Plans call for construction to be completed at the Houston public course by November 1, which would have it open for about a year prior to the 2020 Houston Open, in accordance with PGA Tour guidelines for hosting an event. But some are expressing concern about the project’s accelerated schedule and the maintenance needs it will create.
With clear skies, a light breeze and temperatures in the mid-60s, January 9 was the sort of picture-perfect day that convinced attorney Benjamin Plaut to move inside Loop 610 in Houston, so he could play his favorite golf course at Memorial Park as often as possible, the Houston Chronicle reported.
To Plaut, and to hundreds of golfers who flock to the city-owned course each day, Memorial Park is a big deal—“a holy place,” he told the Chronicle, “where you get to walk around outside in the middle of a park in the middle of a big city. But there are places where it doesn’t feel like you’re surrounded by four million people.”
Houston’s urban oasis for golfers, however, will be paradise lost for 10 months, after a City Council vote that cleared the way for a $13.5 million renovation that will refashion Memorial Park as the eventual home of the PGA Tour’s Houston Open, the Chronicle reported.
C&RB reported on the plan in December 2018).
As darkness fell January 9, the final foursomes of the day walked off the course, to be replaced the following morning by workmen who will begin stripping grass and moving dirt in hopes of reopening the course to the public by November 1, the Chronicle reported.
“I’m going to miss it,” Plaut said. “I look forward to what it’s going to be, but I moved to where I moved so I could get in a few holes here as often as possible. I look forward to seeing the pros here, but this is going to be a thing for me without it. It’s going to be an issue.”
Plaut’s concerns were reflected in the longer than anticipated deliberation process for the City Council to approve the renovation agreement, the Chronicle reported. Originally scheduled for a vote right after the new year began, concerns expressed by two councilmen resulted in a week’s delay before the council voted unanimously to approve the agreement.
The brief delay stemmed in part from questions over how to spend a $1 million tournament fee to be paid by the Astros Golf Foundation, which will fund the Memorial Park renovation and will sponsor the Houston Open beginning this year. The city will receive $750,000, with $250,000 going to the Memorial Park Conservancy, the Chronicle reported.
City Council member Mike Laster placed a one-week hold on the vote in hopes that the city could receive the entire $1 million fee, the Chronicle reported. Mayor Sylvester Turner, however, said the park conservancy’s share was part of a negotiated settlement on the issue.
Prior to the vote, Turner said that the $750,000 annual fee will go into the city’s general fund, but that he will recommend that the money is spent for park improvements across Houston, the Chronicle reported.
Turner, a proponent of bringing the PGA Tour within the Houston city limits after decades of tournaments in the area being played only at suburban courses, said the council vote “signifies that we were voting not just for Houston’s present, but we were voting for Houston’s future.”
“We want Houston to be in the top tier of conversation across the board, and in order for that to happen, you have to have things occurring within your city that people will focus on around the country,” Turner said.
The January 9 vote now starts the clock, belatedly, on the Astros Golf Foundation’s tight schedule to complete renovations by November 1, which would have the course open for about a year prior to the 2020 Houston Open in accordance with PGA Tour guidelines, the Chronicle reported.
Steve Wright, the city’s parks director, said his staff was optimistic that workers will be able to meet the schedule, absent weather concerns.
“We’ve got a great team working on it,” Wright said. “If everyone does their portion, we’ll be open November 1.”
The project will deliver an improved golf course at no cost to the city, Mayor Turner noted, and fees for golfers will remain the same for Houston residents—$30 on weekdays and $38 on weekends, with reduced fees for senior citizens and late arrivals who try to squeeze in a few holes before darkness, the Chronicle reported.
The vote did not come without opposition from some quarters, the Chronicle reported. Some council members questioned the potential inconvenience during construction to neighborhoods near Memorial Park, and some golfers are concerned about the city’s ability to maintain the course before and after the Houston open is played there.
Baxter Spann of the golf course architecture firm Finger Dye Spann, which oversaw a 1996 renovation of Memorial Park, questioned the feasibility of the timeline for the project, which he said was being conducted with “extreme haste” and in a “clandestine” manner, the Chronicle reported.
“I’m not against renovating [the course],” Spann said. “What I am against is the process that I see unfolding to facilitate this project.”
Ken Magidson, a former U.S. attorney for the southern district of Texas who said he plays the course five times a week, encouraged the council and the city parks department to keep a close watch on the course as it undergoes the renovations being paid for by the Astros Golf Foundation, the Chronicle reported.
“You are the overseers, you are the caretakers, you are the people who are going to protect the crown jewel of the city of Houston,” Magidson said. “I’m asking you to oversee if in a way that it will continue to be the crown jewel.”
Other golfers expressed concern that the renovations could make the course more difficult for amateurs and recreational golfers, the Chronicle reported. Joseph Kratoville described Memorial Park as an “anti-country club,” and said he prefers playing it because he gets to meet “regular Houstonians.”