Twelve years ago, almost to the day, I moved away from my home state of Alabama for the first – and apparently, last – time. I came to help run a company that published 32 community newspapers in this enormous city.
My first objective upon building a new life in Houston was not to find a place to live. It wasn’t to make friends or search for distant relatives I might know in this city.
No, as ludicrous as this will sound, my first search in Houston was to find the best public golf course in the area. I was a single guy, and as you might imagine, the priorities of bachelors are a bit diluted, which is why I needed a golf course before I needed, say, an apartment. This golf obsession is a disease. And if you don’t believe me, consider this:
In Juno Beach, Fla., there’s a place called Addiction Reach Home, which treats substance abuse in adults.
According to their website, Addiction Reach Home has a very stringent schedule during the week. The day begins at 8 a.m. with breakfast, followed by addiction counseling, a session on mindfulness and then lunch. At 1:30 p.m. Golf Therapy begins and lasts until dinner at 5:30. The day ends with an acupuncture session.
That’s right. The only way to cure a fatal addiction is to introduce a stronger addiction that only results in perplexed stares from your wife.
When I moved to Houston in 2006, I made my home around Memorial Golf Course, one of the best run public courses in the United States. Nestled on 600 acres of Bermuda grass, Memorial is close to home, it is run very well by the city and its staff does a tremendous job shuffling more than 60,000 golfers across its links each year.
Memorial isn’t just a golf course, though. It is a retreat for thousands of you who live in our area of town. From playgrounds to ball parks to tennis courts to a 3-mile trail, this park is a reprieve from the concrete of the city. It’s one of the few places a family can go and spend an entire Saturday in the sweltering heat of Houston.
If you haven’t heard, the city of Houston, led by Mayor Sylvester Turner, has a plan for Memorial Park, and I can’t decide if it’s the best or worst thing I’ve ever heard.
As you may know, Houston has hosted a professional golf tournament for nearly 70 years. A long time ago, back in the 1950s and early 1960s, Memorial Park was the host for that tournament. It moved around to locations in The Woodlands and then Humble, but Turner – rightly so – wants the tournament back in the city of Houston. And he wants to revamp Memorial Park into a championship golf course that can host the world’s best golfers.
I asked Turner’s communications director, Alan Bernstein, if this was a serious endeavor or just a pipe dream. In our email exchange, Bernstein said Turner is serious about this – assuming the Houston Open can find a business (or three) to pony up the $12 million it takes to host a PGA Tour event.
Here’s the problem, for those of you who don’t suffer from my addiction: Getting Memorial Park into shape for the PGA Tour would mean all sorts of changes.
First, the golf course would need an investment of millions of dollars just to get it into PGA Tour shape. New greens, new hazards and better fairways are just the start. You’d have to spend millions more on a clubhouse, a practice facility and areas to host the 150,000 people who would attend.
Even more difficult might be the complete closure of the course for at least a year to do this work. And even when it opened, play would be limited to ensure Tour-quality conditions.
Using the rates for playing at Memorial, it’s safe to assume the golf course and driving range bring in somewhere around $3 million in revenue a year. The profits from Memorial Park fund nearly all other public golf courses in the city.
But this isn’t even a financial issue. If you close Memorial Park for a year to make these changes, the city will ask its residents to sacrifice one of the most redeemable places we have to get outside. For golfers, they’ll have to travel 30-40 minutes further to play public golf courses. For walkers and joggers like my wife, she’ll be stuck on concrete strips in our neighborhood.
Those are short-term problems, and while they shouldn’t be discounted, I also worry about the long-term impacts of something else Bernstein said.
“We believe that establishing the Open as an annual tradition at Memorial Park would provide a permanent boost to the tourism economy in Houston and to the city’s identity as a year-round golf destination.”
That’s a great idea, but I’m not sure the folks at City Hall get it from the residents’ standpoint.
If the weather’s even half-way decent in Houston, there’s an hour-long wait (at least) to play Memorial Park’s golf course. There’s not a parking spot anywhere between the course and I-10.
Has anyone considered that we want Memorial Park to be a destination for residents and not one for tourists?
From a golf standpoint, if you make Memorial Park a golfing destination for the world over, has Mayor Turner considered that the only people who lose are the people who live and work here? There is one decent public golf course inside 610, because Hermann Park doesn’t count – it’s a war zone over there with balls flying like missiles. Memorial Park is, far and away, the best (and only) good public course inside the Loop. If you make it a tourist stop for national and international golfers, the people who live here lose.
And one other thing: If Memorial Park becomes a tour-quality golf course, somebody has to pay for those upgrades. There will be no more $30 rounds of golf there, and that’s tough on the young and old who love the game and can only afford public golf.
I’m a golf nut. I love the game and I love it when I get the chance to play on Tour courses. I’m not sure Memorial Park should become one.