Brackenridge Set for Renovation

By: Steve Habel

Plans for the renovation of the famed A.W. Tillinghast-designed Brackenridge Park in San Antonio were unveiled last month. The work shows that 15 of the course's original holes will be back in place when it reopens in late-summer or early-fall of 2008.

At a news conference on the No. 10 tee box at the site, Municipal Golf Association-San Antonio chairman Reid Meyers displayed an aggressive game plan for Brackenridge Park that includes upgrades to the course, clubhouse and adjacent Borglum Studio. Additionally, hiking and biking trails will be added to the periphery of the property. More than $4.5 million of the $6.3 million project is earmarked for work on the golf course.

"This is part of the history of San Antonio, and it will receive its just due," said Jim Roschek, the general manager of the MGA-SA.

The restoration of Brackenridge Park is the initial and most expensive and expansive portion of a three-year plan to improve the city of San Antonio's lagging golf operations. As part of plan, the association will combine the city's seven municipal courses under the heading of the "Alamo City Golf Trail," including a new logo that integrates the shape of the Alamo with a ball and tee.

The Brackenridge renovations will include the introduction of a new Texas Golf Museum, a Texas Golf Walk of Fame and areas to honor the late Tillinghast and other influential headliners from the area's golf past. Meanwhile, the dilapidated Borglum Studio will be renovated and converted into a conference center and museum dedicated to Gutzon Borglum, the renowned sculptor and designer of Mount Rushmore.

Arlington, Texas-based golf architect John Colligan and his associate, Trey Kemp, pondered how to handle the renovation of San Antonio's celebrated Brackenridge municipal layout, they found themselves reciting a fitting mantra: "What would Tillinghast do?' "

"You know, WWTD," Colligan said. "We thought we should have some of those bracelets made."

The rich history of Brackenridge, designed by one of the most distinguished architects in the country's history, weighed heavily on Colligan as he cultivated ideas for its restoration. The result will be a makeover of the historic course based on Tillinghast's original 1915 blueprint.

The course's front nine is lined by ancient oak trees and will be routed roughly the same as now but with some Tillinghast touches, including the addition of flat sand traps with steep-grass faces. In the process, the number of sand traps on the course will roughly double to 64.

The back nine, which is fairly open and brings more wind into play, will be dramatically recast to match the original design, with No. 10 moved over to just off the ninth green and each hole re-routed in some way through the final hole. The home hole will be a par-3 with a tee box close to where the 17th fairway is now, ending with its putting surface right next to the clubhouse.

The most dramatic addition to Brackenridge will be the re-introduction of water into the original path of the San Antonio River, flowing under stone bridges that for decades have stood above only ditches and grass. An example of the changes can be seen on the par-3 10th, as golfers will hit over two bends in the resurrected river to reach a green 190 yards away. The entire course will stretch 6,159 yards from the tips, not much different than the current length.

First opened in 1918, this San Antonio golf course is the oldest in the city's municipal system. Brackenridge is the former and long-time host of the PGA Winter Tour event, and currently the modest green fees are in the $12-20 range.

Financial support will come from an original funding agreement with the city, which created the hybrid public-private MGA-SA last spring to govern its golf operations, outside fundraising and additional money loaned against projected profits once Brackenridge is reopened. "Let's just say the race has begun," San Antonio deputy city manager Pat DiGiovanni said. "We have a lot of hard work ahead of us. If we do things the way we planned it, the city of San Antonio can expect the same on its other golf courses."