Category: Municipal Golf
By Richard Dean
One of the most accomplished amateurs in the history of Houston golf, Mike Booker is putting together a resume worthy of being in the hall of fame.
Actually, he’s already a hall of famer. Booker is a 2019 selection into the Texas Golf Hall of Fame. He will be inducted on Oct. 14 at Brackenridge Golf Course in San Antonio in the amateur category.
Booker added to his legacy on Sunday, winning the 2019 Greater Houston Senior City Amateur Championship for the fourth time, giving him eight city championships. Booker, who successfully defended his senior title, has won the city amateur four times.
“It’s a little crazy,” Booker said. “If somebody would have told me I would have won eight city ams, that would have surprised me. You never know what to expect, all you can do is just go out and play and not take yourself too seriously and do the best that you can do. Sometimes it works out like it did today.”
Booker seized control of the tournament during Sunday’s final round, rallying past 2016 champion John Dowdall for a 4-under-par 67 over Gus Wortham Park Golf Course to beat Dowdall by two shots. Gary Durbin, winner of this event in 2012, finished third.
Playing a twosome ahead of Dowdall, who led after each of the first and second round, Booker, 64, won this one coming down the stretch. Dowdall, who played superbly for the first 50 holes of the three-day, 54-hole tournament, bogeyed three of the final four holes.
Striking the ball more crisply on Sunday than he did during Saturday’s second round, Booker carded rounds of 71-70-67 for a 5-under-208.
“I had a different swing thought today, and that made all the difference,” said Booker, a member of the 1977 national championship golf team at the University of Houston. “I hit the ball really as good as I’m capable. I never really got in trouble, it was like night and day.”
Making the victory more enjoyable for Booker was that he was competing against friends and playing in what he feels is the best city amateur championship in the United States, conducted by the Houston Golf Association.
“It’s probably the greatest city am in the country because the HGA does such a great job of running it,” said Booker, who plays out of River Oaks Country Club. “It almost feels like a professional tournament and Houston has the best players, having played against them for 40 years. So when you beat a great field in a great city on what has turned out to be a great golf course, all I can do is smile and feel good about that.
“All these years compete against these guys literally for 40 years, part of that is that satisfaction that I’m still competing, still being competitive, and part of it is that most of my friends are still around and still playing. So that’s very fulfilling and satisfying.”
Dowdall, who played with Durbin in the final twosome, put together rounds of 67-71-72. The Fulshear resident finished 3-under 210, one shot better that Durbin, who shot 73-68-70 for 2-under 211.
“I played well for two-and-a-half days, back nine got me,” Dowdall said. “I played solid, just didn’t make the putts and didn’t finish well. A few bogeys coming in, let it slip away.
“Mike played really well, a 67. That’s a really good round out here.”
For the second straight week Dowdall let a final-round three-shot lead get away. A week ago Dowdall couldn’t close the deal in the Texas Golf Association’s Texas Senior Amateur at The Deerwood Club of Kingwood, won by Durbin.
“I got to get the Sundays down,” Dowdall said.
For Durbin, its two top-three finishes in prestigious back-to-back tournaments.
“It’s always good to finish in the top three in the city,” Durbin said. “It’s been a good two-week run. I’m playing well. Mike played great to come back and win.
“Gus is a fun course to play. It’s short, tricky, a lot of it is in the greens. They did a great job in the redo of the golf course. It’s very short but it’s very tricky and you have to be patient. It was a good week. I’m happy to finish third and there’s two great players ahead of me.”
Booker got it done by being Mike Booker, a consistent golfer who understands how to manage a golf course as well as his game. Booker’s consistent, doesn’t get in trouble often, and is a good ball striker. That’s what it takes to beat the best senior amateurs in the Houston area on a regular basis.
With Memorial Park Golf Course in the process of being renovated and unavailable for play in 2019, the HGA held the senior city amateur for the first time at Gus Wortham, receiving praise from golfers who competed in the senior amateur as well as players in last week’s city amateur.
“It surprised me that it’s in such good shape as it is. I enjoyed it,” Dowdall said of the 6,400-yard layout. “It’s a bit of a challenge, they have some tough pins, but it’s a nice course. You’re going to have to have the accuracy or you’re going to make bogey.”
Gus Wortham plays short in yardage, but it can be a good test of golf. Golfers need to get their golf balls on the correct section of a green or a tough two-putt awaits.
Booker offered his take on the municipal golf course, which originally was Houston Country Club.
