(Photo by Maricela Rodriguez | Valley Morning Star)
A decades-old resolution restricts the use of the golf course land to parks and recreation, but city commissioners are exploring ways to execute the sale of a 30-acre tract that would turn the 27-hole facility into an 18-hole course and potentially raise $5 million for needed improvements. The plan would eliminate the facility’s short course, which has been popular with “Winter Texans.” It’s likely that an election would need to be called to get public authorization for the transaction.
A decades-old document might be standing in the way of the city of Harlingen, Texas’s proposed land sale at the struggling Tony Butler Golf Course, The Monitor of McAllen, Texas reported.
City commissioners were set to meet behind closed doors with City Attorney Ricardo Navarro’s law firm “to receive legal advice regarding the city’s legal responsibilities, obligations and options for the disposition of the Tony Butler Golf Course property,” according to the agenda for a commission meeting, The Monitor reported.
Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell referred questions to City Manager Dan Serna, who declined comment because discussions were set to take place in executive session, The Monitor reported.
But City Commissioner Frank Puente said discussions surround a decades-old resolution which restricts the use of the golf course land to parks and recreation, The Monitor reported.
“The resolution says that the land can’t be used for anything else except for parks and recreation,” Puente said.
Because of the resolution, city officials might be required to call an election to let voters decide whether the city could sell the land, Puente added.
Puente said officials had planned to sell a 30-acre tract running across holes 19 to 23 of Tony Butler’s so-called nine-hole short course—a favorite among “Winter Texans” who come to the southern end of the state from other parts of the country, The Monitor reported.
“They discovered they couldn’t sell the land and use it as retail or anything else other than parks and recreation,” Puente said. “According to the legal department, to change the resolution it’s got to be decided by the public. It’s got to be put to a vote.”
Late last year, The Monitor reported, Harlingen city commissioners voted to sell holes 19 to 23, a move that would turn the 27-hole facility into an 18-hole golf course to help cut costs. Puente cast the lone dissenting vote.
“I’m saying let’s save the back nine, because they’re a favorite of the Winter Texans,” he reiterated to The Monitor.
When the commissioners’ cast their vote in favor of the sale, officials estimated the 30 acres along the Interstate 69 frontage road could sell for about $5 million, The Monitor reported. That would help to fund as much as $3.7 million worth of recommended improvements at the golf course, which ran a $169,616 deficit last year.
For about five years, the city-owned golf course has operated in the red, The Monitor reported. Since 2013, it has lost about $1 million.
In July 2019, officials released the recommendations of the consulting arm of the National Golf Foundation (NGF), after it was hired for $22,000 to help assess aimed how the Tony Butler course could cut its losses and turn a profit, The Monitor reported.
Scrapping the nine-hole short course would trim about a third of the 230-acre golf course, slashing maintenance costs, the NGF said in its 97-page report.
“Part of the land that holes 19 through 23 sit on may have significant value to the private sector under another land use, possibly providing some of the funding that will be required to renovate the 18-hole course,” the report said.
The NGF pointed to “the potential need for parts of the nine-hole course to be repurposed [e.g., through lease to a private entity] in order to fund improvements to the 18-hole course,” The Monitor reported.
Officials had planned to sell the land to help fund $2.5 million to $3.7 million worth of recommended improvements, The Monitor reported. The NGF suggested keeping the nine holes might not be feasible considering that fewer players—and fewer Winter Texans—are playing the Butler course.
“It is difficult to make a business case for retaining 27 holes when overall utilization rates, based on effective capacity, have declined to 33 percent or lower,” the report said.
“Though not enough data was available to affirmatively say that holes 19 through 27 lose money, we were told that play on this course during the April through mid-October off-season is minimal,” it added. “However, the short course is very important to its key user group during the peak season—Winter Texans, who enjoy the short length, affordability and walkability of the nine-hole course.”