Why Ben Crenshaw is putting it all on the line to save a municipal golf course

Golfing great and renowned course architect Ben Crenshaw is digging in the heels of his golf spikes in an effort to save a storied municipal course.

There is an ongoing effort to save Lions Municipal Golf Course in Austin from destruction. There’s even an entire website dedicated to preserving this green and historical piece of Austin property. The opening statement reads:

“Muny” is a beloved urban green space and civil rights landmark worthy of protection. Save Muny is dedicated to saving Lions Golf Municipal Course from development and preserving its urban green space, civil rights history, and golf legacy for the enjoyment of future generations of Austinites.

Muny, interestingly, is the course where a young Crenshaw made his first hole-in-one. “With my mom’s Patty Berg 5-iron,” said Crenshaw. The two-time Masters winner also captured Austin’s famed amateur championship, the Firecracker Open, at the course twice.

The University of Texas owns the land the course is built on thanks to a 1910 gift and the Lions Club built the course in 1924. Lions Municipal is less than $30 to play, and it became the city of Austin’s first desegregated golf venue in 1951.

In 2011, however, the university voted to allow the lease for the municipal course to expire in May of 2019.

Why? Well, the University of Texas can make about $500,000 per year using the land as a golf course. However, if the land were used for a mixed-use development, it could generate a massive $5.5 million per year windfall for UT, according to the school’s executive director for real estate. This is not a new development, as universities around the states are putting in more extravagant multi-use buildings to get more incoming freshman to choose their school.

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Senator Craig Estes introduced Senate Bill 822 in February, which would effectively save the course by transferring control to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Ben Crenshaw, testifying before the Senate regarding Bill 822 said:

“I’m a product of the University of Texas. I grew up in the shadow of the Tower and I love it, too, and this has been very difficult for me. But I am going to put up whatever reputation I have for saving this course.”

Further, he’s offered his own design services for free to restore and enhance the course.

“It can continue as a great place for the public to play in a beautiful part of the city, open to everybody. We are being hopeful that things will work to a good resolution. As Harvey [Penick, Crenshaw’s legendary teacher] used to say when Tommy and I used to leave for a tournament, ‘I’ll keep my fingers and toes crossed for you.'”

And if you care about golf, golf history, and are anything other than the most cold-hearted of capitalists, you’ll keep your fingers and toes crossed too.

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