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Johnathan Vegas Encourages Young Golfers

Johnathan Vegas (l) and Dale Morgan give a clinic to young golfers

Johnathan Vegas (l) and Dale Morgan give a clinic to young golfers

Johnathan Vegas, two time winner on the PGA tour and former Texas Longhorn standout, took part of his Monday practice time to give a few words of encouragement to the young golfers gathered at the Dell Match Play Championship at Austin  Country Club.  Dale Morgan the Director of Golf for Austin Country Club partnered with Vegas to give a 30 minute clinic during which Vegas talked about his golfing career that started in Venezuela and how he has been on tour for ten years.

Johnathan Vegas demonstrating technique to young golfers in clinic at Dell Match Play

Johnathan Vegas demonstrating technique to young golfers in clinic at Dell Match Play

Vegas demonstrated how to control ball flight in the wind.  He hit high shots, low shots,  fades and hooks with some short irons and a mid iron.   All the kids wanted to see him hit the driver so he did so.  Afterward he signed autographs until all the kids had one.  He was very gracious and generous with his time.  Afterward he worked on his game on the practice tee along with Ryan Moore and several other players.

Vegas signing Autographs

Vegas signing Autographs

Tuesday is another practice round with the actual competition starting on Wednesday.  There are 16 groups of four golfers that will play against each other Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to determine who advances to the round of 16 on Saturday Morning.   Vegas is paired against Bubba Watson, Scott Piercy and Thomas Pieters.

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Madelyn Jones Wins Jimmy Demaret Junior Classic

Madelyn Jones Wins 2017 Jimmy Demaret Junior Classic

Madelyn Jones Wins 2017 Jimmy Demaret Junior Classic

Madelyn Jones shot 66-71 at Lakecliff Country Club in Spicewood, Texas to capture the Girls 12-18 Division of the Legends Junior Tour tournament.

This win marks the first sub 70 tournament round for Jones.  She held off reigning two-time LJT Girls Player of the Year Hailey Jones Friday afternoon. Jones carded a second 2-under 69 for a 4-under 138 tournament total. Kingwood’s Jackie Barry, co-leader with Madelyn after Thursday’s first round, finished in third after a 3-over 74 in the second round. Zoe Slaughter and Sara Camarena finished tied for fourth.

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Spring Championship Moves To Roy Kizer

Barrett Sandefur and Beth Cleckler

Barrett Sandefur and Beth Cleckler

After touring the course on Thursday, Kevin Gomillion, Director of Golf for the City of Austin and Beth Cleckler, who manages Morris Williams Golf Course, decided that the greens at Morris Williams would not be ready for the Spring Championship on April 1-2 and moved the tournament to the Roy Kizer golf course.    Apparently the transition from the winter grass to the summer grasses on the greens has not proceeded as quickly as they had hoped.

Barrett Sandefur is the defending champion.   He birdied the last two holes to win the tournament by a slim margin over Jay Reynolds and Matt Werneke.   He shot seven under for the championship.

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Golf Panel a Welcome Addition to SXSW

"Sharks Gotta Swim" panelists spoke for over an hour on golf an innovation.

“Sharks Gotta Swim” panelists spoke for over an hour on golf innovation.

In a festival known for its music, film and innovation, there was a noticeable addition to this year’s slate of South by Southwest panels — golf.

The panel, “Sharks Gotta Swim: Golf Tradition and Millennials,” focused on the innovations that are being made in golf – specifically, how to engage millennials and diversify the demographics of the game.

“Brands must evolve and sports brands are no exception,” said a press release from the event. “But sports traditions are sometimes the most sacred of customs and golf may be the most brutal of masters.”

The panel consisted of golf communications and marketing strategists from all corners of the industry. Preston McClellan, a digital communications manager with the PGA Tour, moderated the panel and shared his experiences managing and curating digital golf content.

TopGolf, one of the newest forms of golf, was represented by Jeehae Lee. Lee is the director of business strategy for the company and she spoke about the ways TopGolf has shaped its business strategy and marketed golf in this era of innovation.

