Florida is ruled by fiscally conservative Republicans who believe in local control, abhor government giveaways and have vowed to run the state with the competitive efficiency of business, unless all that high-minded policy gets duck-hooked into the woods for an opportunity to help caddy Jack Nicklaus' legacy.
While the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott are expected to lay off thousands of state workers and force pension costs on those who remain, it appears the Golden Bear, winner of a record 18 major championships, could capture Tallahassee's version of the green jacket. Lawmakers are looking to pay Nicklaus nearly $2.5 million to design five golf courses on state parkland in each corner of Florida. Under the bill, courses that are part of the "Jack Nicklaus Golf Trail" wouldn't have to worry about city and county regulations. Each also would be entitled to acquire a liquor license and even build a hotel.
A mulligan of common sense would seem to be in order before tens of thousands of acres of environmentally sensitive public land owned by taxpayers are turned over to create five more fertilizer-saturated playgrounds for golfers. The state already leads the nation with 1,000 public and private golf courses.
This supposed economic development scheme has yet to be analyzed by the legislative staff — meaning backers are offering all the assurances given to the lead character in the baseball classic Field of Dreams: "If you build it, he will come." Will the legislative staff state the obvious? Many Florida golf courses are struggling to attract players, and many have been forced to close.
But worry not. Nicklaus has powerful advocates. One of the bill sponsors is former Florida House Speaker John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who, upon retiring as speaker in 2000, received a golf cart from lawmakers. He rode it back to Tallahassee in 2009 when he was elected to the Senate, where he is now the powerful rules chairman.
Jack Nicklaus is certainly one of his sport's greatest stars and a gentleman both on and off the course. But Thrasher's fawning effort to endear himself to the golfer is a financially irresponsible triple bogey of an idea.