Golf Course Renovation Update
(This article was written by Tim Elliott, Tony Butler Advisory Board Member and owner of Elliott Custom Golf and appeared in the February issue of Explore Harlingen Magazine .) What’s going on at the golf course? And why should we care? Harlingen’s Tony Butler Golf Course, located at 2640 S. “M” Street, is rich with history, including a professional golf tour stop in the 1930s and 1940s. Players such as Ben Hogan, Lee Trevino, Jimmy Demaret, and many other touring pros frequented Tony Butler Golf Course. (Tony Butler, Ben Hogan, and Jimmy Demaret were roommates during the Great Depression.) The course opening in 1939 gave the Rio Grande Valley its 5th golf course. At that time, Tony Butler Golf Course was called Harlingen Municipal Golf Course. Over the years, the golf course has gone through three updates. Initially, the course grew from an 18-hole course to a 27-hole one. And only two other renovations have been completed over the past 84 years. In my opinion, those two renovations were more cosmetic and not considered structural improvements. Over the past 10 years, the golf course has struggled because of a lack of improvements. The condition of the course has deteriorated, causing many players to find other courses that were more current and in better playing conditions. Spring forward to current events at Tony Butler Golf Course. The City of Harlingen, with help from the Community Improvement Board (4 B Board), has agreed to fund an almost complete golf course renovation estimated at $5.5 million. (Please note that the funds being used for this project were designated to be used to improve the quality of life in Harlingen and cannot be used for other necessities such as roads or drainage.) This project includes the following: New state-of-the-art pumping station New enlarged greens from 3,000 square feet to 6,000 square feet, including PGA-standard turf and drainage. This includes not only the greens, but all areas adjacent to the greens, including new bunkers, rolling mounds, and hills. New Tee Boxes, to include five teeing stations for each hole. Most of the tee boxes will be elevated. Complete new irrigation system Paspalum grass will be used on all tee boxes, greens, and adjacent areas. Paspalum turf is a fast-growing, salt-tolerant grass. We will be able to have our own farm and the ability to purchase paspalum in sod, sprigs, or seed. This grass is cool looking, as it is a much brighter green that will stand out once completed. The addition of the new irrigation system will create lush fairways once installed. In early January, we were invited to take a tour of what has been happening at Tony Butler. Tours are expected to occur every 45 days until completion and will be offered free to the public. The tour was hosted by Jeff Lyssy, Tony Butler Greens Superintendent, and Bowen Larson, Mid-America Superintendent. Mid-America is the vendor that is doing the renovation. As we all listened to Mr. Larson, it was apparent he knows his stuff and exactly what the architect has envisioned. The renovation, currently, is not pretty. There’s no grass. But you can see the layout of the approach to all the greens. We are going to see some large undulations along with well-placed bunkers. Mr. Larson took us to hole number 4 and explained how they will be finishing the greens. He talked about how the putts would roll and break. He also explained that the greens would be “probed” many times to make sure those elevations are correct. As for the par-3 hole number 6, this hole now hosts six different tee boxes, with the longest featuring only 249 yards. We moved on the rest of the front 9, stopping at hole number 9 to view the new position of the tee boxes and the expansion of the lake. All I can say is that Jeff Bloom, the architect, must have a bit of a sadistic side because nothing remains the same at Tony Butler Golf Course. The most asked question has been “when will we be able to play the course?” I asked Jeff Hart, Tony Butler PGA pro, that exact question. Jeff stated the completion date should be somewhere around April/May, which is on track to what was originally estimated. That is when Mid-America will complete their tasks. Then they will turn the course over to Course Management. Jeff stated Mid-America plans to plant grass on March 1, 2024. Once all grasses are planted, the “grow-in phase” begins. The grow-in phase generally takes around six months, depending on the medium in which they are growing. Turf planting will be on our South Texas clay, which will slow the root development. The roots need to be at a certain depth before allowing play, to allow the turf to recover during the course of play. Because of this, Jeff Hart is estimating the grand opening date to be in mid-August or early September. As for economics, previous city management has viewed Tony Butler Golf Course as more of a liability than an asset. I personally disagree with their views. Not every citizen plays golf, uses the pool, hiking trails, or any other city attraction. It takes all the above. A top-class Tony Butler Golf Course will bring customers from out of town to play. In turn, they will most likely eat in Harlingen restaurants and stay in our hotels. Events being hosted by the Harlingen Convention Center may now use Tony Butler to assist in bringing conventions to Harlingen. Golf is no longer a rich man’s sport. This sport has exploded. We are now seeing couples and families playing golf. Young adults, ages 25 to 45, have emerged onto the scene. Tony Butler hosted more than 42,000 rounds during the 2022-2023 and we expect to be well above that in the 2024-2025 season after all renovations are completed. To attend a tour of the greens to see the latest progress of the renovations, call the Tony Butler clubhouse at 956-216-5970 to sign up. Limited spots are available. Tours are free, open to the public, and last about two hours, depending on the group and the number of questions being asked.