“We (TopGolf) stand to bring people together over a social occasion,” Lee said.

Kris Hart and DJ Piehowski represented some of the less traditional aspects of the golf industry. Hart is the president and CEO of Nextgengolf. The company caters to college-aged and young adult golfers in hopes of giving them ample competitive golfing opportunities in their post-junior careers. Hart said his company hopes to retain the young adult (18-34) demographic of golfers.

Piehowski is the director of content for Skratch TV, a company focused on “innovative and exciting new content about golf from the PGA TOUR to your backyard.” He playfully acknowledged the challenges that come with toeing the line between serious and satire in a game so deeply entrenched in tradition.

“There’s edgy,” Piehowski said. “And then there’s golf edgy.”

Throughout the Q&A portion of the event, questions surrounding the theme of diversity within the game were brought up. The panelists talked about the ways that their companies are innovating to stress inclusivity.

McClellan spoke about the international audience that the PGA Tour embraces and the ways they are curating content to cater to this demographic. Lee said that 3 to 4 percent of TopGolf consumers cite their experience at TopGolf as a reason for them taking their talents to more traditional golf courses.

It is no secret that golf has numerous barriers to entry, and in the past it has been regarded as an elitist sport. But how can the game of golf break down these barriers to entry and become a more diverse game? That is the million-dollar question.

There are various organizations and initiatives that seek to promote the game and diversify the demographics of the sport. For 20 years, The First Tee has made an effort to expose children to the game of golf and the benefits it can provide them off the course. And just recently, the USGA’s revealing of the proposed changes to the rules of golf illustrate the push to make golf enjoyable for a larger number of people.

But unfortunately, no one person or organization can alleviate these issues. It has to be an industry-wide effort to broaden the demographics of the game and make it more accessible to a wider range of people. This panel acknowledged this phenomenon, and that’s a step in the right direction.

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Crenshaw Reveals His Vision for the Future of Muny

Long-time Austin resident Ben Crenshaw revealed his plan Wednesday for a restoration and renovation of Lions Municipal Golf Course.

In front of a packed ballroom in the Muny clubhouse, Crenshaw, a 19-time winner on the PGA Tour and now a successful golf course designer with business partner Bill Coore, proposed rerouting many of the holes, returning the embattled Tarrytown course to its layout from 1951-1974.

Muny's current layout.

Muny’s current layout.

The proposed renovation would reroute the course according to its old layout.

The proposed renovation would reroute the course according to its old layout.

His plans include an expanded practice facility and a teaching center. He also proposed shifting the entrance of the course from Enfield Road to Lake Austin Boulevard.

The plan enlists the assistance of local land planner Corey Hoffpauir, who has worked on golf resorts from Shenzhen, China to Horseshoe Bay, Texas. Crenshaw will donate his golf course design services as a part of the project.

The cost of the proposal has not yet been determined, but initial estimates are $10-$12 million. Crenshaw and other Save Muny figures are convinced the funds can be raised privately for the project.

“We feel confident we can go to the private sector, both to individuals and foundations, to raise this money,” said Scott Sayers, Crenshaw’s long-time friend and business manager. “The generous nature of the Austin community has always come forth when it comes to saving our precious green space, and Muny is without question one of our city’s most important historic, recreational pieces of parkland.”

Until recently, the future of Muny looked bleak. The University of Texas System did not appear to be open to negotiations of the lease past 2019.

The UT System has softened its stance in recent months on the matter. In a letter dated Jan. 17, 2016, University of Texas President Greg Fenves indicated the university would be willing to negotiate a lease extension past 2019. But, the lease would come at a much higher cost. Nevertheless, this marked a major victory for Save Muny.

“I’m so excited at this point that we have some important things to talk about. Some more hope,” Crenshaw said.

Crenshaw’s plans for the course depend on negotiations between the city of Austin and the UT System to extend the lease past May 2019. Another possibility is the passage of a Texas Senate bill proposed last week by Sen. Craig Estes, a Republican from Wichita Falls. The bill would shift ownership of the land to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department from the UT System.

It is not clear how much support the bill has within the legislature.

