It’s been more than 40 years since the Houston Open was held inside the city limits.
The Astros have a plan to bring the annual professional golf tournament closer to home.
The Astros Golf Foundation, which earlier this year took control of the longstanding PGA Tour event, wants to host it at Memorial Park Golf Course as early as 2020. The organization is asking the Houston City Council to approve a plan to renovate the popular public course, which would be redesigned by world-renowned course architect Tom Doak.
“We wanted to get it inside the city. We wanted to bring it close to downtown,” said Giles Kibbe, senior vice president and general counsel for the Astros. “We wanted to find a place where we could drive a lot of excitement, bring the fans out there and really turn this tournament into something special.”
The only potential hazard to the project is the city council, which will decide whether to approve the renovation plan later this month. Late last month, Kibbe, Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office and the Houston Parks and Recreation Department presented the plan to the council’s Quality of Life Committee.
The $13 million course renovation would be privately funded through the Astros Golf Foundation and include a new maintenance facility, new two-level driving range and new facility for The First Tee of Greater Houston, with the foundation pledging to provide $500,000 annually to the First Tee youth golf organization and $1 million annually to the city’s parks and recreation department. The construction project would require the closure of the course, on which more than 63,000 rounds were played during the 2018 fiscal year, from January through October.
Green fees would be increased at all the city’s municipal courses, although Kibbe said that is part of an existing plan by the city and unrelated to the renovation of Memorial Park Golf Course.
Per the proposal to the city council, moving the Houston Open to Memorial Park would come with an economic impact of at least $50 million and make the course more attractive and profitable throughout the rest of the year.
“There was clearly some concerns that were raised at the last quality of life meeting when it was first addressed,” Kibbe said. “We believe when city council members look at the economic impact to the city of Houston and putting in $13 million to renovate it, with privately funded money, I think it’ll be supported.”
The course renovator hired by the Astros could be a selling point in his own right. Five Doak-designed courses have been ranked among the best in the world by Golf.com. He recently designed The Renaissance Club in East Lothians, Scotland, which will host the European Tour’s Scottish Open in 2019 and 2020.
Don Placek, a senior associate for Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design company, said Doak has never designed a course used for a regular PGA Tour event. Doak has enlisted Brooks Koepka, the top-ranked player in the world, as a design consultant.
“You can imagine we’re really excited about the fact it’s going to happen,” Placek said.
It will happen as long as the city council allows it. And if it does, Kibbe said the Astros Golf Foundation, which has a five-year agreement with the PGA Tour, will move the Houston Open from the Golf Club of Houston in Humble to Memorial Park.
Memorial Park would become only the second municipal course in the country to host an annual PGA Tour event, with the other being Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego.
“It’s a huge benefit to the city,” Kibbe said, “and we’ll have a public golf course that’s hopefully one of the best in the country.”