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Plans Unveiled for Rebirth of Austin's Lions Municipal Course

By: Steve Habel


Roy Bechtol and his design for the remodel of Austin's venerable but outdated Lions Municipal Golf Course were featured in a front-page article in the Austin American-Statesman on Sunday, July 6. Bechtol, who was raised in Austin minutes from the course and whose Bechtol Golf Design is based in the capital city of Texas, collaborated with Hall of Fame golfer and fellow Austinite Tom Kite on an initial "renewal" of the course.

"With this plan, we are preserving the game of golf on this tract," Bechtol said. "This proposed plan is - if you will - a rebirth of muny."

The fitness-themed development plan with a longer and more modern golf course routed by Bechtol and Kite is being fashioned by a group of influential business leaders, including Austin entrepreneur Pike Powers. Although costs and other details remain undetermined, the proposal includes a hotel, spa, clubhouse, conference center and 16-acre practice space, as well as 18-20 development parcels sprinkled around and inside the course.

The University of Texas System owns the rolling timberland Lions Municipal has occupied since it opened in 1928. Now the university's Board of Regents is considering ways to use the valuable property, part of a 500-acre gift nearly a century ago from Col. George Washington Brackenridge.

The regents retained a New York planning firm in May to create at least two distinct sets of recommendations. Those are due in a year.

There have been two previous efforts to keep Lions preserved as an affordable place for golf in a leafy, tranquil setting within the affluent Tarrytown neighborhood in west Austin. But with state financial support in decline and a desire to elevate the school's status among American universities, the regents have been given the mandate to extract more income out of the property on the northern banks of Lady Bird Lake.

The current lease between the city of Austin and the university, scheduled to expire in 2019, allows the city to operate Lions for $345,600 a year through 2009, when the amount increases incrementally. About 67,000 rounds a year are played at Lions Municipal.

Including the golf course lease, revenue from the 345-acre Brackenridge tract amounts to about $940,000 a year for UT-Austin. The land could be worth far more and, in 2006, James Huffines, the chairman of the regents at the time, ordered a 10-member task force to devise a plan "to utilize the asset to the maximum benefit" of UT-Austin.

Five of the holes Bechtol and Kite have designed would be on or near the lake. The other 13 holes would be built on the existing Lions site. As outlined in the Austin American-Statesman story by Kevin Robbins, the 7,133-yard layout would include new water features and a stream leading to Lady Bird Lake. Long "creek" bunkers, similar to the sandy waste areas found at courses in North and South Carolina, would define the edges of many holes.

The old Lions clubhouse would be restored, with the goal of converting it into an Austin golf museum. The new course would preserve the par-4 16th (known as Hogan's Hole after Ben Hogan played the course and singled out the hole for its difficulty) and return it on the scorecard to No. 7, its original place in the Lions sequence.

Bechtol knows every contour of Lions Municipal. He grew up near the course, attended nearby schools and hopped the fence to play the track as a boy. "I've lived and breathed the place for 50 years," Bechtol said. "This plan saves [the] Muny. It takes Muny to the next level. We are trying to blend reality with history."

About Bechtol Golf Design

Bechtol Golf Design's principal, Roy Bechtol has designed more than 50 golf courses throughout the U.S. either as the lead architect or as a collaborator with other top golf course designers. Bechtol Golf Design (www.bechtolgolfdesign.com) combines technology with creative, traditional design practices to determine the best possible plan for blending golf with real estate. Upcoming projects include courses in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, in the mountains of Panama, in the Colorado Rockies near Vail, the coast of Mexico, the hills of western Virginia, the Texas Hill Country along the upper banks of Lake Travis, and on Mustang Island along the Texas coast, as well as various sites in Central Texas.