“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 said in a press release.

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Lake Austin – Ecological Wasteland

Normally we post stories related to golf, and in a small way I suppose this story is related to golf.  Holes four, five and six at Austin Country Club run along Lake Austin, just south of the Pennybacker bridge on the Capital of Texas Highway, commonly known as the 360 bridge.

As players tee off on holes four and five, they are a few feet away from the water and often wander over and look into the water for fish, turtles, ducks and other wildlife.    Nowadays they still see turtles but they will not see fish, unless they are carp.  No minnows, no perch, no bass and no ducks.

Lake Austin along Austin Country Club

Lake Austin along Austin Country Club

The recent draining of the lake, which occurs every two years, revealed a lake that is completely void of any vegetation.  The ecosystem is gone.  Left in it’s place is a bare, sandy, muddy bottom.   You can enlarge the photo to the left by clicking on it.  Then use your back button to return to this posting.

Some Austin residents, primarily boaters and fishermen, are aware that the City of Austin and the Texas Parks and Wildlife worked together to try and solve the “problem” of too much hydrilla weed in Lake Austin.  The weed was a nuisance and somewhat hazardous to boaters and it presented maintenance issues for intake valves at the Tom Miller Dam on the lower end of the lake.

The approach taken to this “problem” was the introduction of an Asian grass carp that would eat hydrilla.   Apparently they did.  They ate all the hydrilla and everything else in the lake.  Now we have a different problem.  No vegetation and no ecosystem.   If you do a websearch for Lake Austin Asian Carp, you will find a number of stories related to the subject.  Click here for one such story.

One fisherman I spoke with has fished Lake Austin for a number of years.  He commented that the bass he used to fish for are all but gone and the remaining bass are smaller and not as healthy as they used to be.  That’s not surprising since they have nothing to eat.  The hydrill weed and other vegetation that provided an ecosystem for smaller minnows, perch and micro-organisms is gone.   And, apparently the carp, which are supposed to be grass eaters, have resorted to eating other fish.

This same fisherman also commented that the water used to be clear because the hydrilla and other vegetation filtered the water.  He said now it’s not so clear and often sandy or muddy looking.

That started me thinking about the impact of this on the Austin water supply, since many of us drink water filtered from Lake Austin.  I wonder if the filtration system for Austin is dealing with more sediment in the water?

At any rate, the boaters are happy, the fishermen are not.   I don’t fish or boat in Lake Austin but this outcome does cause me concern as an Austin resident.  I wonder what is being done to rectify this situation.

 

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Dennis Kelly – Profile Of A Starter At Austin Country Club

 

Dennis Kelly - Starter At Austin Country Club

Dennis Kelly – Starter At Austin Country Club

Dennis Kelly has worked eight years as one of the starters at Austin Country Club.  If he is working the morning shift, he arrives at 6:00 a.m. and assists with making the push carts ready for the players.  Next he tours the course to insure that the water dispensers and fresh apples are stocked on the course.

Then he reviews the tee sheet to see how busy the day will be and what tee times are open.  The word tee sheet is dated because there is no physical tee sheet.  It is all done on a computer, so the starter’s laptop and a hand held radio are essential tools in his job.  He uses these to communicate with the pro shop and the employees managing the practice range to stay informed about the ever changing situation around the first tee.  All of this is coordinated effort to insure that play proceeds smoothly.

If you have played much golf, whether on public or private courses, you know that the starter coordinates who has access to the course.  That task can be somewhat difficult at times.  Players want to play and sometimes they don’t make a tee time or they are practicing and decide to try and play a few holes on the spur of the moment.  The starter manages these requests as diplomatically as possible.  Most of the time it all works out but it does require some judgement and finesse, particularly  at high end country clubs.

left to right, Mike Allen, Tom Kite, Troy Matteson, Jay Reynolds

left to right, Mike Allen, Tom Kite, Troy Matteson, Jay Reynolds

One interesting aspect of the starter’s job is talking to the players and watching their first tee shot.  He gets to see a wide variety of players including some famous golfers and some celebrities that play golf.  Last week Tom Kite, Troy Matteson played the course as well as Kevin Na.  You never know who might show up.

The starter also coordinates with the golf shop and the greens superintendent to provide any information about the course  the player needs to be aware of during their round.  Often times there are restrictions on where players may drive carts and the starter reviews this information with the players.

Another duty of the starter is to insure that the players are accurately charged for green fees and cart fees.  The first tee is where this is managed at Austin Country Club.  So accurate accounting becomes part of the starter’s duty at ACC.

According to Dennis, the best part of the job is talking to the members and learning about their interests, their families and just being part of the pre-round chatter on the putting green.   His least favorite part is getting up early and being cold when the weather is not good.

Dennis Kelly (left) with ACC Member Chuck Munson

Dennis Kelly (left) with ACC Member Chuck Munson

Dennis is a well known figure at ACC and the members have confidence that he will do his best to work them into the tee sheet if possible.  It all seems to work out.   He has some playing privileges and occasionally plays with a group of members.

He started playing golf with his dad at age 10 in Windom Country Club in Windom Minnesota.  It was a nine hole course with small greens.  The Toro Company used the course to test their lawn movers in exchange for installing a sprinkler system so the course was in good shape with heavy rough.  That is where his love for the game got started.

He spent two years in college then spent four years in the Air Force as a microwave technician.  Next was an eight year stint in the secret service in Washington D.C. as part of the technical security division.  He was assigned to a detail that protected the physical plant for the president.  They made sure that the areas the president spent time were  secure.

After the Secret Service, Dennis worked 27 years for the F.B.I. as a telecommunications manager in Minnesota and San Antonio, Texas.  He was responsible for maintaining radio communications and computer networks.  Then he retired.

Dennis said it did not take him long to figure out that he needed something to do.  He reasoned that since he loved golf he should find something golf related and he applied to be a starter at Austin Country Club.  It turned out Human Resources Director for Austin Country Club had previously been with the FBI so there was a connection of trust.  He was hired.   It worked out well for everyone.

 

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The Rich History and Uncertain Future of Muny

On the brisk fall morning of Oct. 22, 2016, roughly 200 people congregated at Lions Municipal Golf Course. They were gathered to see their beloved golf course, “Muny,” named to the National Register of Historic Places, and honored as the first golf course south of the Mason-Dixon line to desegregate.

The crowd slowly filled the white chairs arranged in rows on the first tee box. Austin Mayor Steve Adler wore a black suit and purple shirt, which complemented the purple worn by the Lions Club members who were seated at the front. The African-American men’s chorus from the Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church was seated to the side in white dress shirts and black pants. And General Marshall, one of the “Legends of Lions,” even wore a Dak Prescott Cowboys jersey.

Muny is the quintessential public golf course. Although it is located in one of Austin’s most valuable neighborhoods, players can wear concert T-shirts and denim cutoffs. The old electric carts rattle along cracked paths. And, the range balls do, in fact, range. There are old Maxflis with dimples smoothed by age, balata Titleists with smiles cut by mistimed irons and, occasionally, the perfect Pro-V1. Those often end up in play. Your golfing pedigree does not matter. The only requirement is that you pay the $24 green fee.

A nearby pianist played a ragtime tune as the crowd found their seats. At the front of the congregation, a green cloth was draped over a plaque waiting to be unveiled. As the ceremony proceeded, some neighborhood residents stood with their leashed dogs on the putting green, an act that would set off greens keepers at most other traditional courses.

Muny’s future and role in Austin has been the subject of debate since 1973. The city, which runs the course, leases land from the University of Texas System called the Brackenridge Tract. The lease is set to run out in 2019, at which time Muny could be forced to close in order for the UT System to develop its land in a financially lucrative manner. Events like the ceremony have become a staple for the Save Muny movement’s efforts to save the course.

Dedication ceremony program.

Dedication ceremony program.

Save Muny activist Steve Wiener welcomed the crowd on behalf of the group, and other supporters of the cause took their turns speaking.

“When and if our city loses a place like this, it never comes back,” Adler said.