“This is absolutely a classic thinking man’s golf course,” Booker said. “You really need to know where to place the ball off the tee. More importantly, you need to control where the ball is on the green, make sure you don’t miss it on one particularly side per hole, because it’s a strong enough golf course that if you put your ball in the wrong place, even on the green or close to the green, it’s going to be difficult to make par.”
It’s victories like this that has Booker getting a well-deserved spot in the Texas Golf Hall of Fame.
“I’ve known for a couple of months and I still can’t think of the right way to describe it,” Booker said. “Winning a tournament is a real ego boost and gives you that great feeling, but it fades away. But being inducted into the hall of fame has staying power. I’ve very humbled by it, it’s a terrific thing.”
By Richard Dean
For the longest time over the weekend it was a foregone conclusion that John Hunter was going to win his second Greater Houston City Amateur Championship in much the same manner in which he won his first one five years ago. In dominating fashion.
Hunter did beat the field, and his trophy for winning the 2019 Greater Houston City Amateur Championship at Gus Wortham Park Golf Course is proof of that, to go along with winning the event in 2014. Hunter won five years ago by a whopping nine shots.
The win in 2019 didn’t come as easily for Hunter, even though at one point in the tournament he reached 10 under and had a commanding nine-shot advantage.
Devaughn Robinson, who was the city amateur champion in 2017, made Hunter work for the victory. Despite his large lead in the second round, Hunter, 35, lost all of that lead to Robinson and in Sunday’s fourth and final round had to overcame a four-shot deficit over the final three holes to beat Robinson by two shots for first place in a battle of past champions.
“This one was a bit of a rollercoaster,” said Hunter, a financial advisor who plays out of The Club at Carlton Woods. “I was able to get a little momentum the first two rounds, and today I was just trying to stay relevant and climb my way in.”
Hunter and Robinson distanced themselves from the field over some of the Houston area’s top amateur golfers.
In the first year the city amateur has been played at the restored Gus Wortham Park Golf Course, managed by the Houston Golf Association, Hunter finished the three-day, four-round tournament at 5-under 275. Robinson finished at 3-under 277. Tyler Uhlig of Magnolia was third at 1-over 281.
“I don’t feel bad about the tournament,” Robinson said. “I played OK, I’m proud of myself. I’ll be back. I held my own. This is just more motivation. I feel I’m coming into form, I’m not there yet. I had enough this week to win.”
After opening with a 73 on Friday, Robinson, 31, got into contention with a 6-over 64 on Saturday. Robinson played Sunday’s final 36 holes in rounds of 69-71.
But the final three holes on Sunday was Robinson’s undoing. Going into the 16th hole with a comfortable four-shot lead over Hunter, Robinson played the final three holes at 4 over, including a double-bogey 7 on the par-5 17th hole after he pulled his tee shot into the water on the left.
“So close,” Robinson said. “I played a pretty solid round this morning. I felt I did what I needed to do with a windy day and tough pins. I played 33 really good holes. I just made some really loose swings coming in and ultimately that’s what it boiled down to.”
While Robinson, who played brilliantly on Sunday on most of the holes, struggled down the stretch, his playing partner Hunter birdied holes 16 and 17 to go up by one shot.
“John is a phenomenal golfer,” Robinson said. “When we were coming in, I knew I was going to have to play some really good golf to catch him. He did what a champion does, finish strong and hung in there until he saw an opportunity and capitalized. That’s a true champion.”
Hunter had started Sunday with a sizeable seven-shot lead entering the final 36 holes and still led by three (-7, to -4) after the third round with 18 holes to play. Then Robinson, a Houstonian who plays out of Cypresswood Golf Club, took over, and with three holes remaining was 7 under to 5 under for Hunter.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do the rest of the way in and Devaughn was hitting it steady, flagging it and making putts and doing all of that, and I was just trying to stay in it,” Hunter said. “Somehow I popped a good tee ball on 16 and was able to convert the putt (for birdie) and put a little pressure on. Hit a great tee ball on the next hole (17) and made one of my better up and downs in the tournament to make birdie, and found my way in.
“He just had a little slip up last three holes and it compounded. He hit the ball way better than I did.”
Hunter, who played college baseball at Purdue, has always played well in the Houston city amateur. He moved to Houston in 2008 from Indiana and first started playing in the city am in 2012, placing third. In addition to his 2019 and 2014 wins, Hunter finished second in both 2015 and ’16, and shared fourth in 2018.
“It seems somehow I get myself up and ready for it,” said Hunter, who particularly likes the 6,395-yard par-70 layout of Gus Wortham. “I always look forward to this tournament. I came out Wednesday and saw the course and said this is a good course.
