For the first time in some 50 years, the Houston Open will be played within Houston’s city limits. The 2020 version of the event will be moving to the city-owned Memorial Park, which has re-opened following a renovation by Tom Doak.
Doak completed the first phase of the Memorial Park renovation, changing every hole on the property in some fashion. It’s a fundamentally new course, including new drainage and irrigation systems, as well larger pond systems to harvest storm water. The pond has been tripled in size to some 8 acres. The project spanned from the course’s closure in January until recently.
Doak consulted with world No. 1 Brooks Koepka on the renovation, getting a sense from the four-time major winner about how Tour players would look at this course. Among the feedback Koepka gave was a request for shorter par 3s to give contrast to the routine 200-plus-yard par 3s week to week on the PGA Tour.
In addition to the golf course development, the project included improving the practice facility with a two-level, 84-bay hitting structure, as well a First Tee complex with a four-hole course and additional parking.
The Astros Golf Foundation agreed to pay for the $18.5 million project, part of Houston Astros owner Jim Crane’s commitment to the long-running PGA Tour event.
Shell dropped its title sponsorship of the tournament in 2017, and the Houston Golf Association, who had historically run the tournament, reached deep into its coffers to put on the event in 2018 without a title sponsor. Houston Astros owner Jim Crane offered to take over the tournament for the 2019-2020 season, moving the event to the fall. The PGA Tour agreed to the transition, and the Houston Astros Golf Foundation is now a key beneficiary of the event and will run the tournament through 2023 at Memorial Park.
Houston mayor Sylvester Turner had been pushing for a renovation as part of his plans for the city, finding a partner in Crane, whose foundation will also finance the $12 million second phase that will include a new clubhouse and begin in December.
“Houston is at its best when government, businesses and private individuals work together to make improvements for all Houstonians and our economy,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said a release announcing the Phase I completion. “As a city, we are hugely grateful for Jim Crane’s generosity that has made it possible for Houston to once again claim a place in national golf glory. And yet the new Memorial Park Golf Course will be enjoyed year-round by local golfers without any fee increases related to the upgrade. I look forward to showing off Houston to stars of professional golf and their spectators as they enjoy the course.”
The John Bredemus design hosted the Houston Open in 1947, its second year, and from 1951-1963. Houston legend and multiple major winner Jack Burke Jr., owner of Champions Golf Club, twice won the tournament at Memorial Park in the 1950s and was runner-up twice more. He was on-hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 4.
Memorial Park is one of the country’s busiest public golf courses, with some 60,000 rounds played there per year.
The Houston Open hasn’t been played in Houston since 1972, when Westwood Country Club hosted for a single year after a six-year run at Burke’s (and partner Jimmy Demaret’s) Champions Golf Club. The tournament has been played at what’s now The Golf Club of Houston (erstwhile Redstone Golf Club) since 2003.