Austin City Councilwoman Sheri Gallo spoke about her personal motivations for saving the course. She joked that if she did not attempt to save Muny, her husband would change the locks on their home.

Congressman Lloyd Doggett spoke on behalf of the non-golfers who hope to see the course saved. Muny represents “so much of what makes Austin, Austin.”

“It has meant so much to so many people,” added lifelong Austin resident and two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw. “A lot of people have tried to put monetary values on this place. You can’t take away people’s hearts.”

Gallo proclaimed on behalf of the city that the date be recognized as “Save Muny Day.” The declaration got a roar out of the crowd.

Volma Overton Jr., one of the prominent African-American figures in Muny’s history, encouraged the crowd to join him in “Hands Around Lions.” Members of the crowd gathered around the iconic lion statute on the putting green and held hands for a photo.

A chant began.

“Save Muny! Save Muny!”

Among this diverse group of people lingered a man who stood out more than the rest. He looked to be nearing 30 in age, sunglasses resting on the brim of his sun damaged golf hat. But his belt buckle is what caught the eye. It said one word: “Hope.”

Indeed, it was hope that brought everyone together on that fall day. Hope to preserve the golf course that means so much to so many.

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Muny sits on land originally deeded to the University of Texas in 1910 by Col. George Brackenridge, a member of the Board of Regents. He hoped the university would move its main campus to the banks of Lake Austin. Although his dreams of relocating the campus were never realized, the Brackenridge Tract has been owned by the university system ever since.

In 1924, members of the local Lions Club decided they wanted to build a golf course. They partnered with the City of Austin to establish the Austin Municipal Golf and Amusement Association, and worked out a deal with the University of Texas System Board of Regents to lease land on the Brackenridge Tract. A modest nine-hole course was erected by the end of the year, and Muny was born. By 1937, the Lions Club built a clubhouse and expanded the course to 18 holes, at which time they donated the course to the city.

Beginning in 1972, the UT System Board of Regents began toying with the idea of closing Muny in order to develop the land. After all, the Brackenridge Tract is a valuable property, and precious asset for UT. Eventually, the city was able to work out a deal with the board putting off plans of development until 1987.

But two years before the expiration of the lease, there were more rumblings from the university that they hoped develop the land. At that time, the land was rapidly increasing in value. When it was gifted by Brackenridge, the land was on the edge of town, however, with the rapid growth Austin was seeing, the location near downtown was highly desirable.

In 1987, a two-year lease was agreed upon, and then, in 1989, a deal was struck extending the lease for an additional 30 years, until 2019. The lease called for the city to pay $200,000 per year, with an increase of 5 percent every five years for the duration of the lease. Currently, the annual rent for the 141-acre property is hovering near $500,000, only a fraction of its valued worth.

According to The Brackenridge Tract Task Force Report from 2007: “the Board of Regents has a legal and ethical obligation – in point of fact, a fiduciary duty – to carry out Colonel Brackenridge’s fundamental philanthropic purpose and mandate when the gift was made: to use the tract for the benefit of the educational mission of the University.”

The Save Muny movement was born because the course would become a victim of circumstance if ideas like these came to fruition. The group was founded by Patricia Bedinger and Pete Acosta in 1972, and composed mainly of members of the city’s golf advisory board and residents of the Tarrytown neighborhood. The group is now led by Peter Barbour, and is made up of “interested citizens,” according to Mary Arnold, one of the leaders of the cause. Save Muny made it their mission to spread awareness about their fight, and the history behind the course. If you drive around Tarrytown, you are sure to see Save Muny yard signs in front of homes of the sympathetic residents populating the area.

Save Muny yard signs populate the lawns of sympathetic Tarrytown residents.

Save Muny yard signs populate the lawns of sympathetic Tarrytown residents.

However, good news came for Save Muny recently. In a letter dated Jan. 17, 2017, UT President Greg Fenves indicated the university would be open to discussing a possible lease extension.

“I write now to ask if the City has any desire to negotiate an extension or renewal of the Muny lease on terms closer to current market value past the initial term,” Fenves said.

