To keep Lions Municipal Golf Course open into the future, Ben Crenshaw looked into the past.
It was with that in mind that the former NCAA golf champion who grew up playing there has proposed renovations to the West Austin golf course, changes that would harken back to its 1950 days, as he and others work to preserve what has been recognized as a civil rights landmark.
Crenshaw delivered some passionate remarks Wednesday morning in support for retaining one of the oldest courses in Austin, one that was established in 1924.
Steve Weiner, a prominent committee member of the Save Muny group, called the site “one of the nation’s most endangered historic places” and chastised UT for not protecting it.
“The University of Texas is the richest public university in the world, and to think about monetizing a 141-acre golf course is ridiculous,” Weiner said. “There are lots of ways to get this done.”
Crenshaw and Austin land planner Corey Hoffpauir want to alter the layout of the historic course and restore some of the original routing that was used from 1951-74 because “it was a better test of golf” during Muny’s golden years.
“The landmarks that have made Austin special for so long are being continually threatened, and we simply can’t stand back and let this precious asset slip away,” Crenshaw said. “Just as it is hard to imagine New York without Central Park, New Orleans without City Park, Houston without Memorial Park and San Antonio without Brackenridge Park, it is impossible to consider Austin without Lions Muny.”
Crenshaw proposes shifting the entrance to the course from Enfield Road to Lake Austin Boulevard and adding an expanded driving range, teaching area, a new short-game area and possibly a restaurant. A new clubhouse would be constructed and include more parking. The existing structure, meanwhile, would be converted into a space for educational and historical exhibits.
Estimates for the cost of the restoration range from $10 million to $12 million, but Save Muny members say they are confident the money needed for the renovation can be raised privately.
“Lions Municipal is among the handful of iconic recreational greenspaces in Austin, along with Zilker Park, the hike and bike trail and Pease Park,” said Scotty Sayers, Crenshaw’s long-time friend and business manager. “I only hope that we have the opportunity to realize Ben’s vision for the restoration and renovation of Muny for future generations of Austinites.”
Crenshaw’s plan is contingent on a decision by the University of Texas System to extend the existing lease for Muny to the city beyond its current expiration date of May 2019 or sign off on a state Senate bill introduced last week.
State Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, has filed legislation that would transfer ownership of the property from the UT System to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Democratic Sens. Royce West of Dallas and Borris Miles of Houston are co-sponsoring the bill. Estes’ press secretary said Estes was out of the office and unavailable because he is ill. Weiner said the fact it is a bipartisan bill could enhance its chances of passing and getting signed by the governor.
One source told the American-Statesman that the entire 350-acre Brackenridge Tract, of which Muny represents less than half the property, is probably worth up to $200 million and that it was “doubtful” the bill would pass. The source expects UT to work out a deal with the city for a longer lease.
Estes made the proposal to save a course that is one of the earliest municipal golf courses in the former Confederate states to be desegregated and possibly the first one. UT had offered to extend the lease to the city, which is due to expire in 2019, if the city would increase payments to match the land’s market value, which was estimated at $5.5 million a year in 2011. The city receives less than $500,000 a year.
The UT Board of Regents has long contemplated leasing the 141-acre course and other parts of the university-owned tract for a major commercial and residential development.
“The City has a chance to have a world-renowned golf course architect, noted for his concern for nature and the environment, to work on this gem,” Sayers said. “It would be one of the biggest mistakes in the history of our City, and of the university, not to take advantage of this opportunity to enhance and preserve this historic course.”