In the heart of Old West Austin sits Lions Municipal Golf Course, known affectionately around town as “Muny” -- a short, quirky layout that has been the centerpiece of the neighborhood since 1928.
As the oldest public golf course in the Texas capital, as well as the first integrated course south of the Mason-Dixon Line, Lions has a special place in the hearts of local golfers. However, an expiring lease with the University of Texas-Austin threatens to destroy the course that so many citizens hold dear. Lions sits on land owned by the university, which has announced its intention to let the lease expire when it comes up for renewal in May 2019. Speculation ranges on potential plans for the property, from student housing and condos to an upscale resort and conference center, all of which would likely add problematic amounts of traffic to the leafy neighborhood.
But why should you care about the loss of yet another golf course at a time when such closures are fairly commonplace? Well, should you ever have the good fortune to visit Texas’ weirdest city, you will miss out on the chance to enjoy a truly unique golf experience.
Lions' affordable green fee (just $16.50 on weekday afternoons) and laid-back environment attracts everyone from hotshot lawyers, fresh off an appearance at the nearby courthouse, to local high school kids just learning the game. Indeed, junior golf has always been an important part of Lions’ ethos, and this is where local legends Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite honed their games as young bucks, with Crenshaw going on to set a course record of 61 that stood until last year’s city championship.
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The course tests every facet of your game, with challenging doglegs and subtly sloping greens. There are a number of driveable par 4s, but almost every one requires an ambitious golfer to take on a fair amount of risk to come away with an eagle putt. Accuracy off the tee is key, and the 16th hole has such an intimidating tee shot that Ben Hogan, in his 1950 exhibition match against Harvey Penick, called it “the only hole I’ve ever seen without a fairway.”
While UT may have already announced its intentions to demolish the course, the people of Austin aren’t letting that happen without a fight. A local organization, Save Muny, has been formed to petition the university and rally support, so far with some success. The USGA has written a letter of support, and, just last month, the Austin city council voted unanimously to recommend the course for a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
On the Friday of the WGC-Dell Match Play, a fundraiser was hosted by Criquet Shirts and a number of other local businesses to raise money for Save Muny’s cause. Hundreds turned out to show their support, including Gentle Ben himself, showing that there may yet be hope for this local gem.
Ravi Coutinho is a contributor at Golf News Net and the founder of Worldwide Golf Adventures, a golf travel company based in Austin, TX that offers dream vacations to the world's top golf destinations.