Updated: Golf Course Ruling Could Cost Lake County Taxpayers

Decision would take golf courses off tax roll and shift burden to other taxpayers.


A property tax appeal by Onwentsia Golf Club in Lake Forest could have far reaching effects on Lake County taxpayers as well as communities throughout the state.

As the appeal stands, country club land, including improvements such as clubhouses, would be granted open space status and therefore would receive a zero assessment.

“The public needs to know what benefits these organizations, country clubs, are getting. Should we be providing tax relief for them?” Lake County Assessor Martin Paulsen said. He said the ruling could result in a significant shift in the tax burden.

Ela Township Assessor John Barrington said Ela Township has all or part of seven golf courses that pay over $250,000 in taxes that would be shouldered by residents. 

“Somebody will have to pick up this money. It doesn’t go away; it just gets redistributed,” Barrington said. 

Barrington explained that country clubs, with clubhouses and restaurants, could apply for a tax exemption if the ruling holds.

Buffalo Grove is home to two golf courses: the Buffalo Grove Golf Club and the Arboretum Golf Club. Both include golf clubs and restaurants. However, both are already tax-exempt, said Village Manager Dane Bragg. Therefore, the ruling would not affect Buffalo Grove taxpayers.

"Both of Buffalo Grove's public golf courses are operated entirely by the Village of Buffalo Grove and are currently listed as tax-exempt properties," Bragg said.

Onwentsia Tax Appeal Timeline

The Onwentsia case began in 2006 when the county changed the open space valuation policy for golf courses to assess improved portions, such as a clubhouse or swimming pool, for their fair market value for residential use. Prior to 2006, golf courses were granted open space status, but improved areas were assessed at a market value of $1,000 per acre, according to the Appellate Court document on the case.

According to a timeline provided by Lake County Assessor Paulson:

  • In 2006, four Lake County golf clubs appealed their assessments and the Lake County Board of Review upheld the valuation changes.
  • Two golf courses appealed to the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB).
  • In 2010, PTAB upheld the Lake County Board of Review decision.
  • Onwentsia appealed the PTAB decision in the Appellate Court.
  • In June 2011, the Appellate Court did not agree with the decisions of PTAB and the board of review and vacated the decision, sending it back to PTAB
  • In March 2012, PTAB issued a decision that all of Onwentsia’s improvements, with the exception of a dormitory, would receive a zero assessment.
  • Arguments in the Appellate Court are expected to take place in summer 2013.

Barrington explained that if the ruling holds, golf clubs can apply for a refund of their taxes. He said some counties have already given golf courses a zero assessment in anticipation of the ruling, so they don’t have to refund the taxes.

State Legislation Could Fix Issue

State legislation could prevent the property tax burden being shifted to residents. Paulson said there is a legislative effort, that was started in the lame duck session, to clarify open space status as it refers to buildings on open space. 

“There are properties that should be valued at fair cash value, as well as the land they sit on,” Paulson said. 

“It’s troubling because there are a lot of different types of property, with open space status, that are not golf courses; some of them have buildings that are being valued for tax purposes,” said Lake County Assessor Martin Paulson. 

“People need to be a little outraged and to reach out to legislators so they can fix it, if they provide clarification in the language,” Barrington said. 

Abigail February 01, 2013 at 03:36 PM
I don't golf and never have. Why should I pay for those of you who do? It's not like paying for a school, which benefits the community. This is a recreational item that only benefits the dolts who use it.
Pete Speer February 01, 2013 at 04:46 PM
Equity demands that revenue generating property owned by a tax exempt entity pays taxes similar to that generated by -- in this case -- private golf courses. The owners -- public or private -- are free at any time to sell the property for other development, and so it should be. One alternative would be t create a separate classification as is done for agricultural land but create a retroactive property tax over the prior five years to be collected upon sale based on the highest and best use. This was done in the past, I believe, by DuPage County as farmers sold to developers. It is the golf players who should pay a higher fee to estimated in sum over the year to pay the property tax bill. Golf courses should b=not be "loss leaders" in any event.


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