Memorial Park Remade

Houston PGA Tour stop gets new look, new home

Houston PGA Tour stop gets new look, new home
Courtesy photo

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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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The NBA Draft takes place this Wednesday and Thursday. Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images.

This year's NBA draft features potential starters and valuable role players more so than no-doubt future stars. That becomes evident when looking at the headlining prospects among big men.

French teenager Alexandre Sarr from France could go No. 1 overall with his length and defensive potential, key reasons why he has thrice topped the AP's NBA mock draft. Meanwhile, Donovan Clingan from two-time reigning national champion UConn also will likely be a high pick as a rim-protecting force.

It's just unclear how quickly any will be ready for a leading role in the league, particularly offensively.

Here's a look at some of the top players in the position:

Alexandre Sarr, France

STRENGTHS: The athleticism, mobility and length offer significant upside at both ends of the court for the 7-footer, whether as a rim protector and versatile defender or as a rim-runner off pick-and-rolls for lobs on offense. Sarr, 19, spent two seasons with the Overtime Elite developmental program for top prospects in the United States, then last season with Perth in the Australian-based National Basketball League as part of its “Next Stars” program. He ranked tied for second there by averaging 1.5 blocks despite averaging just 17.3 minutes.

He finished strong by averaging 10.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 1.3 assists in his last six games with Perth. He also ranked among the best at the combine with a wingspan of better than 7-4.

CONCERNS: He'll need time to add bulk to a lean 224-pound frame and handle the rigors of an NBA season. Developing more consistent 3-point range (he shot 29% in the NBL last season) will be key to fully realizing his defense-stretching potential.

Donovan Clingan, UConn

STRENGTHS: He is big, strong and surprisingly nimble for his imposing 7-2, 282-pound frame, which made him an interior shot-blocking force in the Huskies' run to college basketball's first repeat men's title in 17 years. He ranked eighth in Division I by averaging 2.5 blocks per game despite playing just 22.6 minutes, then had some massive games in the NCAA Tournament. That included eight blocks and 14 rebounds in the second-round win against Northwestern, followed by 22 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in a regional final against Illinois (the Illini were 0 for 19 on Clingan-challenged shots ) and four more swats against Alabama in the Final Four.

The 20-year-old sophomore runs the floor well despite his bulk and is a strong finisher. He also was tied for first at the combine in standing reach (9-7) and was second in wingspan (nearly 7-7).

CONCERNS: It's unclear how well he might handle switches to defend outside the paint in space. While he shot nearly 64% to rank among the national leaders, he has rarely had to produce much outside of the paint. He also shot just 55.8% from the line in two seasons.

Kel'el Ware, Indiana

STRENGTHS: The 20-year-old sophomore has flashed intriguing two-way potential to make himself a first-round prospect, first in a season at Oregon and then last year at Indiana. He averaged 15.9 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks last season as a starter for the Hoosiers. He made 17 of 40 3-pointers (.425), indicating the potential for growth in terms of pulling defenders outside.

The 7-footer has a nearly 7-5 wingspan and tested well at the NBA combine by ranking second among bigs in the lane agility test (second at 10.97 seconds) and shuttle run (second, 2.91).

CONCERNS: He'll need to add strength to his 230-pound frame and improve at the line, where he shot just 63.4% last year.

Kyle Filipowski, Duke

STRENGTHS: The 6-11, 230-pound sophomore could play either forward or center as a first-round prospect. He was a steady producer by averaging 15.8 points and 8.6 rebounds with the Blue Devils. He also more than doubled his shot-blocking totals last year (54, up from 26 as a freshman) when having to work as Duke's interior anchor after Dereck Lively II's departure for the NBA. He has shown improved mobility and footwork after surgery on his hips before last season, and he has improved as an outside shooter (34.8% from 3 last year, up from 28.2% in 2022-23).

CONCERNS: Filipowski isn't an elite athlete, so he could be vulnerable defensively in space as well as struggle against physical play. He slipped at the foul line last year, shooting just 67.1% after checking in at 76.5% as a freshman.

Others of Note

—ZACH EDEY: The 7-4, 299-pound Purdue center is a two-time Associated Press men’s college basketball player of the year who led the Boilermakers to last year’s NCAA title game as the national scoring leader (25.2) and Division I’s No. 2 rebounder (12.2). He closed his career with 37 points in the title-game loss to UConn. He has a ridiculous wingspan of nearly 7-11 to go with the ability to shoot over any defender. There is uncertainty whether the first-round prospect is athletic enough to handle defensive switches or guarding in space.

—DARON HOLMES II: The 6-9, 236-pound junior from Dayton spent the past two seasons putting up big numbers, averaging 19.3 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting 56.7%. He also hit 38.6% of his 3s last year and averaged 2.1 blocks for his college career. The Atlantic 10 co-player of the year and league defensive player of the year could go in the back half of the first round, though he is a bit undersized among bigs.

—YVES MISSI: The 6-11, 229-pound center from Baylor came on as the season went on as a one-and-done prospect with bouncy athleticism, helping him finish at the rim (61.4% shooting) and block shots (1.5). That could make him a pick-and-roll or lob threat in the pros, though the 20-year-old from Cameroon will have to expand his offense beyond those crowd-charging dunks and improve at the line (61.6%).

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