Golf at Memorial Park began in 1912 when a rudimentary 9-hole course with sand greens was laid out for use by recuperating soldiers based at Camp Logan. Today, the 18-hole layout at Memorial Park is one of five municipal golf courses operated by Houston Parks & Recreation Department.
Designed by John Bredemus in 1936, Memorial Park hosted the Houston Open from 1951 to 1963, where a number of notable champions claimed the title, including Arnold Palmer in 1957.
The municipal course underwent a $13.5-million renovation by Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design firm, which completed in November 2019 well ahead of the PGA Tour's return to Memorial Park in November 2020 for the Houston Open (won by Mexico's Carlos Ortiz). A substantial investment was made in sand capping fairways and installing additional drainage, allowing the course to remain playable during rainy weather. An irrigation pond was also tripled in size, with the excavated material used to form additional contouring around the property.
Eight of the original greens were moved, the par five 8th hole was lengthened, and the par four 9th was altered from a par four to a par three. The par five 15th is now a driveable par four and the following hole has been extended to a par five. Tees and fairways on the front nine were moved to bring ravines into play on holes 2 to 7 and additional water hazards were incorporated into routing on the home stretch, starting at the short 15th.
Tom Doak commented as follows in his January 2020 newsletter:
“So when Jim Crane, the owner of the Astros, offered to rebuild the municipal course at Memorial Park for the City of Houston, so he could move the PGA Tour’s Houston Open back downtown, I was intrigued by the chance to try and create a course that could handle 60,000 public golfers a year, and still present an interesting challenge to the Tour.
It didn’t hurt that our client signed up world number one Brooks Koepka to consult on the design. We quickly agreed that our focus should be on providing an exciting atmosphere for the Tour, instead of trying to keep the winning score from going too low. A lot of Brooks’ ideas were subtle, but the most visible departures from our norm are the paucity of bunkers (we only built 19), the amount of short grass around the greens, and the in-your-face water hazards near the finish.
With fellow architect and Houston resident Mike Nuzzo managing the project on a daily basis, and our friend Don Mahaffey as general contractor, all of my associates plus Blake Conant contributed to the shaping of the greens and the fairway contours that help the course drain quickly after rain events, while adding interest to the shotmaking.”
When a course has undergone its third design iteration in your lifetime there is only conclusion. You are old. The mid 1990s rendition was sorely needed and the most recent transformational. Of course, $13 plus million should get you something. Thank you, Jim Crain. Be prepared to be frustrated trying to get a tee time on-line.
Some of the significant changes include adding both a par 3 and par five, so the layout is 5 3s, 8 4s and 5 5s. Incorporating the ravine into more holes on the front, cutting the bunker total by about half, eliminating underbrush and removing trees, expanding the main water hazard and creating more undulating green complexes. It is a much mor open course today.
The finishing holes are probably the strongest. The 16th a long par five with water in play the length of the right side. The 17th a dogleg right with a peninsula green and 18 is a 500 yard par four.
This course is a great asset to the city of Houston. It is a great value to golfers, if you can get a tee time. I strongly encourage you to try.
After the facelift for the Houston Open, Memorial Park is a fantastic course to play for an incredible rate
Rating Memorial Park all depends on what you're comparing it to. If you are looking at it purely as a public, city-owned golf course, it's outstanding. The conditioning is very good, it has fair challenges, and is a tremendous place to play golf if you're not wanting to shell out a bunch of money. My critiquing of the golf course from a design perspective is that it feels like a lot of the same stuff time after time. There's a couple holes that stand out and grab your attention as really strong holes, particularly the 15th. Otherwise, you're hitting the same two-three clubs into a lot of these holes, and the holes start to run together in your mind except those few exceptions which really stand out. Having said that, it's a very respectable course which offers a difficult test. If it hosts the Houston Open down the road, which is rumored, I'll be interested to see what they do with the course. There's no way from an infrastructure perspective that it could host an event that size right now. There's not a ton of open space on property that could easily be adjusted to compensate for that either. It's a fascinating time for one of Houston's best values.