The Takeaway: The flagship of Houston's municipal golf courses, Memorial Park utilizes great architecture to make the most out of a relatively uninspiring piece of property. The Tom Doak renovation created a PGA Tour worthy venue and a Top 10 municipal course in the US. Grade B
Designer: John Bredemus in 1936; Tom Doak renovation in 2019
Cost: $30 - $120 ($16 for a cart) Click for current rates
Phone Number: (832) 395-7653
Course Website: Official Website - Visit Memorial Park Golf Course's official website by clicking on the link provided.
Directions: Get here! - 1001 E Memorial Loop Dr, Houston, Texas 77007 – UNITED STATES
What to Expect: Located five miles west of downtown Houston, Memorial Park is a municipal owned golf course that began as a nine hole operation in the early 1900s but was developed into a proper 18 hole layout in 1936. The John Bredemus design hosted the Houston Open from 1951-1963, enjoying excellent logistics given the proximity to Houston's city center. As one might imagine at a course that gets over 60,000 rounds a year, the facilities had grown tired and were a prime candidate for renovation. Funded by the Astros Golf Foundation, an $18.5M renovation was taken on by Tom Doak; his first project with the intent of hosting an annual PGA Tour event. With assistance from Brooks Koepka, Doak maintained many of Bredemus' design features while implementing his own strategies and modern features. It is a daunting task to design a course that will cater to the weekend warrior golfer while also being able to test the best players in the world. Doak set out to do this by removing many trees and foliage overgrowth that caused issues for play and deterred proper turf growth in certain areas. The fairways were widened to accommodate everyday play, but precision is required to put yourself into the ideal positions to attack the greens. The undulated putting surfaces are such that some pin placements are plenty accessible while others can be employed for tournament play. Rather than trying to defend par, Doak and Koepka made the conscious decision to design a course that would create drama and scoring opportunities down the stretch while also implementing bold water features on the closers to contend with. In addition, just 19 bunkers are found on the course which is very non-Doak since you'll contend with 19 bunkers in the first few holes of most courses he builds. This lack of sand helps play move along for the general public and provides less maintenance concern for the city. Speaking of sand, the fairways and greens were capped with it to provide superior drainage in a city known for rain and the irrigation pond was tripled in size with the excess dirt being used to add some dimension to the property. The ravine that runs through the course provides a nice change of visuals and offers some character on a piece of property that is quite flat. The terrain and routing provides for an easy walk but carts are available year round and recommended in the summer when the heat and humidity in Houston can reach stifling levels. All in all, Memorial Park is one of the best municipal courses in the country. It is a far cry from Bethpage and Chambers Bay that top that list, and many would include Torrey Pines in the top three of that list. But architecturally I think Memorial Park is every bit as interesting as Torrey Pines though the San Diego track enjoys a much more stunning oceanside location.
By the Numbers
Individual Hole Analysis
Signature Hole: 15th Hole – 155 Yard Par 3 – Looking like something straight out of a Pinehurst No.2 calendar, the 15th features a domed green with severe slopes off every edge. Missing short or left can kick your ball into the creek meandering through while missing long or right leaves an extremely testy par save scenario to navigate. While the green is plenty deep at 47 yards, the front half is just 15 yards wide and can be a tough target to hit; even with a low iron or wedge in your hand. During the Houston Open this is the loudest location to be at with plenty of fans surrounding the hole ready to cheer on a great shot, but there are certainly more bogies than birdies here; even for the pros.
Best Par 3: 2nd Hole – 167 Yards – This is just a great one-shotter. To make a hole more difficult, designers too often rely on simply adding length which is the laziest way to do it. Instead, Doak delivers a target length that shouldn't be intimidating to anyone but boasts a green where placement is all the difference in the world whether your first putt is struck with confidence in an effort to card or birdie, or whether you are shaking in your boots hoping to just two-putt. The green slopes from left to right and back to front with the front third being the most extreme portion of the putting surface and often sucking balls off the green. The easiest part of the green to navigate is behind the bunker on the right and putting uphill to a pin location back towards the center, while missing long and left will present a scenario where getting up and down is extremely difficult unless the pin is on the right third. The drainage area fronting the green offers some character to the setting on a property that is mostly flat.
Best Par 4: 17th Hole – 382 Yards – Tom Doak did an exceptional job of providing exciting holes for the Houston Open to finish on and this one is on top as the best from a risk/reward standpoint. The fairway wraps to the right around a pond that fronts the green, so the safe play from the tee is out left which also offers the best angle into the green. But did you really come to layup? Depending on the tee you are playing and how the course is set up, it can be anywhere from a 220 - 360 yard carry over the water on a direct line to the green. If the bunkerless green is within your range that day, take a rip at glory and see what you can make happen. If you are feeling any doubt, start your ball up the left side with a fade so that it stays over the land as long as possible. This is a really fun and memorable hole to enjoy late in the round.
Best Par 5: 16th Hole – 576 Yards – The final par five at Memorial Park is also its best. A large pond flanks the entire right side of the hole until it gets to the green where the water expands in front of the putting surface and continues along the left side; leaving the back as the only side of the green not protected by water. This devious design paired with the overall length of the hole makes going for the green in two a very risky proposition, but could be necessary depending on how a match or tournament is going. The fairway tilts towards the water so a cut shot that starts at the tree line on the left and fades back to the middle is the ideal play. The green is 45 yards long so there is some decent depth to work with but the front is quite narrow so it can be wise to send your ball to the back third of the green no matter where the flag is that day. There are several options of how to attack this hole, but no matter how you do it, it should offer a lot of fun.
Birdie Time: 13th Hole – 406 Yard Par 4 – A straight away par four, the 13th is a popular hole for the course to set up a tee box forward which reduces the hole from 406 yards to just 298. When playing under 300 yards, the 13th is ripe for the taking with little to worry about other than hitting your drive hard enough to reach the raised green. Tight grass and sloping edges off the putting surface can create a precarious situation if your short game isn't dialed in, but being bunkerless, this hole is begging you to play aggressively. The Williams Tower, Houston's tallest building outside of downtown, stands just over 900 feet tall and features 64 stories and is the perfect target line to use as it soars above the trees beyond the green.
Bogey Beware: 4th Hole – 490 Yard Par 4 – Playing pretty much dead south, the 4th looks like a dogleg left off the tee but actually veers back to the right with the green tucked back near some trees. A tee shot up the left side of the fairway will open up the ideal angle to the green that features steep fall offs on the sides and a creek deep in the back. With a long club in your hand on the second shot and a difficult target to hold, greens in regulation aren't common here so it will take a sharp short game to walk away with a four here.