There has been little news from either party since the publication of the letter, but Fenves requested the city give him a response to his inquiry by March 1.

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Five men stood on the first tee box waiting to tee off in a skins game on another busy Saturday morning at Muny. They were an eclectic group of golfers, with older age being one of their few similar characteristics.

Eddie Castillo, the man who started the skins game in 1985, sported a gray mustache and wore a black pullover. David Aldrich, a tall, gangly man, dressed in a pink shirt and black jeans. Next to him was Marshall Hinton, in a white golf polo and a pair of plain blue jeans. Cary Petri sat in the cart looking patriotic in his red vest, white shirt and blue slacks.

The last of member the group was the most striking of the bunch. David Harrell wore a plain white T-shirt with the phrase “Mr. Muny says ‘Save Muny 4Ever’” brandished across the front. He teed off from a tee box ahead of the other gentleman, but his place in the group could not be mistaken. “Mr. Muny” began playing the course in 1951 and estimates he has played around 10,000 rounds there. He may know the course better than anyone.

“People used to call me on the phone and tell me where their ball was,” he said. “And I could tell them what it would do on the greens.”

He would come out to the course nearly every day when he was younger, after he finished his job of painting houses. Eventually, one of the course regulars gave him the nickname, and it has stuck ever since.

The men in the fivesome have made the weekly game a habit for the past 31 years. If you visit Muny on a Saturday morning, you’ll almost certainly find them playing.

“We’re just a bunch of old guys who love golf and love the course,” Aldrich said.

The level of expertise of Muny the men displayed, particularly on the grainy greens, was striking. The trick, Harrell explained, is that the grain always goes towards the setting sun.
The men have been playing the course for so long that the layout of Muny has started to feel longer than the 6,000 yards the scorecard shows.

“I used to hit driver, 5-iron into this green,” Harrell said about the 500-yard par-5 12th hole. “Now, I hit driver, 5-iron, 5-iron. That extra 5-iron shows that I’m getting old.”

These five men are only a fraction of the skins game. Petri said that every Saturday there are about 25 people who play. Each week he sends out a mass text message to roughly 100 people inviting them to join, and the 25 who come out every week are always a diverse bunch.

“We’ve had everyone from lawyers, doctors, attorneys, all the way down to people just scraping by,” Aldrich said. “Anyone is welcome in our group.”

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Beat up tee boxes and slow greens are par for the course, but that only adds to the charm of it.

Muny is nestled in the affluent Tarrytown neighborhood of West Austin. The entrance on Enfield Road winds through a grove of cedar trees before coming to a clearing that reveals the brick clubhouse and small putting green. At the center of the green sits a statue of a lion.

Lion statue sitting in the middle of the practice green.

Lion statue sitting in the middle of the practice green.

The course is located a short walk from the Clarksville neighborhood, a historically African-American community. Men from the neighborhood assisted in building the course, and many of them were employed there as caddies in its early days. However, laws keeping public facilities segregated prohibited them from playing the course.

That all changed in 1951. There were suggestions to build a separate course for African-American members of the community earlier in the year, but it was not cost-efficient and the idea was scrapped. Eventually, the course was peacefully integrated. One day, two young black caddies — Alvin Propps and another caddie, whose name was not documented — simply walked onto the course and began playing, forcing the hand of city officials. They were allowed to finish their round. Emma Long, a white city council member, was quoted as saying, “Just let them play.” This historic civil rights milestone is the event that Save Muny has hung its hat on in favor of keeping the course open.

Texas Historical Commission marker sits at the entrance of Muny on Enfield Road.

The Texas Historical Commission marker sits at the entrance of Muny on Enfield Road.

From then on, black golfers were accepted at Muny, and the news soon spread across the state. African-Americans from all over Texas ventured to play there, as it was the first golf course in the South to desegregate. Even former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis made an appearance in 1953. Four years after Muny’s peaceful integration, the Supreme Court decided to force integration of public golf courses in their decision of Holmes v. City of Atlanta.

However, bleaker days were on the horizon for Muny.

