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"Golden Buckle" of the Sunbelt is the Lone Star State's Golf Capitol

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp will be profiling some of country's best golf cities in honor of America's resilient spirit over the past year.

HOUSTON, TX – Brad Pitt's bit part in "Thelma and Louise" was first offered to George Clooney. The role of Indiana Jones was first offered to Tom Selleck. The role of major port city on the Gulf coast of Texas was first offered to Galveston, but Houston stole the part in an odd twist of fate, and has since gone on to become one of the largest, wealthiest cities in the U.S.

Galveston and Houston maintained a healthy rivalry during the later half of the 19th century. Galveston had the deep water port, Houston had the better railroad connections. By 1900, Houston's population had swelled to 44,000, and Galveston's to 37,000. The balance of power was forever altered, however, when a powerful hurricane swept through the area on Sept. 4, 1900. Galveston, precariously perched on a sandy barrier island, was devastated. One half of the city's buildings were destroyed and over 5000 people were killed. Houston, well inland and protected by the shallow waters of the Buffalo Bayou, was virtually untouched.

A nifty little public works project funded by the federal government led to the construction of the Houston Ship Channel, and in 1901, oil was discovered just outside of town in the Spindletop fields near Beaumont. Fast forward 100 years and Houston is home to 1.9 million people, one of the world's largest ports, most of the nation's oil, NASA, a new NFL franchise, and embarrassing amounts of daily fee and semiprivate golf. Yes Houston, we have a problem: where to tee it up first.

Houston's Golf History

The inaugural Houston Open took place in 1946, and to this day is one of the most popular non-major PGA Tour events. This is due, in no small part, to the list of names associated with Houston golf: Jimmy Demaret, Jack Burke, Jr., Dave Marr, Doug Sanders, Steve Elkington, Jeff Maggert, Mike Standly, and John Mahaffey, to name a few. Houston also boasts some notable teaching professionals as well — Willy McGuire, Jackson Bradley, Claude Harmon, Dick Harmon, and Robin Williams to name a few.

In terms of facilities, the Houston golf arsenal is staggering. Some 200 courses are attributed to the metro area, over 100 of which are available for public consumption. While summers range from muggy to oppressive, fall, winter and spring provide some of the best golfing weather in the U.S. The average annual temperature is 70 degrees and the city sees over 250 sunny days per year. Houston's shimmering skyline and posh residential neighborhoods ooze big bucks. But the city is still unabashedly interested in the plight of the common man as evidenced by its investment in its public golf facilities.

The Lineup

Two city-run courses have garnered some serious press in recent years. In 1996, Memorial Park Golf Course underwent an extensive overhaul, including contoured fairways, resurfaced tees and greens, reinstallation of bunkers, and new landscaping. The course's Spanish-colonial clubhouse has become something of a landmark in the Golden Buckle. Memorial Park is just a five-minute drive from downtown Houston and is rated as one of the best municipal golf courses in Texas. Just a 5-iron away in the Museum District sits Hermann Park Golf Course, one of the city's oldest municipal courses and one of its finest since the completion of a two-year renovation project.

Houston is also home to one of the country's most talked about "replica" courses, Tour 18. Holes represented include Augusta's Amen Corner, Harbour Town's 18th with the red and white lighthouse, Doral's "Blue Monster" and the Mickey Mouse ears sand trap of Disney's sixth hole. For years, the city's highest rated course was the TPC Woodlands, the host site of the Shell Houston Open. But the new Rees Jones designed Houstonian Golf Club, a Golf Magazine Top 10 You Can Play for 2000, is making a strong bid for the honors. For a taste of Houston's quasi-maritime setting, head for the South Shore Harbor Resort near Galveston Bay.


Houston sports over 8000 eateries, and it's little wonder why: according to the Zagats, Houstonians eat out an eye-popping 4.5 times per week. There are plenty of upscale offerings, like Tony's near the Galleria, but affordable options abound. Remember, this is where BBQ meets Mexican food, so the city is teeming with out of the way mom-and-pop style joints with checkered table clothes and neon beer signs in the windows. Goode Company Bar-B-Q is family owned and operated and offers some of the best mesquite barbecue. The Pappas family's Pappasito's Cantina is home to great Tex-Mex mesquite-grilled fajitas. Molina's is another long-time favorite for Houstonians.

Getting There

You may not have been to it, but you've probably been through it. Houston has the fourth largest airport system in the United States, and the sixth largest in the world. The city's three commercial airports are Bush Intercontinental Airport, William P. Hobby Airport and Ellington Field. The three airports serve 150 markets worldwide, and due to its total passenger volume and its central location, fares to Houston from mid and large sized cities are typically below average.

Houston-based Continental Airlines offers more than 475 departures a day from Bush Intercontinental. Metropolitan Transit Authority's (METRO'S) Light Rail project is currently under construction, with completion expected in 2004. The rail line will connect the Downtown with the Texas Medical Center and Reliant Park area.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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