Memorial Park Remade

Houston PGA Tour stop gets new look, new home

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New look. New logo. New date. New vibe.

And lots of dirt being moved at Memorial Park Golf Course.

Yes, we're talking the Houston Open, which launched its 2019 reboot Wednesday afternoon by announcing the new 2019 fall date – October 7-13 – and a new logo. Think lots of Astros orange and blue plus a flagstick. And of course, a star.

With Houston City Council signing off on the project last week, Houston Astros owner Jim Crane, who jumped in to save the event last year, was ready to roll out plans for his vision for the Houston Open.

The tournament, whose history dates back to 1946, will return to its most recent home – the Golf Club of Houston – for the 2019 event before moving to a renovated Memorial Park in 2020. Architect Tom Doak was there to talk about the project, which Crane said Doak promises will be completed by the fall to ensure that it has the PGA TOUR's required one-year's growth before hosting the event. Crane plans to move the event to Memorial in 2020 and to eventually settle back into a spring date.

Before losing longtime title sponsor Shell Oil and being unable to secure another one, the Houston event had the coveted lead-in spot to the Masters, which gave it a strong field and an international flair.

Crane got involved because he didn't want to see the city lose the PGA TOUR and he said that profits will go back to the Houston community. "We're making no money off of this,'' he said. "I got involved because I didn't want to see our city lose the PGA Tour."

Memorial Park is the busiest and most popular public course in the city and will remain that way. In addition, it will have a signature First Tee program there for juniors.

"Any time you do something this big, people are concerned with change," said Crane, who has a five-year commitment with the TOUR. "At first, nobody likes change. But I know they're going to like this golf course when we're done with it."

The Astros Golf Foundation will run the event and course renovation, which will cost approximately $13.5 million, will come from private funds.

"It's a plus-plus," Crane said. "There's no cost to the taxpayers, and the Foundation has the resources to kick it off and get it running. It's a big commitment on our part, but at the end of the day the tournament will generate a lot of funds for the community. I know people don't like change sometimes, but I think they're going to be very happy with where we end up."

Houston Open tournament director Colby Callaway said the Houston Open will have a $7.5 million purse, a new feel and a new look.

"In addition to featuring an attractive field of golfers, we will also be adding some new elements for our spectators, including musical entertainment and a tailgate zone,'' he said. And the purse, he said, "will make it the premier fall event on the PGA TOUR in the U.S.A."

World No. 1 Brooks Koepka, who is a member at Crane's Floridian and teams in with Astros Golf Foundation president Giles Kibbe in the club's annual pro-am, has signed on to consult with Doak on the course and could be key to helping boost the field. In addition to Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson as also Floridian members.

Although the event will be in the early portion of the TOUR's wrap-around schedule in 2019, it could still draw a strong field. The FedEx Cup point system encourages players to earn points throughout the season so they can make the playoffs at the end of the year.

"Our goal is to work hard and establish a first-class tournament that one day will be considered one of the best on Tour," Crane said. "This tournament will benefit the City of Houston in many ways, creating revenue for the business community as well as generating significant dollars each year for the Houston Parks and Recreation Department and for the First Tee of Greater Houston.''

Crane's vision will make Houston one of a handful of cities hosting TOUR events on public courses. Next week's Farmers Insurance Open is at Torrey Pines, a public course which also hosted a U.S. Open, while Bethpage Black on Long Island has hosted two U.S. Opens, two FedEx Cup playoff events and will host this year's PGA and the 2024 Ryder Cup. Harding Park in San Francisco has hosted a number of events, including a Presidents Cup and a World Golf Championships event and will host the 2020 PGA.

The course will have to be brought up to TOUR standards with improved drainage and irrigation and rework some holes.

"Our commitment is to improve the course, provide the city with storm water retention, and also ensure the course is maintained for all Houstonians to enjoy affordable golf at a PGA-caliber facility," Kibbe said. "It will be a great addition to the city's iconic park."

