Celebrated golf entrepreneur offers to transform Glenway Golf Course

Michael Keiser will fund the renovation with ‘no strings attached’
golf course designer Michael keiser sits on a round stool with photos and plans of his courses shown behind him
Michael Keiser Photo by Chris Hynes
Michael Keiser offers to finance a complete renovation of Glenway Golf Course in Madison.

When I spoke to Michael Keiser on Sunday to talk about a remarkable offer he’s just made to Madison, he was already featured on the home page of Golf Digest magazine in an article that began, “Though it’s only January, the biggest golf course news of 2021 might have already dropped.”

Keiser was making yet another splash in the wider world of golf.

That story concerns a third golf course that Keiser wants to build at Sand Valley, the central Wisconsin golf resort he opened in 2017. Golf Digest named its first course the best new course of that year in the United States.

With Sand Valley — which Keiser owns with his brother, Chris — Keiser was following in the illustrious footsteps of their father, Mike Keiser, who two decades ago built a walking-only golf resort (no motorized carts allowed) on the remote coastline of Oregon. Access was arduous. Naysayers predicted doom. Today Bandon Dunes, with its five championship courses, is arguably the world’s top golf destination.

The Keiser name evokes worldwide reverence in golf circles.

Michael Keiser moved to Madison with his wife Jocelyn in 2016 to raise a family. And now, even as he expands at Sand Valley, Keiser has made an astonishing offer to the city of Madison.

Keiser, with Jocelyn, has volunteered to fund a renovation and reimagining of Glenway Golf Course at 3747 Speedway Road.

“Madison’s such a progressive city,” Keiser says. “I think it would be cool to have a progressive golf course, one that’s inclusive and designed architecturally for all golfers. Most golf courses are designed by men for men.”

Keiser’s vision extends beyond rebuilding eight of the nine greens — “the heart and soul of any golf course” — to making the property more mixed-use, with hiking trails and the reintroduction of prairie and savannah species in turf areas not in play. Keiser points to the famed Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland, as a model.

“They have trails going through the course,” he says. “When you’re teeing off on the second hole there’s a trail to the right where people are walking their dogs. They close their golf course every Sunday and open it for non-golf activities.”

Thursday afternoon, the city of Madison’s Golf Subcommittee will meet virtually. Keiser’s offer is on the agenda for discussion, the first step in a process that will eventually include the Board of Park Commissioners and the City Council. Keiser’s proposal appears to satisfy many of the recommendations of the city’s Task Force on Municipal Golf in Madison Parks, which promotes positive ecological outcomes, an attention to diversity and the opportunity for enjoyment by non-golfers.

Keiser first started thinking about Glenway, he says, perhaps two years ago, after reading a newspaper story about the troubled finances of Madison’s public golf courses.

Parks Superintendent Eric Knepp was quoted in the story.

“I gave him a call,” Keiser says, “not really expecting him to call me back. I heard back from him in 45 minutes. We talked for an hour. The vision I described was in concert with his vision.”

“The focus of the project,” Knepp wrote last week to the subcommittee members, “will be on ecological restoration and multi-purpose benefits of golf courses, which will at the same time enhance the golfing experience for players of all skill levels. The work will highlight the natural beauty of the course by opening up key vistas across the course.”

Keiser says the routing of holes would not change dramatically. “It’s really good as it is,” he says. “I think with outstanding greens it could be a course any of us would be happy to play, with our kids, our parents and our friends, for the rest of our lives. A fun, thoughtful, inclusive course.”

Keiser’s involvement will not extend beyond providing funding “and the brilliant architects and others we’re lucky to work with to help make it successful.”

There are, he says, “no strings attached.”

Keiser would, however, like to move quickly. “There’s no time like the present,” he says.

That would require Glenway to be closed for all or part of the 2021 golf season — surely a small price to pay.

I first rode my bike to play nine holes at Glenway more than 50 years ago. Having Michael Keiser offer to transform it is like having Steven Spielberg volunteer to shoot the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce’s annual video.

The other day, Keiser was walking on Glenway and saw a family out in the snow flying a kite. That could happen on a sunny Sunday afternoon in July, too, under his plan — though he stresses that would be the city’s decision, as he will have no operational role.

But all of it — the golf geared for all abilities, the trails, the ecological restoration – could be the game’s bright future.

“Why wouldn’t Madison be the city to lead that?” Keiser says.

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