HOUSTON -- After closing in January, renovations at historic Gus Wortham Park Golf Course in Houston are well underway for a late fall reopening. The dream of restoring the oldest continuously operated course in Texas back its former glory is becoming reality.
Gus Wortham, which opened in 1908 and was once home to Houston Country Club, was saved from extinction two years ago by the Houston Golf Association. After raising $7.6 million since, renovations have been going on for a couple of months now. The course is expected to reopen Nov. 1.
The golf course renovation is actually Phase 1 of a project that also includes a new clubhouse and facilities for The First Tee. The last component will be used to expose a broader demographic cross section of the city's young people to the game of golf and its positive intrinsic values, while also promoting physical activity and wellness.
But for golfers, both local and those visiting, restoring this golf course is exciting news. The course, which sits on rare rolling land in the city of Houston just east of downtown, has been in danger of closing for good a couple of times in the past 10 years.
A grassroots effort
Six years ago, a group called the Friends of Gus Wortham successfully fended off an effort to build a soccer stadium there for the Houston Dynamo. And more recent, the group found itself in a battle to prevent the Houston Botanic Garden from taking over some or all of the golf course. The white horse in this case came in the form of the HGA, which among other things, runs the Shell Houston Open.
"Golf is a sport that can be enjoyed by everyone," said Steve Timms, president of the HGA and The First Tee of Greater Houston. "The renovation of Gus Wortham, along with our continued efforts to reinvest back into our neighborhoods by improving public golf courses, helps the HGA further our mission to grow the game, at every age. It is our hope that the impact of our work will be felt for generations to come."
Fundraising efforts are ongoing, and the HGA still needs to raise more money for the rest of the project. The total fundraising goal of the "Preserving the Past, Defining the Future" campaign (guswortham.org) is $14 million.
Gus Wortham's storied history
Originally designed by Houston Country Club member A.W. Pollard, the course was once the site of a 1931 match between Howard Hughes and professional golfer Walter Hagen. Francis Ouimet, who won the 1913 U.S. Open at The Country Club at Brookline, and the legendary Bobby Jones have also played the course.
After Houston Country Club moved to its current location more than 60 years ago, the land was sold to HCC member Gus Wortham, who reopened it as the Houston Executive Club. In 1973, he sold it to the city for $3.6 million, and the 6,300-yard course was renamed in his honor.
The HGA is now working with Houston golf course architect Baxter Spann of Finger Dye Spann on the project. It will be a complete facelift with undergrowth and dead tree removal as well, but the integrity of the original design will remain.
Additionally, Phase 1 also will overhaul the irrigation system for better water conservation, add a new irrigation lake for storm water retention, and reestablish creek banks while preserving the uniqueness and beauty of the original design.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is one of many city officials behind the project.
"Once complete, the course and the scope of the overall project will bring first-class amenities to the East End neighborhood and surrounding communities, while preserving an important legacy in Houston’s remarkable history," he said.
While green fees are expected to rise a little for recreational golfers, HGA officials say local residents will still pay bargain rates, while out-of-towners will probably pay more.