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Save Muny has dedicated holes at the course to the people that have come to define it. In the Saturday skins game, there are two such Legends of Lions. Petri is one. He and his brother, Randy, have the 12th hole named after them. They grew up in a house just across the road from the driving range, and continue to play Muny over half a century after they began making memories there.

Harrell is the other legend in the group. His hole is the par-3 13th. He said he hopes to record his 13th career hole-in-one on it someday.

Although the 13th didn’t produce any timely theatrics on that day, Harrell was still eager to share any and every story he had about Muny. Such as how he attended O. Henry Middle School just across the road from the eighth hole, or how he would “park” with his high school girlfriends on the road next to the ninth green. He explained that Ben Hogan is his hero. One year on Hogan’s birthday, he made a birdie on the 16th hole, known as the “Hogan Hole.” So naturally, he stopped to sing “Happy Birthday” to the deceased golf legend.

To these men, Muny is not just a golf course, but rather a refuge from life’s difficulties. Aldrich said no matter what happens during the week, he can look forward to getting to play in this game. Harrell revealed that his live-in ex-wife passed away earlier in the week.

“Coming here helps me get my mind off of it,” he said.

If something were to happen to the course, the weekly skins game would still go on. Even now, it is scheduled at other area courses when events at Muny interfere with their tradition. But it would lose something if the course were to leave.

“We’ve got a lot of history out here,” Petri said. “That’s why you can’t let this thing go.”

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Starting in 1946, Muny was the site of the Firecracker Open, an annual event that brings amateur golfers from all over the region to Austin. The tournament is the oldest amateur golf tournament in the state. In its infancy, it was known as the Texas Public Links Golf Association championship, with several other name changes coming over the years. But in 1967, following a short stint being hosted at nearby Morris Williams Golf Course, the tournament returned to Muny and was renamed the Firecracker Open.

The tournament has a special place in the history and character of Muny. A win at the Firecracker is an honor that only a handful of people can claim. Billy Clagett, yet another Legend of Lions, holds the record winning the tournament six times.

“I didn’t think it was that big a deal,” he said of his first victory. “And then I kept winning the darn thing. Now I can look back on it and say, ‘Man, this is pretty hard to do!’”

There have been several memorable editions of the tournament over the years. Before he ever slipped on the green jacket amid the pines and azaleas of Augusta National, Crenshaw polished his winning ways on his way to the 1969 Firecracker title. The year prior, fellow World Golf Hall of Famer Tom Kite took the crown. Between 1990 and 1995, the tournament was dominated by Clagett, as his name was carved into the Serta Trophy in five of six years. In 2007, Brenden Redfern became the youngest winner ever at the age of 14. And this past summer, Chris Benestante won his first Firecracker just months after being released from drug and alcohol rehab, including a historic 27 during his second round back nine.

The Firecracker Open sign hangs on the side of the clubhouse.

The Firecracker Open sign hangs on the side of the clubhouse.

“Lions is such a great place,” Benestante said. “It’s historic, I mean, it’s Muny.”

But Muny hasn’t just been a playground for amateur golfers and aspiring pros. In 1950, golf legend Ben Hogan played there in an exhibition alongside long-time Austin Country Club golf professional Harvey Penick. The event was regarded as the biggest golfing spectacle in Austin prior to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play coming to town in 2016.

The connection that Kite and Crenshaw have to the course is deep-rooted as well. Prior to donning burnt orange together in their collegiate victories, they honed their skills at Muny as kids. Crenshaw even purchased his trusty Wilson 8802 putter in the pro shop; the same putter he would ride to his 1984 and 1995 Masters triumphs.

However, the battle over the fate of Muny has left the former Texas Longhorn teammates divided. Crenshaw has been adamant that the course needs to be preserved, while Kite hasn’t been as sympathetic. In 2008, Kite was strongly in favor of building a new golf course on site. It was to be designed by his golf course design firm, although he insisted that was not a motivating factor. The ambitious plan did not end up taking hold, but the dilemma illustrated Kite’s stance on the matter.

“The bottom line for me, I just can’t see this place being developed,” Crenshaw said. “I don’t have any hatred for UT, or anything like that. I just think it’s too precious of an asset, and it just simply means too much to people.”

