Don Mahaffey has long been a fan of the way the Houston Astros play baseball.
During the last 10 months, he’s come to appreciate the way they do business as well.
Mahaffey, of Texas-based Greenscape Methods, has been the general contractor for the renovation project at Memorial Park Golf Course. The Astros Golf Foundation has spent millions of dollars retooling the 83-year-old public course, with the plan to have it host the PGA Tour’s Houston Open beginning in 2020.
Mahaffey, who said his company has worked on courses all over the United States, was wearing an Astros cap Monday while he and his crew worked on the finishing touches of the course and adjacent practice range, which are scheduled to reopen to the public on Wednesday, Nov. 6. And it wasn’t just because the team was playing in the World Series.
“Of all the projects we’ve ever done, the best ones are always because you have the best clients,” Mahaffey said. “You can have a good architect, you can have good people, you can have enough money and all of that. But when you have good clients, it goes better. And the Astros are a phenomenal client.
“I’m an Astros fan,” he added, “but it’s true.”
The Astros Golf Foundation, which has underwritten the Houston Open since Shell dropped its longtime sponsorship in 2017, pitched a plan to upgrade the popular city-owned course and bring the tournament back inside the city limits for the first time in nearly 40 years. The Houston City Council approved the plan in early January, and construction began shortly thereafter with world-renowned golf course architect Tom Doak leading the redesign.
An overhaul that typically would take 18 months, according to Mahaffey, has been done in about half that time in order for the course to be ready for a PGA Tour event by next fall. Mahaffey said his crew of up to 60 workers has spent nearly every day on the property while collaborating with Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design and the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, which manages Memorial Park Golf Course.
“We’re very excited about the Grand Opening and couldn’t be happier about the work that Tom Doak did in designing this golf course,” Giles Kibbe, the Astros’ senior vice president and general counsel, said in an email. “We worked very hard to get the course, maintenance facility and driving range built in nine-and-a-half months.”
Jason Harsh, director of golf operations for the city, said the Astros have poured about $18 million into the project. He said several bunkers have been removed and the ravines on the course will come into play more, which will make it more difficult while also improving drainage and water conversation.
On Sept. 20, the day after Tropical Storm Imelda dumped several inches of rain on the Houston area and caused significant flooding, the sand-capped fairways on the revamped golf course were dry enough to be mowed.
While the course layout hasn’t changed much in terms of the progression of holes and overall length, Harsh said every hole but the par-4 fifth has been significantly modified. No. 3 has been lengthened from a par 4 to a par 5 and the par-5 eighth hole has been extended into the former fairway of No. 9, which has been shortened into a par 3.
No. 13 has gone from a par 5 to a drivable par 4, while No. 14 has been stretched from a par 4 to a par 5. The green for No. 17 is now fewer than 300 yards from the tee box, but it’s fronted by water.
“It’s always been the crown jewel of Houston golf,” Harsh said of the course. “It’s even better now.”
Wayne Vuskov, a 73-year-old golfer who has played at Memorial Park since the early 1980s, stopped by Monday afternoon to check on the progress of the course. He said he’s anxious to see the new design as well as the two-tiered driving range, but he’s concerned that the improvements will come at a cost to the amateur players who will be using the course for most of the calendar year.
Vuskov noticed that the parking lot for the course now contains meters, with Harsh confirming that visitors will no longer be able to park there for free. Vuskov also said securing a weekend tee time was difficult before the course closed for renovation – those spots have historically come open three days ahead of time and typically were scooped up immediately – so he worries that it will be even harder to get on the remodeled course.
“It was affordable before, for anybody at any time, even during the weekend,” Vuskov said. “It’s going to turn into a place for the rich.”
Harsh challenged that assertion, saying the city’s mission is to keep Memorial Park “affordable and accessible” to the general public. He said the previous weekend price of about $50, which includes green and cart fees, will not increase.
Harsh also said the course is eliminating its lottery system and early morning walkups. He said golfers can secure tee times three days in advance, on a first-come, first-served basis, beginning at 6 a.m. online at houstonmunigolf.com/book-tee-time and 9 a.m. by phone at 866-256-6688.
The only limitation for players, Harsh said, is that carts must stay on the concrete paths for the time being while the course’s new grass matures.
“We’re not changing the green fee at this time,” Harsh said. “I don’t think we’ll change it anytime soon.”
Mahaffey said the retooled Memorial Park course will be the “best golf value in the country” because it will combine a tour-worthy layout with an urban setting. Only one other municipal course in the U.S., Torrey Pines Golf Course near San Diego, is a regular host of a PGA Tour event.
Even though Memorial Park is being added to the list of tour stops, Mahaffey said he has felt a responsibility to keep the course catered to everyday players and especially junior golfers.
According to Harsh and Mahaffey, so do the Astros.
“This is a huge gift, in my opinion, to the golfers and the city of Houston,” Harsh said. “To have somebody come in and put this kind of money into the golf course, it’s amazing.”