amendment to the eminent domain law, the possibility that similar actions could spread to courses in other parts of the U.S. brought the club’s situation and eminent domain to the attention of course owners, operators and golf club members across the country.
The National Golf Course Owners Association believes efforts by government to seize privately owned golf courses for conversion to municipally owned golf courses, and the seizure of privately owned land to build new municipally owned courses in the name of economic development, do not fit the “public use” qualifier of the Fifth Amendment.
Further, the NGCOA feels the term “public use” in the Fifth Amendment implies anticipated use by a vast majority of citizens. Currently less than 15 percent of Americans regularly play golf. Therefore, any efforts by government to enter the business of golf by commandeering an existing, privately owned facility cannot be considered “public use.” The same applies to efforts by government to seize privately owned land in order to develop a new golf course. The commandeering or building of golf courses by government through eminent domain actions should not occur simply for the desire of a recreational asset.
The NGCOA also believes a gross encroachment of our free enterprise system occurs when government claims eminent domain over viable, privately owned golf courses and other types of privately owned land in order to undertake golf projects in the name of “economic development.” Without a check or balance to eminent domain actions against free enterprise, enterprise is thereby no longer free.
What We're Doing:
The NGCOA is continuing to monitor situations where eminent domain is being used to threaten the rights of golf course owners, operators and their members. The association will make members aware of these situations and suggest appropriate actions.
What You Can Do:
Monitor issues related to eminent domain that may affect your business and contact your municipality to express your concern that government’s condemnation of private property in the name of economic development requires far greater scrutiny before it is approved. Make your local NGCOA Chapter and the National office aware of any concerns so that both organizations can provide resources, tools and assistance.