An Open Letter to Houston City Council
Jan. 8, 2019
(Updated Jan. 28, 2019. The Houston City Council voted on Jan. 9, 2019 to allow the golf course plan to go forward. The Mayor’s Office has refused our Public Information request for the details of the plan, among other information.)
Update March 28, 2019. The City Legal Department forwarded today the decision by Attorney General Ken Paxton supporting the Mayor’s Office denial of our Public Information request for details of the golf course plan.
Dear Members of Houston City Council,
Regarding the agreement to transform the Memorial Park golf course into a PGA Tour golf course and hold an annual tournament there, I remain concerned about the financial benefit to the people of Houston and the lack of public involvement in this decision.
Houston is severely lacking in public park and green space. According to a 2018 report from the Trust for Public land, spending on public parks in Houston is about half the national median expenditure per resident. Houston ranks 77 out of the 100 largest cities in the country for park access and amenities, receiving an overall park score of 37.5 out of 100.
These figures are no doubt well known to you. But it’s not just a matter of park equity for Houstonians. Our city has been suffering from severe flooding and likely will experience increased flooding. Trees, vegetation, green space are vital for slowing and absorbing the rainfall and runoff that rapidly overwhelms our drainage system, including our streams and reservoirs. Not to mention the role of trees and green space in absorbing carbon dioxide.
A $1 million donation to the city parks department, as proposed by Council Member Laster, is an improvement to the proposed agreement. But what percentage of the tournament revenue is that? How much profit will the Astros Golf Foundation and the PGA Tour be making from this tournament in our great public park? We don’t know. Maybe it’s a generous donation. Maybe not. The PGA Tour, as noted previously, reports revenues of over $1 billion annually. Yes, both organizations give money to charities of their choosing (and making). But if it’s our public park being used to make money, why shouldn’t we get to choose? Shouldn’t more of the revenue be directed towards our public parks generally? The parks department and our city council representatives should decide where the money should go – and more money should go towards more green space.
We have been told very little about the financial details of this agreement because there have been virtually no public meetings about it. I have previously complained that this change in use of public parkland requires public notice and a public hearing under state law, specifically Ch. 26 of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code. This complaint has been ignored.
Will local people be hired to do the work building the stands, running the event, etc.? Or will the PGA Tour bring in its own people from outside the area?
No one has asked the people of Houston whether they want this golf tournament in our lovely forested park on Buffalo Bayou. Maybe they do. We don’t know.
The proponents claim that the city overall will see a $50-90 million benefit from the economic impact of the week-long tournament annually. Dr. John Crompton, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences at Texas A&M, did a study of the Phoenix Open some years ago. In a recent email, he said that his estimates showed “total expenditures from external visitors amounted to $29.5 million with an economic impact on incomes in the local economy of $22.4 million (this is the appropriate measure of economic impact).”
I urge you, please, to ask more questions at your council meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 9.
President and Executive Director
Save Buffalo Bayou