Going, Going and Staying Put...For Now
As recently as February it appeared the Houston Golf Association (HGA) had decided to move the event from the Woodlands to Memorial Park, a public course considerably closer to the downtown area and the host of the tournament from 1951 to 1963. That was until politics got involved.
"The move to Memorial Park is dead in the water," Burt Darden, director of communications for the HGA, said matter-of-factly. "The city couldn't get it done. We needed some improvements done to that golf course and the city couldn't find the funding to do it. A lot of it got caught up in politics and that precluded us from approaching the PGA Tour policy board for making any kind of move."
Darden said while the HGA did ask for improvements to the course, the main obstacle in getting the deal done was money. The city wanted too much of it. And for a tournament that ranks No. 2 on the PGA Tour in charitable contributions, where the bottom line is crucial, the HGA was not in a position to give up additional funds.
"We were willing to pay for lost rounds or a rental fee for the time that we were using the golf course. But the parks department asked us for a fee on top of that. We paid $4.75 million to charity last year. If we take anything off our bottom line, that's taking away from charity. What's more, the city was going to benefit greatly to the tune of millions of dollars because the economic impact for a PGA Tour tournament in an area is estimated to be between $25 and $35 million. The city was also going to reap great benefits from sales tax and permits. So that was something we weren't willing to do."
As a result, the tournament is schedule for the Woodlands in 2002 and possibly beyond. He said the decision for the HGA to move the Houston Open out of the Woodlands has been a difficult one because they have had a wonderful 27-year relationship. Logistically, though, it's not possible to remain.
Darden said the Woodlands is a victim of its own success: "We're running out of parking and running out of places to grow. They've done such a marvelous job of developing the place that there are no places that are close for sponsors and fan parking and we don't see that improving any. They have committed to improving certain things but it's so tightly developed."
Darden said the Woodlands has made an offer to build another golf course, which would be located in the back of the Woodlands, but that creates additional logistical issues. "There's just a two-lane road going in there (to the back of the Woodlands) and we can pull between 50,000-75,000 people per day on the weekend. It just wouldn't make good sense," Darden said.
Darden said the HGA continues to explore opportunities at other courses in and around Houston. Among those being considered are several with Redstone Golf Management, a golf management and development company in Houston. He said they own the Houstonian Hotel and own and operate the Houstonian Golf Course as well as another private course called Shadow Hawk. In addition, the HGA is also looking at a 36-hole daily fee course called Blackhorse and a new 36-hole daily fee course called Wildcat, with the second 18 scheduled for completion in March.