Big-city park proposes parking meters for golfers

HOUSTON -- Want to speed up play in golf? Perhaps the new plan for Houston's Memorial Park Golf Course could spur golfers to play faster. Just fill the parking lot with parking meters and press players to get their rounds finished before time expires.

That's right. At Houston's crown jewel of municipal golf courses -- the 1936 John Bredemus design that played host to the Houston Open for 14 years (last one in 1963) and might someday again -- golfers will soon be charged for parking on top of green fees and range balls. Parking meters also will be installed in front of the tennis center and fitness center and pool, but the majority of them will be at the golf course. All total, the plan calls for 572 of the nearly 2,200 spaces at the park to get the new meters, which will charge one dollar per hour. Plans call for the new meters to be in place before fall, according the Memorial Park Conservancy, operator and manager of 1,100 acres of Memorial Park’s 1,500 acres.

The parallel parking alongside the roads that lead in and out to the park's amenities, as well as some other lots, will still be unmetered. So golfers who don't want to pay to park can take one of those spots, but they might have to carry their clubs a good ways. That's not exactly convenient, so most golfers, it would seem, will probably opt to pay the meter to avoid getting ticketed.

An even $2 or six hours would allow for range balls before the round and a beverage after play. Fortunately, these are the kind of meters you can pay with a phone app, so golfers won't have to carry exact change when they get to the golf course. But for golfers who don't have a smartphone, this could certainly be an inconvenience as they fumble to find the right change or swipe a credit card.

A gift that comes with a small price

But why is this happening?

Ironically, the new meters are being installed despite a generous donation from billionaire Richard Kinder (co-founder and executive chairman of Kinder Morgan Inc., an energy and pipeline corporation) and his wife, Nancy. The two gifted $70 million to fund a plan for sweeping improvements to the park, approved unanimously by Houston City three years ago. It's an ambitious project to say the least. Plans call for more bike and hike trails to connect with other existing trails in the city, a new running center and large sodded bridges, complete with trees and other plants, over Memorial Drive that connect what is now a divided park.

What this money doesn't cover, however, are overall maintenance costs of the park, which is why the city is installing the parking meters, which is part of Memorial Park’s 2015 Development Agreement with the city

By charging for parking, though, the city hopes to raise $135,000 for the fiscal year 2019 for maintenance, which isn't covered by the foundation. Another $200,000 from golf course revenue is also being earmarked for overall park maintenance. As it stands, Memorial Park Golf Course, which does more than 70,000 rounds per year, already helps fund the other golf courses in the city's municipal system.

Ads for the overall renovation of the park (which is ongoing), the master plan provides a "comprehensive vision to create a healthy balance between conservation and recreation," according to the Houston Conservancy.

It was designed by award-winning landscape architect firm Nelson Byrd Woltz with input from stakeholder groups and the general public.

"Seeking to enhance, preserve and protect Memorial Park for years to come, completed projects over the next decade will improve Houston’s mobility, connectivity, economic vitality, and resiliency. Hundreds of acres of parkland currently inaccessible will become accessible, urban barriers that isolate and segregate the park will be replaced with bridges and access points, and park ecologies will be restored to a healthier state," according to the Conservancy.

The course, by the way, might see even more dramatic changes in its near future as it's been mentioned as a possible host course for the PGA Tour's Houston Open, which is slated to move to the fall of 2019. THouston Astros owner and billionaire Jim Crane led a group that stepped in to take over sponsorship, though right now, it's not a title sponsor. Any such move to Memorial Park, however, would require a massive renovation of the golf course.

Some opposed the meter plan

While the parking plan was approved at City Council meeting on April 28, not all the council members believe the plan is fair. City Council member Mike Knox, At Large, Position 1, says golfers, tennis players and people who use the fitness center are being unfairly burdened. They represent the minority of the 4 million people who visit the park annually, he said.

"The vast majority of people who go to the park are joggers and bicyclists," Knox said. "And they're going to be able to continue to use the park and park in free areas. They're basically able to take advantage of park and they don't have to pay back. For some reason, the golfers, tennis players and people who use the fitness center – where those parking lots are convenient to those locations – are being asked to carry the burden."

Knox said he argued with the conservancy that it should be all or nothing.

