If you played golf at Hancock Golf Course only three short years ago, you might remember wishing for your ball to land on one of the few patches of grass in the fairway. The Texas heat and lack of water had turned the lush golf course into dirt, rocks, and patches of grass– not an ideal golfing terrain. Fees to maintain the course were costly and there weren’t enough rounds being played at the historic course to deem itself worthy to all Austinites for much longer.
Turn the clock forward three years and you see something different. The parking lot is full more often than not. Grass covers the majority of the course. When golfers tee off or chip the ball, grass flies rather than dirt and rocks. Golfers are out playing the relatively short 9-hole course and revenue is up – thanks to a new irrigation system that was installed in 2013.
Maintaining the course is still expensive and revenue at Hancock isn’t covering all costs involved in upkeep. But, Kevin Gomillion, City of Austin Golf Division Manager, said things are improving overtime.
“The rounds of golf have improved and revenues are improving at the golf course,” Gomillion said. “However it still doesn’t generate enough revenue to cover the costs of the expenditures associated with operations.”
It’s likely to be several years before that happens, but the installation of the irrigation system was a move in the right direction.
Until 2013, Hancock was the only golf course owned by the city which used potable water for maintenance. Potable water, or drinking water, was more expensive to use and took up a large amount of the $400,000 a year needed to operate the course. The parks department was required to follow the city’s distribution limit of potable water during and after the multi-year drought, which began in 2010. The water cutback caused the golf course to fall into poor shape in the following years. The city then decided it would be beneficial to switch to reclaimed water.
“We’re now irrigating the golf course with reclaimed water and what that has done is allowed us to use more water than previously,” Gomillion said. “Especially with potable water and the costs for potable water, it didn’t make as much sense, especially when you’re having, or may have droughts.”
The updated irrigation system cost over $600,000 to install. New pumps and sprinkler heads were put in place and since then the course has improved significantly.
“Just being able to water the fairways and tees on a more regular basis using reclaimed water, which is significantly cheaper than the potable water, is an improvement,” Gomillion said. “So that improvement has probably been the most significant to the facility in the last 50 or 60 years.”
The need for improvement at Hancock Golf Course isn’t surprising considering its age.
Hancock Golf Course originally opened as Austin Country Club (ACC) in 1899. Lewis Hancock, a former mayor of Austin, organized the club. He brought to fruition the dream of one of Texas’ first country clubs. Hancock and a group of Austinite’s joined together as members of ACC and spearheaded the purchase of the property. Eventually, the land would be transformed into a nine-hole golf course.
In 1913 the members of ACC purchased more land and nine more holes were built to complete the 18-hole course. In 1946, almost 50 years after it’s opening, the ACC members decided to relocate. As a result, the city purchased the course and re-named it after Lewis Hancock. For 46 years, Austin golfers were able to play one of the only 18-hole courses in Texas. Later, the city sold the land where the original nine holes were located. The land was developed into the Hancock Shopping Center, which still remains at that location today.
The par 35, 9-hole course remains one of the oldest golf courses in the state. Austin golfers and the parks department continue in efforts to keep the course’s condition updated.
Although funding isn’t yet available, Gomillion said there are a few new ideas for improvement.
One of the prospective ideas includes updating the entryway to the parking lot and complex. Gomillion said that the parks department has considered adding some cart paths to areas of the course that are more prone to flooding – something that would help the senior population get from hole to hole following heavy rains. Both ideas are up for consideration dependent on bond-issued funding.
Regardless of its past or present state, Hancock Golf Course has been and remains one of Texas and Austin’s most historic places to play the timeless game.
For reservations and tee times visit the Hancock Golf Course website.