Ray Richards’ legacy endures

Sale of land donated by UND alumnus to sustain men’s golf program, spur investment in HPC phase 2

Ray Richards

Under a new arrangement, UND Men’s Golf could benefit from the sale of University land once used as Ray Richards’ Golf Course to help endow the program, which has been operating on private fundraising the past two years. Fundraising efforts for the next phase of UND’s High Performance Center (below) also could be aided by selling off the property. Image courtesy of North Dakota Athletics.

It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

That’s the vision University leaders have for 70-plus acres of UND land just south of the main campus known formerly as Ray Richards Golf Course.

Later this month, the University will seek authorization from the State Board of Higher Education to sell the course and possibly other smaller tracts of land held by the school. Proceeds from the sales could then be used to help endow UND’s men’s golf program, which has been operating with private funds the past two seasons, and spur private investment for the second phase of the UND High Performance Center (HPC 2).

In May, the State Board approved language that allowed up to $8 million from the sale of UND land to be used in fundraising for the estimated $35-million HPC 2, which would add much-needed locker rooms, office space and other athletics enhancements to UND’s existing indoor practice facility (HPC 1).

The arrangement is possible thanks, in large part, to a donation of land to the University made 56 years ago by Ray Richards, the late UND alumnus and Tulsa, Okla., petroleum engineer. Richards worked with the UND Alumni Association to turn the land around his family homestead into a nine-hole golf course – a longtime place of recreation for UND students and the community.

Ray Richards

In May, the State Board of Higher Education approved language that allowed up to $8 million from the sale of UND land to be used in fundraising for the estimated $35-million addition to the High Performance Center that will bring new locker rooms, office space and other athletics enhancements. UND archival image.

Fitting honor

In 2016, the University was forced to close the course after state-mandated budget cuts impacted every program and unit on campus and beyond. Men’s golf also was one of several athletics programs impacted by the cuts. Men’s and women’s swimming & diving and women’s hockey were eliminated, while men’s golf was allowed to continue on the condition it could survive privately.

University officials say prospects that the golf course could be sold to breathe new life into the men’s golf program, as well as enhance North Dakota Athletics overall with new investment in HPC 2, is a fitting way to honor the legacy of Richards.

In a way, it makes Richards’ gift to his alma mater that much more everlasting.

“That’s a perfect way to say it,” said UND Athletics Director Bill Chaves on Friday. “It initially started with a plot of land that became a golf course, but now, fast-forward X amount of years, it’s now going to be used to sustain our men’s golf program.”

Chaves added that completion of HPC 2 and the features it’ll hold will help raise the level of competitiveness for all North Dakota Athletics programs.

It’s that kind of mindset that has Chaves energized to work with UND Alumni Association & Foundation fundraisers on getting others excited about the future of North Dakota Athletics.

“The vision for us is to be incredibly competitive as we join the Summit League,” Chaves said.

Ray Richards

Ray Richards Golf Course first opened on April 30, 1968, after Richards, a UND alumnus and Tulsa, Okla., based petroleum engineer, donated parts of his family homestead to the University for what would become a nine-hole, par 36 course. UND Archival image.

Market dictates

Without getting too technical, Chaves said the hope is that the sale of UND land will spur enough revenue to endow men’s golf so that it can cover its annual operational expenses. Revenue above what men’s golf needs could then be used to continue jumpstarting fundraising efforts for HPC 2.

Men’s golf would require a base endowment of about $4.1 million to cover its annual $125-150,000 operational costs, Chaves said.

“This is all about spinning out 4 percent every year on that roughly $4 million to cover the operational aspect of running the men’s golf program,” he said. “That’s the concept.”

Using simple arithmetic, if UND fetches $8 million from its lands sales and uses a little more than half of it to endow men’s golf, theory is the remaining could be used in fundraising for HPC 2. The UND golf programs also could see benefits from features, yet unspecified, planned for HPC 2.

Chaves cautions, however, that a lot will be determined by what the local land market will bear. The golf course sits along a corner bordered by DeMers Avenue to the north and South 42nd Street to the west — about half way between main campus and the Alerus Center business and residential districts.

“The market will always dictate,” Chaves said. “I think it’s prime real estate, but that’s all relative to whomever thinks they want to purchase it and figure out how to develop it.”

Mike Pieper, UND associate vice president for facilities, said he’s already had inquiries from multiple developers about the golf course land. But before it’s put up for sale, in addition to state authorization, UND is waiting for results of a detailed land survey of the golf course. The survey is an important document that developers prefer to see before making a purchase offer, Pieper said.

Ray Richards

More than 60,000 rounds of golf were played on the Ray Richards course during its years of operation, from 1968 to 2016. UND Archival image.

Lasting gift

Ray Richards Golf Course first opened on April 30, 1968, when two physical education students, Doug Thompson and Ron Bergh, showed up at 7 a.m. to play a round, according to Alumni Review archives. Some 60,000 rounds of golf would follow over the next 50 years of the course’s operation.

The Ray Richards course actually was the second to be operated by the University, as a pre-World War II layout used to exist on land now occupied by UND’s Energy & Environmental Research Center and other UND facilities. The idea for a new course next to campus was born in the early 1960s when former UND President George Starcher occasionally joined Richards for golf during the latter years of the benefactor’s visits to Grand Forks. Richards, at the time, was in the process of liquidating his family’s farm, which was located across the railroad tracks just south of campus.

In 1962, Richards agreed to donate the land to UND for student recreation in the form of a golf course. The UND Alumni Association, working with Starcher, purchased additional land, and raised construction funds for the project. After his death in 1972, Richards’ estate provided another $10,000 for further development of the course, according to information in the April 1984 edition of Alumni Review.

If not as a golf course, Chaves said he likes the potential impact that Richards’ gift will continue to mean for UND and the future of the men’s golf program.

“It certainly was a gift that that was given a long time ago by a donor in Ray Richards who has a long legacy here relative to the sport of golf,” Chaves said. “Now that legacy has great opportunity to sustain the sport of men’s golf here at UND.

“Whenever a sport is endowed and is covering its expenses on an annual basis – that’s certainly not a bad place to be.”