"You either make everybody pay to park or nobody pays to park," he said he told them. "But that didn't fly."

One benefit to golfers, though, might be that the meters would discourage non-golfers to park in the lot in front of the clubhouse. Though there's a sign in front of the lot prohibiting parking from non-golfers or park goers not dining at the clubhouse restaurant, Becks Prime, joggers and bikers routinely park in the lot anyway.

So golfers, especially in the evenings when they want to use the lighted driving range, have a hard time finding spaces. They often turn to parking down the street or waiting in the parking lot, idling their engines, waiting for a space to open. Finding an open space that much sooner just might be worth a buck or two.

"I don't think it (the meter plan) will hurt golfers" said Carl Ahrens, who has played Memorial Park for decades, including winning multiple Greater Houston City Amateur titles. "It may actually help with the parking. Some of my buddies have actually had to park away from the course and carry the clubs to what amounts to block away.

"But it just doesn't seem right that such a beautiful place like Memorial Park would have parking meters."

Should golfers be obligated to pay for parking at Memorial Park or other courses? Let us know in the comments below!

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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Did anyone check to see if parking meters conflict with Ima Hoggs covenant when she willed the park to the city?

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I know this is a repeat reply to some comments but I feel it is important to get it out there. ----I went and spoke at City Council about this. It is NOT a done deal. If 100 or more people were to speak at City Council, it would be stopped. Please consider speaking out, Tuesdays, 1:30 at City Hall. Call the City Secretary to get on the list. You can speak for 1 minute, 2 minutes and 3 minutes. Please bring up the loss of pro shop $, how it would kill the spirit of the golf course, etc. If people speak up, this can be stopped. I already presented them with an alternative idea to get the money that would come from the parking meters.

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Y’all won’t have to worry about the parking meters if Jim Crane moves the Houston open to Memorial Park. With all the improvements they will have to make to the course, probably only 30,000 rounds will be allowed per year instead of 70,000. The geeen fees will probably double and maybe 20% of the golfers who are regulars now will be regulars after. An example would be Torrey Pines in San Diego, a beautiful “public” course. Not too many locals play there on any given day

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It's preventable. We prevented it years ago and can do it now but people will have to go to City Hall and speak out against it. Please consider speaking against the moving the Houston Open and also the parking meters. Although you can't do that in one visit. Open forum at City Hall, Tuesdays at 1:30. Call the city secretary to get on the list to speak. There is power in numbers.

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unbelievable, we need to petition this bs

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I went and spoke at City Council about this. It is NOT a done deal. If 100 or more people were to speak at City Council, it would be stopped. Please consider speaking out, Tuesdays, 1:30 at City Hall. Call the City Secretary to get on the list. You can speak for 1 minute, 2 minutes and 3 minutes. Please bring up the loss of pro shop $, how it would kill the spirit of the golf course, etc. If people speak up, this can be stopped. I already presented them with an alternative idea to get the money that would come from the parking meters.

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no,no,no, they will end up losing one will stay and shop in pro shop or sit at 19th hole to eat or drink. i would'nt even consider playing there, bad news all the way around.

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pay, no way!!!! Golf is expensive enough without adding to it......... trying to make us quit is not the way to promote anything..... greedy politicins if you ask me!!!

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Do they now have parking meters that are for ALL DAY? The last time I played Memorial Park, the round took a bit over 6 hours. Guess if the meter is running out and you are not done, you take the cart, leave the course, put more money in the meter and then go back to where you were before...probably hole 9 or 10.

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This will reduce sales at the golf course so it will offset any parking revenue. We need to vote out these city council people who voted for this. Is this allowable under the guidelines made when Ima Hogg donated the land to the city?

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This isn’t even the worst part. The mayor and city counsel wants the Houston Open at Memorial which will ruin it for the numerous seniors and kids that play Memorial as well as all the citizens who consider Memorial their country club.

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It looks like developmentcountry-syndrome. Spend all the money you get instantly and don't worry about maintenance. Overhaul the park for 60 mln, set 10 mln aside for maintenance and with interest you'll be fine the next 40 years.
It could even create jobs along the way. Don't take the money from the small group that has no choice but to come by car.

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Big-city park proposes parking meters for golfers