Doak says ‘focus on excitement’ was key for Memorial Park

  • Memorial Park

    Memorial Park in Texas has reopened for play following a renovation by Tom Doak

  • Memorial Park

    The course was completely rebuilt

  • Memorial Park

    Doak’s brief was to make the course playable for the public and a test for Tour golfers

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Memorial Park golf course in Houston, Texas, reopened for play this month following a renovation by Tom Doak.

The municipal course was completely rebuilt, with Doak given a brief to make it playable for both the public and professional golfers. It will host the Houston Open on the PGA Tour in 2020. Brooks Koepka joined Doak as a consultant for the project, providing input on how to make the course a good test for Tour players.

“The balance between municipal golf and the pro tour was a big part of what Tom and Brooks talked about,” said Project manager and contractor Don Mahaffey of Greenscape Methods. “I feel it’s one reason there are only 19 bunkers on the course. Brooks said bunkers are easy for the Tour pros but difficult for the amateurs. So, there are fewer bunkers tight to greens but lots of tight grass slopes and contours. The 10 handicap players can get up onto the green and have a putt for par. But the Tour pro is going to have a longer shot — the green surround slopes repel shots — and it’ll be a tight lie to an elevated green. Brooks felt that would challenge them and be easier for the muni player. Plus, bunkers are expensive to build and maintain in rainy Houston.”

“During the opening day tournament, we played with a professional and he felt the course was a great test for good players,” said Mahaffey. “In the week we’ve been open I’ve talked to at least 100 regular players and, I kid you not, every review has been positive.”

Doak said: “From my perspective, the key to making the course work for Tour players and the general public was to focus on excitement rather than trying to keep the pros’ scores to a certain range. There are some tough par-four holes out there for sure.”

The closing stretch, culminating in the long par-four eighteenth, has been designed for the possibility of significant swings in scoring. “The fans will love it and the players will hopefully embrace it, knowing they have to be aggressive to succeed,” said Doak.

Holes thirteen to fifteen are a short par four, short par five and short par three, and the par-five sixteenth has water on three sides of the green. Doak says the sixteenth is reachable in two for the pros but there is no place to bail out if you go for it.

Read more: Tom Doak spoke with GCA as construction work began

Mahaffey says that key to the project was the expansion of the irrigation storage reservoir from 2.5 acres to almost nine. “That generated the fill we needed to improve surface drainage,” he said. “We felt we had to complete all that lake work, have fill in place, new wet well and pump station installed, and be filling the lake in 90 days. We were filling the lake 88 days after gaining approval to start.

“After that, Tom’s shapers got the fills and golf features shaped and we followed with drainage, irrigation and sandcapping. While we had milestones we knew we had to hit, we really never developed a daily schedule — I know that sounds unconventional, but I never wanted our staff to feel comfortable. Our objective was to get as much done as we could every day, with the goals of hitting our major milestones.

“We are very pleased with the stormwater detention/rainwater harvest system we built,” continued Mahaffey. “It was a big part of the mandate and the entire team worked very hard to create a system that met all the desired harvesting and detention goals and made for great golf.

“I’ve watched the storage reservoir we built fill with rainwater and I was on the course 30 minutes after we got nine inches of rain in three hours. The areas that used to erode held up perfectly as the course metered the water out just as designed.”