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.”
MemoPark is a great course and a fantastic Muni. The renovation by Doak was done extremely well and made the course much more interesting, challenging, open, and more enjoyable to play. The renovation was great for the city of Houston, which is a city lacking courses located close to downtown. Holes 15-18 bring a great finishing stretch with great risk/reward opportunities. I would consider this one of the top 3 public courses in the area.
I have not played enough municipal owned golf courses to say decisively whether Memorial Park belongs in the top ten in the USA for “munis.” But if I had played more munis I would be willing to guess that it would make the top ten. It is clearly behind Bethpage Black, Torrey Pines (both) and Chambers Bay. It is also behind George Wright in Boston. If Eisenhower Red on Long Island was given the required investment to refresh and renovate it, it could also likely sneak ahead of it.
I have heard some good things about a few other munis as well such as in Charleston.
Make no mistake, Memorial Park is very much worth playing when in the greater Houston area, particularly if one is a resident of Houston given the very low green fee.
As the course is flat, Memorial Park is very much a walking golf course, and probably for most a walking and carrying one’s own bag. I give it high marks as well for the routing which is both logical and moves in multiple directions with only a few times having consecutive holes playing in the same direction. There is also a good mixture of doglegs, straight holes and pars of varying lengths.
We played it about two weeks after the Houston Open and the rough had not been cut since the tournament. While the rough I was not as high as I expected, balls would nestle down and it was a challenge to find some. Advancing them from the thick rough was a bit easier than I expected, but a full recovery was rarely available if more than 175 yards from the green.
The surfaces of the greens are not overly contoured with the exception of a couple holes such as the second, a short par 3 over a wide ravine. However, they are generally large and offer nice slopes and fall-offs if one gets too close to the edges. These are design features that Tom Doak uses often. These characteristics are maximized at fifteen, another short par 3. The green surrounds have a fair amount of contouring although perhaps a bit more shaping could have been done rather than relying only on fall-offs and run-offs.
The bunkering is restrained which emphasizes the playability of the course for everyday players.
The course builds to a dramatic finish with 15-17 offering water as part of the defense, although it should not be in play on fifteen. The incorporation of a pond on 16 and 17, a longer par 5 and short par 4 result in two strategic holes where one has to decide how much of the water they want to take on if searching for an eagle or birdie.
I felt the back nine to be more interesting than the front nine. The front nine’s two best holes are the two par 3’s at the second and ninth, both of which feature good angled greens, bunkering, fall-offs, and a lot of slope on the greens. Both also in fort are a forced carry over a wide ravine or narrow stream. The second’s green has a substantial back tier about six feet above the front of the green and additional movement on the upper tier. The ninth’s green has a bit of a bowl and several plateaus while also well defended on its left side with three irregular shaped bunkers.
The rest of the front nine lacks visual distinctiveness from one hole to the next until one starts to approach the green. The longest par 4 on the front nine is the fourth at 490 yards without a bunker. I did not see much interesting about the fourth other than the sharp falloff on the back right. The fifth has another sharp falloff into the stream/ravine behind the green after a short collection area. On the front nine it is not difficult to get to the greens but finding the right section of the green is important to secure one’s par. The eight is the longest hole on the course at 625 yards where I do not recall any bunkers. The green features a shorter false front and a middle vertical spine.
The back nine begins with a longer par 4 with a green that is well bunkered on the front left with a swale behind it. It is a good hole. What I thought was the least interesting hole on the course is the twelfth, a long par 3 of 237 yards. Twelve is the second longest par 4 on the course at 496 yards, offering a hole with an interesting green behind a central front bunker. Thirteen is the hole that players try to reach from the tee but if they miss to the right of the green they will face a semi-blind recovery shot about nine feet up. Fourteen is likely an eagle r birdie opportunity for the longest hitters as long as they right of the stream down the left side. My favorite hole on the course is the short fifteen par 3 of 155 yards to an elevated green with run-offs on all sides and a false front. The green is well contoured and the hole features appropriate bunkering - none. Sixteen is a long par 5 with water down the right side as the dogleg turns right. The water crosses also in front of the green as well as to the right and left. This green is very narrow at its triangular front but gets fairly wide at the back half. It might be a bit too wide at its rear. My second favorite hole is seventeen which plays around the lake that curves to the right and in front of the green. I like the options offered by the seventeenth as well as the requirement for execution. The finishing hole is straightforward and the longest par 4 on the course at 503 yards. It features perhaps the third best green on the course and is also very large.
I was impressed by Memorial Park for its playability and routing. It is a great course for walking. For the tournament it is a very good course for spectators given the amount of room between the holes and the drama offered by the finish. The only real criticism is that many of the holes look and play the same. Perhaps I would play a few more municipal courses if they were as good as this.
From someone who plays a good third of his rounds on various municipal courses nowhere near as good as Memorial Park: you should definitely play more of them.
Jeff - this might not be the most convincing argument Mark’s ever heard for playing more muni golf!
Jeff and BB,
I recall Golf Magazine did an article on the top 30 municipal courses in the USA this year. I have yet to play Bethpage Red, but on their list I have now played 7 of their top 10. I am a bit annoyed that I did not have time to play Pinon Hills while on a three day trip in New Mexico. I also had a choice between Brackenridge Park or Oak Hills CC near San Antonio and wisely chose Oak Hills.
Other than Bethpage Red, I would like to play Charleston as I heard so many good things about it after the renovation done by Troy Miller.
Possibly the next one might be Sleepy Hollow in Ohio although I would probably choose to play all of the bigger private courses in the Cleveland-Akron-Canton area, of which I have played all of them other than Pepper Pike.
I also wish that Eisenhower Red had been either included in the New York state rankings or mentioned in the Golf Magazine article. The Red held an early PGA won by Walter Hagan as well as a Champions Tour event for several years. The course was designed by A.W. Tillinghast and its great green complexes are still evident. It needs better bunkering. Yet, much like George Wright in Boston, the city/county will not invest in improvements, but only provide for annual maintenance as they siphon any excess funds back to other needs of the city/county.
Come to think of it, I was also impressed with Cedar Crest in Dallas, another course that held an early PGA and another design is by A.W. Tillinghast. On that course, there is great movement in the land with a terrific routing but the city has allowed the greens to shrink, eliminated most fall-offs and removed bunkers. It could be really good.
There is a reason why municipal golf courses are not sought out except by locals. A better model would be to invest in improvements beyond basic maintenance, and charge visitors/non-residents a much higher green fee in order to pay for it. But unless there is a major benefactor such as National Links Trust (Washington, DC) most municipals will never get the funding they need or even the maintenance staff that is required. Most members of city councils and even in the parks departments will opt to fund other areas because it benefits more of their constituency. I think they are missing a better opportunity. I believe Memorial Park serves as a real role model, even if they can't get a PGA tour event. Until then most municipal courses are usually avoided by visitors given most other public courses are kept in better condition. As for my 3.5 rating, it is not a reflection of where it stands in terms of the municipal courses across the USA, but a reflection of the many better courses in Texas.
Mark - this is a second mention of Eisenhower Red by a (very experienced & discerning) reviewer - think MJ Ward has also referred to it when talking about public options in New York.
Should it be featured on this site - for its greens, renovation potential, and accessibility - even if as a Gem?
I had read that it was designed by Devereux Emmet - the chap who did nearby Garden City
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.
Yes, Emmet. When I played it with my GD rater friend, we discussed Emmet…
I would add it to New York as it gets so much play, even if a flat course, as the greens and green complexes are good. Maybe there should be a category for those courses under “historically significant” in terms of hosting an important event but not otherwise listed.