Memorial Park Golf Course was revamped this year by the Astros Golf Foundation, which plans to host the PGA Tour’s Houston Open on the popular and historic public course beginning in 2020.
Here’s a hole-by-hole breakdown of the changes, which were engineered by world-renowned course architect Tom Doak:
There are no drastic changes on this par 5, except the removal of the pond left of the fairway. The tee shot looks largely the same, and the second shot is whatever you have in the bag. The best change in this hole comes if you stand at the back of the green and take in the rest of the course. You can see holes and terrain and the rest of the course right in front of you. Assuming you don’t card a snowman on the first and stomp off in anger, it’s quite a wonderful view.
Dramatic change here with the green built to the left of the ravine. The ravine needs a makeover (some strategically placed rocks will do the trick), but everything else is perfect. There’s an area to catch short shots, including a bunker to the right. Behind the green is trouble, especially if the pin is cut in the back. One of those Pinehurst-like turtle backs, tight-cut grass and a swale to keep the ball from bounding into the rough will make this tough for the over-aggressive.
This is where they used the trees perfectly. The tee box has been shifted about 20 yards to the left. By doing that, two old trees now force your drive out to the right. The hole is easier for those who play a draw, and it’s gettable in two, but most amateurs will find this a fairly easy hole while still a decent par 5 (it was formerly a longish par 4).
The tees were shifted to the right and backed up, and this once driver-low iron hole is now a monster, especially if the prevailing south wind is blowing. Before the renovation, it played around 375 yards from the white tees. Now it’s an absolute bear at 457 yards with an index of 1. The green now slopes from front to back, it’s been shifted a little to the right, and it has really neat pockets of small dunes behind the green.
This hole once had a shoot of trees (think Augusta’s 18th) from the tee, but they rarely affected the shot. Those trees, including the ones on the left side of the fairway, are gone. The hole isn’t much different, and it’s not difficult by any stretch, but this one lost some character in the redesign. I assume the trees were taken out to make room for a gallery.
Besides filling in the pond that once forced a layup from the tee and a carry on the approach, the hole hasn’t changed much. I do like what Doak did down the left side of the fairway by creating almost a small valley short of the green.
The second-longest par 3 on the course still carries a ravine, but like many of the holes, a lot of trees down the left have been removed. The green is smaller, and a new bunker guards the ravine, but I actually think this hole will play harder. There are no more trees to save the wayward shot, a large dune short and right of the green will repel some balls, and a lot more folks will go looking for balls now that the trees are gone. This one is fun but still tough.
This is a real par 5 now – unlike before. The tee shot looks the same, though the tee boxes have been moved up to bring the trees on the right more into play. You can’t take the ball over the trees anymore, which forces you to play left. The greatest change was the shift of the green back some 60 yards into what was the old No. 9 fairway. There are two trees that frame the green, which you can really notice once you make it to the green and look back toward the fairway.
This former dogleg par 4 is now a 143-yard par 3 from the whites. What was one of the smallest greens on the course is now one of the biggest. From the back tees, they’ll be able to stretch it to almost 200 yards. It’s just too bad there’s a cart shed to the right, which isn’t the prettiest thing in the park. For the tournament, I assume they’ll have grandstands hiding the shed.
It’s still the same hole, with a prevailing crosswind. The bunker to the right of the fairway has been replaced by a large dune that will impact shots that just miss the fairway. There’s still a big bunker to the left of the green, but open chipping area to the right, where a lot of players miss. Getting up-and-down will all depend on your lie.
I’m not sure why, but this long par 3, which will play nearly 240 yards for the pros into the prevailing wind, seems easier now. There’s still a tough bunker to the right of the green, but the redesign of the green makes it more accepting, and there’s still plenty of run-up in front.
Like No. 8 earlier, this hole has only really changed with its green complex. Doak again used existing trees to form a shoot into the hole. Otherwise, there’s little that has changed, and it’s still a tough par 4.
This one is the runt hole of the course. It’s like they built the course and realized they only had 17 holes, so they had to add one more. This is a straight, drivable par 4 with no risk and a lot of reward. Of course, when I played, I blew it in the trees right and made bogey. The good players won’t do that.
While the shape of the hole hasn’t changed a lot, it has become a par 5 that will give even the amateurs a chance at birdie. They added 80 yards of distance by moving tees and the green back, but this one is a nice break before getting to the last few challenging holes.
If you read the accompanying story, you know how I feel about this hole. The former signature hole of the course is now a bland par 3. Doesn’t mean it’s a bad hole, and the elevated green is a change, but it won’t get you talking when you leave the course. I hope, during the Houston Open, the hill in front of the green is shaved so pros have to land on the hard green and try to hold it. Anything short is in the creek.
The tee shot looks the same, and so does the second shot, until you realize there’s a stream cutting across the fairway about 30 yards in front of the green. What I love is that Doak made the layup a challenge by sloping some of the fairway toward the water. It’s not a huge slope, but it’s just enough to make you bail a little left. The peninsula green is a great change, and folks are going to love this hole almost as much as they love the next one.
For some reason, I think this is the best work of the whole course. With a sloping fairway and water jutting out in front of the slight dogleg right, Doak created all kinds of opportunities and challenges here. Miss a tee shot right and you’re swimming. Keep it in play, and you don’t have a long shot, but you’ve got a tough one. If you miss the green left, you’re chipping almost down a hill, and you can’t stop the ball close to a left-cut pin. If your approach is long, you’re chipping back toward water on a green that slopes that way. Good luck.
I have to be honest. We were racing daylight on the last hole and we didn’t see much of a change, except for an elevated green and a tough bunker to the left. The tee shot, once a new clubhouse is built, will be scenic, but it’s a wide-open fairway, and there’s a second shot that won’t create a ton of drama on the final hole.