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East End Groups Divided Over Future of Historic Golf Course

Texas’ oldest golf course could be restored, or transformed into botanic gardens.

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Gus Wortham Park is the oldest golf course in Texas.

The Gus Wortham Golf Course is the oldest course in Texas and the second-oldest west of the Mississippi. It sits along the curve of Brays Bayou just off Wayside near I-45 South. It was the original Houston Country Club, where Howard Hughes famously played and where oil men brokered their deals on the links.

Newly-elected District I Councilmember Robert Gallegos says it’s also falling apart.

“Something has to be done with Gus Wortham. The golf course has fallen in disrepair.”

The historic golf course has suddenly emerged as a pressing issue in his district as civic leaders are clamoring for something to be done with the aging site.

“The golf course has been there for over 106 years and we just can’t rush something,” Gallegos said.

The East End is divided on what the future of the park should be, one group wants to preserve the golf course and restore it to its former glory. Another group wants to turn the 130-acre greenspace into a botanic garden.

Sylvia Medina is on the board of the Eastwood Civic Association. She says Houston is the largest city in the country without a botanical garden.

“The restoration of the 18-hole golf course will only serve a small portion. On average, on the weekends I understand they may have 200 golfers. While we feel that the botanic garden provides a quality of life amenity to the residents of the East End.”

But supporters of the Gus Wortham say there’s another location where the botanic garden could be built, on the Glenbrook golf course near Hobby Airport.

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Both courses are city-owned and both are losing money.

Yolanda Black-Navarro is president of the Navigation-Area Business Association.

The way she sees it, the city could preserve a slice of its history and open a botanic garden.

“I think there’s a place for the gardens and a place to restore our history and for this to continue as a golf course with amenities for our youth, for our universities, for our residents, for our tourists.”

It would cost about $14 million to restore the golf course and it’s likely that ongoing fundraising would be required to maintain it annually. But a botanical garden would require an initial investment of at least $40 million.

A nonprofit group called the Houston Botanic Garden is trying to raise that money.

Despite the lack of funding on either side, Houston Mayor Annise Parker says she’d like to see a final proposal by the end of April. Parker, who is an avid gardener herself, stops just short of endorsing the Gus Wortham location.

“I think Gus Wortham Golf Course would be the perfect site for a botanic garden. But that issue is still unsettled, the community is very well split on the issue.”

Parker says the Gus Wortham site is an obvious choice because it will be the last stop on the East End light rail line and is closer to the center of the city than the Glenbrook golf course.

But she says her main goal is to facilitate the creation of a botanic garden with a long-term lease of city land on whichever site is deemed practical, a plan that will require the approval of city council.

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Laurie Johnson

Executive Producer for News

Laurie Johnson leads daily news coverage for HPM. She helps reporters craft and sharpen their stories on tight deadlines, with the aim of getting the most relevant and current information into local newscasts. Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. She is...

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