PGA Tour executive vice president Andy Pazder talked about the growth of the TOUR's public course partnerships and said, "I anticipate that we'll very quickly add Memorial Park to that list of our great public venues.''

Callway and Kibbe both emphasized the added energy the event as a whole will bring to the city.

"Our new brand reflects our desire to get a new generation excited about golf in Houston," Kibbe said. "We want the tournament to bring together all walks of life for a great social experience, while watching the best athletes compete at an elite level. It is bright, bold and it reflects the values of the tournament – integrity, collaboration, passion, authenticity and fun."

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After a short turnaround, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to their Mecca at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the famed Coca-Cola 600. Of all the races in NASCAR, after Daytona this race may be the most important race on the schedule. The tradition started back in 1959 when former driver and hall of famer Curtis Turner teamed up with Burton Smith to build the track and upon its completion, they decided to make the first race at the new track on the same day as the Indy 500. In an effort to draw fans, they made the race 100 miles longer and from there the rest was history. This year's rendition will be somber though as no fans will be permitted to enter due to Covid-19, but even in this time of unrest it will be a relief to continue to see our heroes take on NASCAR's longest race.

For the first time, NASCAR pulled off it's first midweek race and it was a doozy. For most of the race there was a wide range of characters who were up front. Clint Bowyer set the tone early as he went on to win the first two stages but after getting caught in traffic he fell back. To make matters worse, Bowyer was involved in an accident that ended any chance of victory. While it wasn't the outcome he would have hoped for, to see how well he ran is a sign of good things to come for the Kansas native. I look forward to seeing how he rebounds.

With Bowyer out of it, the attention shifted to Chase Elliott. All night it seemed like he had the second best car and looked to be on his way to another victory but after the caution for Bowyer, Elliott lost a ton of track position after a bad pit-stop. This left the sports most popular driver stuck in traffic, but he was able to make his way back to second. In the final laps, he was easily the best car and appeared to be on his way past Denny Hamlin to take the victory but Kyle Busch had other ideas. The defending champion made a sudden right hand turn and veered into Elliott sending him head on into the wall.

It was safe to say that Elliott was not pleased as he gave Busch the one finger salute as he drove by under caution. The race was not able to resume as Mother Nature intervened giving Hamlin his second win of the season. Many fans and experts alike were critical of Busch's stunt, Jeff Gordon was quoted as saying "Not sure what that was all about." When the race was over, Busch was confronted by Elliott's Crew Chief Alan Gufston. When it was said and done security had to be called to separate the two. While it might not have been intentional, Busch has opened up a can of worms in the future for retaliation. It will be fun to watch what happens next.

Overall, the response to NASCAR's midweek race was overwhelmingly positive as it was the third highest watched event on television. As NASCAR continues to be fluid, more and more people are becoming interested. NASCAR journalist and reporter Adam Stern tweeted that more than thirty percent of the viewers of Sunday's race were new viewers. Even though we may not always agree with the way NASCAR does things, I have to say they have done an outstanding job at putting this schedule together. I hope that in the future, NASCAR continues this new tradition.

Moving on to Charlotte, The driver I have winning this weekend is Chase Elliott. In every race this season, Chase has been a force to be reckoned but has simply run into circumstances he can't control. At Vegas before the shutdown, he seemed to have the race in hand until a flat tire ended any chances of victory. Two weeks later at Phoenix, he led ninety-three laps until fading to a seventh place finish and with a new-found fire lit under him after Darlington, Elliott will be like a bull in the china shop come Sunday. While he has been great at every track he has run at, he has been especially fast at Charlotte. He currently has a 10.60 average finish there and has consistently led laps. This week, I think Elliott will get redemption and claim his sixth career victory in one of NASCAR's crown jewels. Look for him to take his #9 Napa Camaro to victory lane.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best website for all NASCAR stats)

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