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Save Muny event raises $800,000 for renovations at Lions Municipal Golf Course

Tim Schmitt
Golfweek
Ben Crenshaw presents to a packed house at the Imagine Muny gala at ACL Live's Moody Theater on Sunday night. The event netted around $800,000 for renovations at Lions Municipal Golf Course.

As soon as Verne Lundquist got the call, he knew he had to be part of the fun. Not just to enjoy the company of his buddies, many of whom he remembers from his time at Austin High School, but to help save a vital greenspace in the center of one of the nation’s hottest housing markets.

That’s why Lundquist — the 81-year-old sports broadcasting legend — was one of the many stars Sunday night at Imagine Muny, a Texas-sized gala at ACL Live’s Moody Theater. The event, which organizers say netted around $800,000 to help restore Lions Municipal Golf Course, was a bona fide success in terms of fundraising, but perhaps even greater was the awareness the evening brought to a cause that’s been dragging out for decades.

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For those who’ve missed the backstory, the 141 acres on which Muny sits are extremely valuable. The City of Austin has conducted stakeholder meetings, asking for public input on zoning for the area, and boyhood friends Ben Crenshaw and Scott Sayers put together the Muny Conservancy, hoping to purchase the area for a reasonable price and preserve it for years to come.

The land is part of the 500 acres of University of Texas-owned land known as the Brackenridge Tract, and is considered the first fully desegregated municipal course south of the Mason-Dixon line. The city has leased 140 acres for Muny since 1936 and pays UT about $500,000 a year. If the parties don’t come to an understanding, the university could be free to lease the property to another entity, develop it or sell it.

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But the outpouring of support at Sunday’s event — which included scheduled appearances by musicians Eric Church, Lukas Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel, as well as a surprise visit by Jimmie Vaughan — certainly might help to lean opinions. Among those who were also part of the presentation were celebrities Luke Wilson and Kyle Chandler. Sports personalities on hand included former PGA Tour pro Mark Brooks and former TCU head football coach and Texas special assistant Gary Patterson.

“Just look at this event. You get some sense of what this golf course, this beautiful place, means to so many people in this city,” Lundquist said while musical acts rotated through the famous theater’s stage.

Lundquist — whose famous calls at the Masters include Jack Nicklaus' birdie putt on 17 in 1986 that gave him the lead and Tiger Woods' dramatic chip-in birdie on the 16th hole in 2005 — admittedly doesn’t get around like he used to. The national broadcaster lives in picturesque Steamboat Springs, Colorado, but he and his wife Nancy purchased a small condo in Austin three years ago and he comes back to his hometown for at least a few months each year.

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“I’ve known Scott Sayers and Ben Crenshaw for more years than they want me to admit,” Lundquist said, noting that his sister was a year behind Crenshaw in high school. “Whenever we’re back here, we want to be here to support this place. It’s an amazing undertaking. Really it is.”

Sayers, who helped coordinate the event, said it was a smashing success on multiple levels.

“The musical guests and the finish to the thing were as good as I’ve ever seen,” Sayers said. “And we did what we hoped to do financially, to be able to make improvements to Muny, which was important. But the awareness is the key — we need folks from the city and the university to both realize this isn’t something for a small subset of people, or just a few folks who are interested. This is a place for the entire community. I think this proved that.”

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The conservancy hopes to partner with the city to keep Muny in the best shape possible before any decisions are made by the university on potential permanent uses for the property. Recently, a fleet of 62 new golf carts was introduced at the course and a new roof was constructed on the clubhouse, all with help from the city. The money raised at Imagine Muny will help with more renovations and improvements.

But the final decision is yet to come. Negotiations between the university and the city are ongoing and Sayers admitted there’s plenty of work left.

“This is a critical stretch, for sure,” he said. “We just hope that whatever develops that we keep all 141 acres as greenspace. If the conservancy gets the course, and we hope that happens, renovations will take time, but will be worth it. It’s a place that just means too much to so many people.”

Birdies and bogeys

• ​​Roy Kizer Golf Course is set to start a renovation of its greens on Monday, which means only nine holes will be available for play through March. The course will be completely closed in April, with the project expected to be completed in July.

• Escondido Golf and Lake Club in Horseshoe Bay has a new general manager/COO as Dan DuBreuil has joined the property, ranked as the 14th best private course in Texas according to Golfweek. DuBreuil was previously at Linville Resorts, in Linville, North Carolina, but he’s also spent time at Cabo del Sol Resort and Cove Club in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Spring Island in Beaufort, South Carolina; and The Country Club of Sapphire Valley in Cashiers, North Carolina. “Dan was our No. 1 choice, and we are extremely excited to have Dan and Jodie join our family at Escondido,” said Paul Lucas, the club's president who led the search committee.

• Texas A&M star Sam Bennett fired a 64 in the final round at the John A. Burns Intercollegiate to tie for second at 11-under. The round was a career best for the native of Madisonville, who took part in last year’s Spirit International at Whispering Pines. Bennett is No. 3 in Golfweek's men's collegiate individual rankings.

Tim Schmitt is the managing editor for Golfweek, golf coordinator for the USA Today Network and lives in Round Rock.

Editor's note: The original version of this story has been edited to correct the names of two of the musical performances at the Muny event.