Eminent Domain

eminent-domainThe U.S. government uses eminent domain to condemn private property; the “takings” clause of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment prohibits private property to be taken for public use without just compensation. Examples have included seizing private property for the development of highways and 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.

Why is this issue important to golf course owners and operators?

As custodians of large tracts of land, golf course owners and operators may become targets of eminent domain actions, as was the case in 2006 with Deepdale Golf Club, a highly regarded private club approximately 20 miles from Manhattan. 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 US brought eminent domain to the attention of course owners and operators nationwide.

What is the NGCOA doing about this issue?

The NGCOA believes government efforts 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% of Americans regularly play golf. Therefore, any efforts by the 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 the 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.”

How you can get involved

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 alert members to these situations and suggest appropriate actions.

You can monitor issues related to eminent domain that may affect your business, and contact your municipality to express your concern that the government’s condemnation of private property in the name of economic development requires far greater scrutiny before it is approved.

You can also make us and your local NGCOA Chapter aware of any concerns so that both organizations can provide resources, tools and assistance. Learn more about this issue and discuss it with your peers.