A few little wins in the quest to Save Muny
It's been an encouraging spring in the quest to save west Austin's Lions Municipal Golf Course, which if you haven't heard by now, is scheduled to be handed back over to the University of Texas when its 100-year lease expires in 2019 and faces the possibility of being developed and lost forever.
Local golfers and residents have known the day Lions will be handed back over has been coming for a long time. The day is nearing however, and as the University ponders the Brackenridge Tract's future, the time has come for Muny supporters to use a golf term, "press" on the 18th hole.
While the University hasn't to this point cooperated much with Muny supporters, some recent developments show signs that maybe there is a way to ensure a future for Muny.
In the past month, a state panel recommended in an 8-1 vote that Lions be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It's a decision the University of Texas has requested be rejected or delayed. Later, the City Council of Austin supported the measure.
During this time period, Muny has begun to receive more press at the national level. Muny's Ken Tiemann was featured on Golf Channel's Morning Drive show, as well as GeoffShackelford.com, an influential golf news blog followed by many of the game's decision makers. And of course, I've written about it at my website, GolfAdvisor.com, where you can also read reviews from over 100 golfers who have played Lions.
Muny is significant not just to local golfers but also the state and even nationally. It was the first desegregated golf course in the south, and you can read more about the pivotal time in history in this Austin Statesman timeline of Lions during the civil rights movement.
Another hurdle for Muny is that there is a part of the population that isn't very fond of golf because they either view it as elitist, dying, bad for the environment (or all of the above).
For those who suggest that golf is a "dying" sport, my view as someone who has worked in the golf industry for over a decade, is that the game simply overbuilt in the 1990s and early 2000s when real estate did the same nationally. There were a lot of shabby, poorly thought out golf course and residential developments built that are both inferior experiences for golfers and simply unsustainable. More of these types of courses need to close for the golf course business to fully recover.
On the other hand, classic, affordable golf courses on relative small acreage like Lions are a timeless breed. Lions has been among the busiest, affordable and most welcoming courses in all of Texas for decades. There are bright spots in the future of golf. Participatory numbers among youth show progress as the world moves on from the "Tiger Era" to the era of Texas' Spieth and Ireland's Rory McIlroy, not to mention a growing number of exciting female stars on the LPGA. Golf has also made great strides in environmental sustainability and water conservation in recent years as much of the country grapples with water shortages.
And as someone who was taught the game by my grandparents, there isn't a better way to spend four hours together as a family outside than golf. It's a game for a lifetime that can be enjoyed across generations (you don't really want to play one-on-one hoops with grandma, do you?)
What's also unfortunate is that because Lions' future has been up in the air for so long, it hasn't received any recent proper investment in a long while. San Antonio has an historic municipal course, Brackenridge Park, that was restored by the city and is now a course that is among the best in the state and a favorite for golfers coming from out of town. The city is able to charge higher green fees to non-city-resident golfers. In my opinion, there is virtually nothing Lions doesn't have that Brackenridge offers. Famed golf course architect A.W. Tillinghast worked on both courses in the 1930s. But Lions is still in its entirety, while Brackenridge lost parts of its course to a highway years ago.
Brackenridge Park has remained a favorite golf destination for both local golfers and visitors to San Antonio, and with the right vision for Muny's future, the same could be done to Lions.
The Save Muny battle is far from over, and it's safe to say that UT hasn't been swayed in preserving this near-100-year-old gem of a golf course from development. An interesting opportunity to spread the word is coming up, however.
With the PGA TOUR's Dell Match Play World Golf Championships coming to Austin Country Club March 23-27th, featuring 64 of the top professional golfers and media from around the world, the spotlight will have never been brighter for golf in Austin. There will be scores of influential golf icons of past and present all over town, some of whom visiting such local icons and Longhorns like Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite. So get those Save Muny yard signs out, and be sure to spread the word that Lions is a local treasure worth preserving for future generations of Austin families.
You can visit SaveMuny's website to learn more about how you can help. There is also a fun Save Muny golf fundraiser coming up in April called The Invitational, and there are various levels of participation and donation options.
By Brandon Tucker
Managing Editor, GolfAdvisor.com