Proposed bill transfers UT-owned Lions Municipal Golf Course to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

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Photo Credit: Mary Pistorius | Daily Texan Staff

Lions Municipal Golf Course, one of the first desegregated golf courses in the South, would be transferred from University ownership to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department if a bill considered by the legislature passes.

Senate Bill 822, authored by State Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, would require Texas Parks and Wildlife to continue operating the land as a golf course, otherwise, ownership of the course would revert back to UT.

The golf course is part of the Brackenridge Tract, a 300 acre piece of land donated to the University by George W. Brackenridge. SB 822 would transfer only the 141 acre golf course to state control, leaving the rest under University ownership.

Estes said the course should be cared for by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department because of its historical significance. He said the bill’s intention is to protect the golf course from any
University development.

“I have never been anything but proud of the University of Texas … but I feel very strongly that what we will hear today represents a miscalculation on the University’s part,” Estes said. “Value is not simply a monetary calculation. History has value.”

UT President Gregory Fenves said the University is committed to preserving the history of the golf course and they are still negotiating with the city of Austin about future plans for the land. At this point, neither side has come to any definitive solution, Fenves said.

Fenves said currently the University receives $490,000 annually from leasing the golf course, which goes toward scholarships, bringing distinguished faculty to the University and funding
innovative programs.

“I view the land as part of our endowment … that has been gifted to the University for the purposes of education.” Fenves said.

Professional golfer Ben Crenshaw testified Tuesday in favor of the bill and said his priority is saving the course because of its immeasurable value to the people who play there.  

“I’m a product of the University of Texas,” Crenshaw said. “I grew up in the shadow of the Tower and I love it, too, and this has been very difficult for me. But I am going to put up whatever reputation I have for saving this course.”

Douglas Brinkley, CNN Presidential Historian and history professor at Rice University, said Muny is a priceless piece of civil rights heritage that needs to be protected.

“The University of Texas is now going nationally and internationally saying ‘We don’t give a damn about national historic registered places,’” Brinkley said. “They are saying ‘Who cares, money is more important than American heritage,’ and I think that’s a bad message.”

Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, said the legislature would be setting a bad precedent if they adopt this bill.

“I feel like this is University property and the legislature should stay out of the way,” Huffines said.

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, questioned whether the legislature has ever redistributed land in such a way. Seliger said he sees this bill as circumventing negotiations and taking away opportunities from the University to develop the land and generate more revenue.

Estes said he was unadvised as to whether a land deal like this has been done before, but said the legislature has the authority to move the land from one state agency to another.

The bill was left pending in the Senate Committee of Natural Resources and Economic Development and will be reconsidered at a later date.