LIONS MUNICIPAL GOLF COURSE, A NATIONAL REGISTER APPLICATION AND THE UT BOARD OF REGENTS
A new shirt available in the Pro Shop at Lions Municipal Golf Course proclaims,
“Come And Take It” — a phrase used in both the American Revolution and the Texas Revolution indicating a refusal to concede without resistance.
The Cooper-Robertson plan in June 2009 was commissioned by the UT Board of Regents saying it would help fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities, by using the Brackenridge Tract for commercial development to make money for the University of Texas at Austin. Their plans for developing the entire Brackenridge Tract, including the golf course, called for moving all graduate student housing from the tract, and developing as many as 8700 housing units for an estimated 13,050 residents, as well as offices, retail, 3 hotels — and TRAFFIC galore!
When the Board of Regents voted, in February 2011, not to renew the city’s lease for Lions Municipal Golf Course when it expires in May 2019, the Save Muny group vowed once again not to give up in the effort to maintain what has been a beautiful green space and golf course for almost 92 years!
Documentation of the early desegregation (1950-51) of Lions Muny was well received by the Travis County Commissioners Court and the Austin City Council, both with resolutions of support to the Texas Historical Commission, which granted a Texas Historic Marker for the golf course in 2009. However, the University of Texas System, that oversees the lease for the golf course with the City of Austin, declined to give permission for placement of the marker actually on the golf course.
Having gained the State Marker, Save Muny supporters began researching the possibility of applying for listing as a National Historic Register District. “Golf courses are gradually emerging as an important cultural resource in the United States, able to reveal much about social history..” according to an article in a National Park Service publication.
We have learned through our research about the golf course and the struggles to integrate other golf courses in the former Confederate states, that the quiet desegregation at Lions Municipal, the first public golf course in Austin, was a first not only in Texas but in all the former states of the Confederacy. Lawsuits were filed in Houston and Beaumont by black golfers to desegregate the city golf courses there, and the lawsuit filed in Atlanta was decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1955 in favor of desegregating the Atlanta golf course. Yet it was a US Supreme Court case, Sweatt v. Painter, decided June 5, 1950, mandating that the University of Texas Law School admit an African American student, that probably encouraged Mayor Taylor Glass and two other councilmen, not to object when two black youths were discovered playing golf at Lions Muny.
Lions Municipal Golf Course, was first envisioned by members of the local Austin Lions Club in the early 1920’s – after the 1921 decision of the Texas Legislature not to move the main UT campus to the Brackenridge Tract. The UT Board of Regents approved leasing about 300 acres of the tract to the group for the purpose of building a municipal golf course in May 1924. The Regents were said to have granted the 25 year lease “in recognition of the splendid response made by the people of Austin in the University stadium campaign.” (i.e., the campaign for funds to construct Memorial Stadium)
A grandfather of former Mayor Frank Cooksey, B. F. Rowe, is given credit, in news articles of the times, for the design and construction of the course. In about 2006-2007 a photo book with pictures of the construction of the course was loaned to Lloyd Morrison, then pro at Muny, by Tinsley Penick, son of early Muny pro, Tom Penick. The pictures showed African American workers clearing the land for the course.
The first 9 holes were opened in October 1924, and the other 9 in September 1925. Lions Municipal provided a course for University Texas students – both men and women – to play golf, and Tom Penick, an early pro at Lions, became the first Golf Coach named by Texas University, beginning a long record of winning UT golf teams. Austin golfers who played at Lions participated in state-wide tournaments in other cities – during the 1920’s when golf was gaining interest in the state and nation.
After completing a clubhouse in 1930, the Lions Club and the group it had formed in particular to raise funds for and operate the course, began to think of arranging for the City of Austin to become the lease holder and operator. Negotiations between the two, and with the UT Board of Regents, resulted in a new 50 year lease between UT and the City of Austin. The new lease was signed in 1937, with the City assuming remaining indebtedness, and committing $30,000 for an irrigation system and other improvements, with the use of WPA labor.
In 1972-1973 and again in 1987-89, the Board of Regents threatened to cancel and not renew the city’s lease for the golf course. After negotiations between 3 members of the Board of Regents and 3 City Council members, an agreement was reached in December 1973 whereby the lease could continue to the end of its 50 year period, provided the City agree to help UT by giving some city right-of-way through the UT campus, and agreeing to pay for paving a “new” Red River Street around the east edge of the campus. The City also agreed to pay for some improvements on the course. Save Muny was organized in 1972 to protest the Regents cancellation of the lease, and gained support for keeping the course through petitions, meetings with Council members, legislators, and the press.
By 1987, the UT campus had expanded, as had the enrollment, and the Regents again sought to use the Brackenridge Tract as a way to generate additional funds in light of Legislative hesitancy to keep increasing University appropriations. A Save Muny leader, Dick Kemp, suggested that “development rights” for the golf course be “transferred” to other parts of the Brackenridge Tract.
The lease was extended in 1987, with the condition that the 1989 Texas Legislature adopt a “land use plan” for the Brackenridge Tract – including the golf course – or else the lease would terminate in June 1990. This allowed for negotiations about a land use plan for the Brackenridge Tract and a representative of the Austin City Council, representatives of two neighborhood associations, and several other citizens, including Dick Kemp of the Golf Advisory group for the city and Save Muny, along with the head of the city’s planning department and someone from the city attorney’s office, to negotiate with the UT System Real Estate office and General Counsel’s office.
The result was the Brackenridge Development Agreement approved by the Board of Regents and the City Council, and validated by the Texas Legislature. In that agreement certain development parameters for particular pieces of the Brackenridge Tract were approved, with no non-University development to take place on the Brackenridge Field Lab or the Golf Course for 30 years — with 3 five-year extensions allowed, provided both the city and UT agreed to the extensions. The golf course lease was revised to provide for significant annual lease payments to UT for the golf course. These payments, provided by golf revenues on Muny and other city of Austin courses, i.e., money from the Austin golfers using city courses, will have amounted to $9,926,920 by May 2019.
It is our desire that the National Register application for Lions Municipal Golf Course be approved: on recommendation of the State Board of Review of the Texas Historical Commission at its meeting in San Antonio on January 23 to consider several applications, and by the Texas Historical Commission for submission to the appropriate officials at the National Park Service. In the event that the application is NOT recommended for such submission, those that prepared the application will be able to submit it directly to the National Park Service.
At the same time, the history and its importance, as shown in the application, should be enough to encourage the City of Austin and the University of Texas at Austin to find ways to preserve the historic property as an important reflection of our heritage, and discuss all aspects of how the University of Texas and the City of Austin work together in this community.
– submitted by Mary Arnold January 14, 2016
Links for National Register application for Lions Municipal Golf Course: