Phase one of the renovation will cost $13 million, all privately funded, and includes the golf course, a new maintenance facility, a practice facility with a two-level hitting bay for public use and a First Tee complex with a four-hole course. Phase two, with a projected cost of $15-$17 million, would be for clubhouse facilities.
Houston Astros owner Jim Crane’s goal of bringing the Houston Open to the city’s Memorial Park Golf Course in 2020 just got another step closer, the Houston Chronicle reported.
The Astros Foundation, which will run the Houston Open, has signed renowned architect Tom Doak to renovate the city’s most popular municipal course and is also bringing on two-time U.S. Open champion and current world No. 1 Brooks Koepka to serve as player advisor, the Chronicle reported.
“We talked to what we thought were the five best architects in the country,” said Giles Kibbe, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the Houston Astros and President of the Astros Golf Foundation. “We looked long and hard and we selected [Doak] and we’re real excited about it.
“After meeting with all of them,” Kibbe added, “one of the things that really excited us about [Doak] is that he hasn’t done a PGA TOUR course and it’s something that he wants to do [and] put on his resume. It’s something he wants to make a big impression with, and his excitement was a big motivator.”
Doak has designed courses around the world, including The Renaissance Club in East Lothian, Scotland, which will host the 2019 and 2020 Scottish Opens. He has designed four of the top seven courses on Golfweek’s list of Top 100 courses of the modern era, inclding No. 2 Pacific Dunes (Bandon, Ore.), No. 4 Ballyneal (Holyoke, Colo.), No. 5 Old Macdonald (Bandon, Ore.) and No. 7 Sebonack (Southampton NY). And just before being hired by Crane, he was signed to do the third course at Sand Valley, the Chronicle reported (https://clubandresortbusiness.com/sand-valley-more-proof-of-a-winning-formula/).
“I’ve played several of [Doak’s] golf courses through the years,” Kibbe said. “He is world- renowned and thought of as one of the best architects in the world.”
Doak, who worked with Pete and Alice Dye and has also been influenced by the work of Alister MacKenzie, loves the project, the Chronicle reported.
“Mr. Crane’s vision is to make the event one that all the best players want to come and play in, and one way to do that is to build a course that interests them and where they all feel like they have a chance to compete,” Doak said. “We’ve got to thread the needle between making it challenging to them and interesting. ”
Memorial Park, originally a 9-hole course built in 1912, was redesigned by John Bredemus in 1936, It currently plays to 7,300 and runs about 60,000 rounds a year, the Chronicle reported.
Pending approval by the Houston City Council next month, phase one of the proposed two-phase project will begin in January and last 10 months, the Chronicle reported. If approved, the driving range would remain open, but the course would close in January and reopen in October.
The TOUR has not yet released next fall’s schedule, but the timing of the reopening will be close to the expected dates of the 2019 Houston Open, which will be held at the Golf Club of Houston, the Chronicle reported. The tournament plans to move to Memorial Park in 2020.
“When you build a new golf course or renovate one–and we’re going to have 100 percent new infrastructure, new grasses, and sand capping–the TOUR wants to see a year of full grow-in before we host a PGA TOUR event there,” Kibbe said.
Phase one, Kibbe added, will cost $13 million for work that includes the golf course, a new maintenance facility, a practice facility with a two-level hitting bay for public use, and a First Tee complex with a four-hole course.
“The $13 million is all privately funded,” Kibbe said. “Nothing will come from the city or the residents.”
Phase two, with a projected cost of $15-$17 million, will be clubhouse facilities, the Chronicle reported.
“The long-term plan is to have locker rooms and dining areas for the players, so we keep getting the best fields back,” Kibbe said.
“If we were able to bring Houston Open back into city, we’re looking at a $90 million economic impact every year by hosting it in the city,” he added. “It’s a big deal for the city of Houston.”
The biggest challenge in the Memorial Park design, Doak told the Chronicle, is drainage, “so it can provide a good playing surface and handle TOUR galleries, even in a rainy week.”
“It’s really flat out there,” Doak added. “Luckily, the course is close to the [Buffalo] bayou; many holes on the front nine touch deep ravines and we just have to get the water off the fairways more quickly to them. But the vision is to extend those ravines up into the back nine, to make it more dramatic than it is now.”
The ultimate goal of the plan, Kibbe told the Chronicle, is to enhance what is already a beautiful property.
“Memorial Park is a great place with beautiful trees, and we want to maintain that look,” he said. “We like a lot about what the southern piece of the property looks like, and we want to kind of transition that into the north part of the property.
“We can do that while also meeting the master-plan goals for stormwater retention and irrigation, so the look is not going to change much,” he added. “We’re going to try to take the best parts of what’s out there right now and extend it for the rest of the golf course.”
Koepka is a member at Crane’s golf course in Florida, The Floridian. He works with the club’s director of instruction, Claude Harmon III, and is good friends with both Crane and Kibbe, the Chronicle reported. In fact, he and Kibbe play together in the club’s annual Pro-Member.
“Tom wanted to have a PGA TOUR player as a consultant on the project, to pick his brain on what [the pros] like, what they don’t like and what makes them comfortable,” Kibbe said. “Brooks has been great at being very involved with our conversations with Tom on how we’re going to design the golf course.”
Doak’s early conversations with Koepka have been about what sort of skills aren’t rewarded by the courses he plays on TOUR so they can incorporate that into the design, the Chronicle reported.
“Those guys are so talented, but we only see them have to use their talents when they get in trouble, because nearly every hole is a driver-wedge for them now,” Doak said. “I’m interested to put our brains together to see how we can get away from that.”
Doak is also eager to get started with the project because it will balance creating a challenging TOUR site with a playable course for Houston golfers, the Chronicle reported.
“When I worked for Mr. and Mrs. Dye 30-plus years ago, it seemed like every project was going to host a TOUR event,” he said. “But when I started working on my own, I knew that wouldn’t be a focus for most of my clients. So I’ve always concentrated on building courses that were beautiful and interesting and playable for the average golfer—which Memorial Park still needs to be when we are finished.
“There are a lot of people who think it’s becoming impossible to do that and to challenge the pros at the same time, and that’s why the job is interesting to me: can we really marry those two different objectives?” Doak added. “Not many architects ever get a chance to work on TOUR sites—clients tend to pick designers who have done similar projects previously—so I’m interested to see if we can come up with something different than Mr. Dye or Mr. [Jack] Nicklaus have.”