“I always look forward to the event. It’s always a fun one to play in, you get your buddies coming out and playing and meet a few new guys. Heck, just seeing a course like this and to be able to play in conditions like this, it’s one of the best courses I’ve played all year and it’s a city course.
“The greens are great, the bunkers are good, the layout …what they’ve turned this into. This is way better shape than we played Memorial the last few years and Memorial was never in bad shape. With this renovation, they’ve done a heck of a job with it.”
First opened in 1908 as the original Houston Country Club, Gus Wortham was restored in 2018 and is now operated by the HGA through a contract with the city of Houston.
I love the golf course,” Robinson said. “I’m definitely going to be back and I’ll be an advocate to getting people to come out and play.”
HOUSTON, TX (October 10, 2018) Houston Golf Association (HGA) announced the reopening of the Historic Gus Wortham Park Golf Course. The golf course and driving range will reopen to the public on Saturday, October 13 which will mark the completion of phase one of the project. Located off of Wayside, near Lawndale, HGA commenced its restoration in January 2017 bringing the golf course up to modern standards while preserving its historic design.
Situated along Brays Bayou and east of downtown Houston, Gus Wortham Park Golf Course has continued to be an attraction for golfers since the early 1900s, when it was the Houston Country Club. All improvements to the 150-acre site were performed with natural resource sustainability as an overarching principle. Phase one of the golf course restoration overhauled the irrigation system for better water conservation, added a new irrigation lake for storm water retention, and reestablished creek banks while preserving the uniqueness and beauty of the original design.
“I’m excited to see HGA complete the first phase of the restoration of Gus Wortham Park Golf Course,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “This is a great example of the private sector working in partnership with the City to enhance public amenities. The overall project will bring a first-class amenity to the East End neighborhood and surrounding communities, while preserving an important legacy in Houston’s remarkable history. The inclusion of The First Tee at the facility will provide our youth with opportunities to learn life skills and key values while having some fun with golf.”
On Dec. 31, 2015, HGA was awarded operations of the facility through a contract with the City of Houston. After working through a mutually agreed upon operational transition, HGA commenced management and maintenance responsibility of Gus Wortham Park Golf Course in February 2016 to operate the facility as 501(c)(3) non-profit self-supporting enterprise. Under this structure, HGA raises private funds for restoration and upgrading of facilities, as well as, reinvestment of cash flow for sustaining facility quality. A campaign is currently underway to initiate construction of phase two, which includes a new clubhouse, educational space for local youth participating in The First Tee of Greater Houston, as well as maintenance and cart storage facilities.
“Completing the first phase of the Gus Wortham Park Golf Course restoration project was a tremendous undertaking, and the Houston Golf Association has delivered on its commitment to restore the course to its former glory,” said City Councilman Robert Gallegos. “We are looking forward to phase two, which will bring a new club house and other first-class amenities to the East End and surrounding communities. Gus Wortham will not only offer a great golfing experience, it will also serve as a permanent home for The First Tee youth development and enrichment program serving children in our city.”
Councilman Gallegos has also allocated funding to widen the public sidewalks that surround the golf course on Lawndale and Wayside. When complete, the new 8-foot-wide sidewalks will loop around the golf course and provide users direct connection to the Brays Bayou Hike and Bike Trail system and beyond. The sidewalk project is tentatively scheduled to begin in November.
“Golf is a sport that can be enjoyed by everyone,” said Steve Timms, CEO/President of the Houston Golf Association and The First Tee of Greater Houston. “The restoration of Gus Wortham Park Golf Course, along with our continued efforts to reinvest back into our neighborhoods by improving public golf courses, helps the HGA further our mission to grow the game of golf at every level. It is our hope that the impact of this work will be felt for generations to come.”
The impact of the restoration of the Gus Wortham Park Golf Course will enhance quality of life for residents with a best-in-class recreational amenity, be a catalyst for economic development in the East End and provide expanded educational opportunities for local area youth through programming by the HGA’s wholly-owned subsidiary The First Tee of Greater Houston.
Golf course architect Baxter Spann was responsible for the design of the project paying strict attention to the historic components of the golf course.
For more information about the project, visit GusWortham.org or call 281-459-8722.
About Houston Golf Association
Since 1946, The Houston Golf Association has existed to make a difference in Houston communities and in the lives of our youth through golf and charity. An essential part of its impact is the Municipal Golf Initiative, which upgrades public golf facilities, beautifies green spaces, and creates a place to mentor youth through The First Tee of Great Houston program. With nearly 350,000 children benefitting already, these programs are a resounding success for the future of Houston. For more information go to hga.org.