Honestly, Austin has some of the best affordable municipal courses in the country. So the summer heat is rough in Texas and the courses might not be the greenest around, but get used to it. Lets be honest here. Global warming is not a figment of our imagination and water restrictions are becoming more abundant as time goes on. Look at ShadowGlen Golf Club in Manor which had to close last year because their water access/rights were blocked. They flat out closed their doors. Water shortages and overall droughts are clearly an issue in central Texas, but these are not the large problems at hand when talking about the current state of municipal golf in Austin.
The overwhelming issue is the almighty dollar and greed. If the golfing community and non-golfers alike are not careful, Austin is going to lose two beautfiful green spaces which just happen to be two historic golf courses.
First, lets visit Hancock Golf Course and throw out the year 1899. That is when this little gem opened their tees for business making them the oldest golf course in the great state of Texas. Hancock also happens to be the original site of the Austin Country Club and there is the somewhat known name of Harvey Penick which floats around this course. Yes, that Harvey Penick, who probably has had an instrumental impact in one way or the other on every pro and casual golfer's game over the past 80 years.
There have been meetings held over the past few months regarding what to do with the course. Attendees of these meetings have been the Parks and Recreation Department along with folks from a few neighborhood associations. The most recent being in November where the parks and rec department provided options for the future with one of them being closing the course completely. The reported problems being decreased rounds and unprofitability. How could the city let the course get to this sad shape? Maybe the recession, but this can't be the scape goat. Hancock is the type of place that should be revitalized and brought back to its original luster. The historic grounds deserve recognition and to still be standing 100 years from now.
Lions is the other question mark in the golfing community. Muny has been in operation since 1934 with golf legends such as Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite having strolled down the oak lined fairways. The Texas Historic Commission also recognized Lions as the first desegregated course in Texas not to mention implcations of being the first in the Southern United States.
The current prospect for the future of this course is a mix of condo/retail development and bye-bye to golf. While plans have not been made concrete yet, the mixer is starting to turn. Lions currently sits on a tract of land owned by the University of Texas which is leased by the City of Austin. The lease is not up until 2019, but the University has already voiced their stand saying they will let the lease expire showing no interest in renewing. Although the city at times says they want to keep Lions, their actions sing a different tune. All Lions employees were laid off recently. With the clubhouse and course renovations taking place at Morris Williams golf course, causing this course to be temporarily closed, their staff will be running the show at Muny. So what happens when Morris Williams opens back up in about a year? That my friends is the $64,000 question. Austin needs to wake up and not let this space fade away. Yes Lions is a golf course, but it is much more then that. The course attracted over 300 runners recently at the Save Muny 5k run. The greens and fairways bleed rich history. The grounds teach life lessons and an understanding of respect. Lions brings together families and friends to share in laughter and memories.
A grass roots campaign could do Austin's municipal courses wonder. There is no real marketing efforts for theses courses currently. Everyone needs to be on board though: golfers, non-golfers, UT, Board of Regents, Parks and Recreation Department, and the city of Austin. Maybe these two courses could become co-ops. Austin folks love co-ops, so why not? Or maybe a Historic Austin Golf Trail. Austin is the state capital full of rich Texas history. These green spaces are a part of that rich tradition and need to continue on as golf courses.