USF is closing The Claw golf course. Some worry what will happen to the land
The Claw at USF Golf Course is closing in early September. Some people worry that possible development there will hurt the forest preserve next door.
The Claw at USF Golf Course will close permanently on Sept. 5. But some people are worried about what the University of South Florida will do with that land.
The course, located on the north end of the Tampa campus off Fletcher Avenue at N. 46th St., sits beside a forest preserve which is home to a number of species and wetlands. But university officials maintain the course closure, and possible development, will not impact the preserve.
In an email, USF President Rhea Law said it was a "difficult decision," but the course was losing $200,000 annually.
"This decision does not change the university’s commitment to maintaining the natural environment in the preserve," Law wrote.
Christian Brown is a postdoctoral researcher at Washington State University. As a Ph.D. candidate at USF, he was part of a group of student activists that fought to save the forest preserve in 2021 when former USF president Steve Currall asked developers for ideas to build on the property.
Brown did a lot of research at the golf course and nearby forest preserve, where he placed cameras to track the wildlife movement.
"We saw bobcats and otters using the golf course almost every single night," Brown said.
A buffer for an adjacent preserve
The 120-acre course — the size of about 90 football fields — acts as a buffer zone to the preserve next door. Brown said developing it could lead to noise and water pollution, and a change in hydrology that could lead to a disruption in the ecosystem.
Brown said the area holds a narrow point only 75 meters wide that is surrounded by parking lots and apartments where wildlife passing through the forest preserve can get access to Cypress Creek.
"This is a rare opportunity for USF to shape the surrounding community, and everything else is going in the same direction. And that is development. So USF really could create a powerful message by not developing that land, maybe even attract more students."Christian Brown
"Building up the USF Claw is only going to make that dire situation worse," Brown said. "And if they cut off that connection completely, then they've functionally created two island habitats in Cypress Creek and the USF forest preserve."
The area is also home to the remains of indigenous ancestors and could hold artifacts proving humans were living there as far back as 10,000 years ago.
"The USF Claw golf course has a number of cultural sites that archaeologists have dug up and explored, and even written about, right there on the golf course," Brown said. "Right under your feet while you're playing, right underneath your clubs and your putter."
Brown says that if the course is developed, it should remain a green space with the lowest possible impact on the preserve.
"This is a rare opportunity for USF to shape the surrounding community, and everything else is going in the same direction. And that is development," Brown said. "So USF really could create a powerful message by not developing that land, maybe even attract more students."
An opportunity for growth
Evangeline Linkous is the director of the USF Master of Urban and Regional Planning program. She said the university has an opportunity to engage with the community about what should go on the course property.
She remembers a great deal of concern expressed by students and faculty a few years ago when discussions of development on the course were raised.
"(The golf course) is a pretty huge site, and a really important location along a major arterial leading into one of the biggest employers in the region," Linkous said.
She believes the university should think about how to best use its resources to accommodate growth.
"Because as the Tampa region grows, and as USF grows, that idea of sort of the university connecting to urban space is going to become increasingly important," Linkous said.
"Because as the Tampa region grows, and as USF grows, that idea of sort of the university connecting to urban space is going to become increasingly important."Evangeline Linkous
Linkous said the university had a "learning process" from their first attempt at requesting proposals for development a few years ago. But she believes this time a thoughtful design could actually lead to a positive relationship with the preserve.
"To me, it would make the most sense to have a site adjacent to the university be focused on housing that would serve university purposes," Linkous said. "Whether that be a student (facility) or geared at faculty or some kind of related uses, maybe different kinds of staff housing."
A case for extending the USF preserve
But Christian Wells disagrees with building on the land. He is a professor of anthropology and serves on an advisory board that manages the space. He was also once USF's sustainability director.
"I would like to see it replanted and become part of the forest preserve," Wells said.
He said while the preserve is surrounded by urbanization, it's also a "habitat island for a lot of different species."
Wells says redeveloping the course could put a lot of pressure on plants and animals on that land.
"We're talking specifically about light pollution, air pollution, noise pollution, and just bringing a lot of traffic and people," Wells said. "But then also, depending on the nature of redevelopment, there could be a lot of hardscaping that results in stormwater runoff management issues, such as flooding."
But both Linkous and Wells agreed that whatever happens to the golf course, there should be a sort of buffer to protect the preserve's ecosystem.
"If there's going to be development there, like residential or something, if you really want to protect the forest preserve, I think that it's important to look at Green Engineering," Wells said. "(Like) the use of bioswales that would absorb and clean polluted stormwater runoff, additional vegetation, and there's some other green engineering features that you can use to sort of create a buffer or a boundary."