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At the conclusion of the ceremony, attendees were encouraged to gather in the clubhouse for a reception. Arnold, Marshall and the other faces of Save Muny posed for pictures in front of the lion statue, and three young junior golfers began rolling putts on the putting green as the cleanup commenced. Other members of the crowd embraced one another and stowed the moments of the event in their memories, because there is no guarantee on how many of these moments at Muny they have left.

Although the fate of the course is not yet decided, anything beyond May 2019 is uncertain. That is why events like these are so crucial. Having prominent community figures like Adler and Crenshaw pleading on behalf of Save Muny is invaluable to its cause. And even if the worst-case scenario becomes a reality, Muny will live on in the memories of those it touched.

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Tom Kite, Troy Matteson, Jay Reynolds, Mike Allen At Austin Country Club

Tom Kite, Troy Matteson, Jay Reynolds and Mike Allen got together for a round at Austin Country Club and enjoyed a cloudy cool day of golf on the Pete Dye designed course.
As the round progressed the topic of conversation covered a wide range of subjects including how the pros played the course during the Dell Match Play event.

left to right, Mike Allen, Tom Kite, Troy Matteson, Jay Reynolds

left to right, Mike Allen, Tom Kite, Troy Matteson, Jay Reynolds

If you’ve ever played ACC you have experienced the importance of angles and placing the ball in the correct portion of the fairway to access certain pins on the green complexes.  The thing about a Pete Dye design is that when you are out of position it gets difficult very quickly.

Club choice plays a role in staying in position.   For example, on hole number 7, which is number 16 during the match play event, the pin location effects the way you play the hole.
Tom Kite hit a nice drive into the fairway and instead of hitting a three wood to get close to the green, played a three iron on his second shot to leave a 90 yard shot for his third.  He did so because the pin was back right and he needed to be able to hit a lofted shot with spin to carry the bunkers and stop the ball quickly.  The other players in the group were closer to the green and had a difficult time with the pin location because they were too close to spin the ball on their third shot.  Kite hit his third to 15 feet and had a good chance at birdie while the other players had longer putts.

Another example is hole number nine (18 during the match play).  From the top of the hill in the fairway the player has full access to all hole locations on the green.  Matteson hit his tee shot over the hill into the flat portion of the fairway and faced a difficult short shot of 80 yards to a front pin location.  With the tight lies of winter grass he had difficulty being able to loft the ball and failed to get it close.  We saw that on numerous occasions during the match play event.

So, the take away from the round is that you must think about position in order to play this golf course properly.  It cannot be overpowered.  It should be fun to watch the players at the Dell Match play and see what they learned the first year and if they play the course differently this year.

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Volunteer Opportunities For AJGA Event

The American Junior Golf Association has offered the following volunteer opportunity:

Kristen Gillman - Former U.S. Women's Amateur Champ at AJGA Event

Kristen Gillman – Former U.S. Women’s Amateur Champ at AJGA Event

Golf Austin Readers,

The American Junior Golf Association is seeking your support! We are hosting our Bishops Gate Golf Academy Junior at Horseshoe Bay, April 13-16 on the Apple Rock Course and are currently looking for volunteers to help with the event. The tournament features 132 of the top boy and girl junior golfers from across the country competing in a 54-hole stroke play event.

Each volunteer will receive a commemorative AJGA Tournament Pin, New Era Tournament Hat, a boxed lunch each day, and a chance to watch the future of the PGA and LPGA Tours. Currently, we are in need of many volunteer positions which include, Pace of Play Monitors, Shuttle Drivers, Live Scoring Officials, and Water Rovers.

If you would like to volunteer or gather additional information on the event please contact South Central Regional Manager, Andrew Yeast, by calling (859) 613-1423 or via email ayeast@ajga.org. More information on the AJGA may be found by visiting www.ajga.org.

Thank you for your support of junior golf.

Regards,

Andrew Yeast
Regional Manager, South Central
American Junior Golf Association
ayeast@ajga.org
(859) 613-1423

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