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A GHOST (GOLF COURSE) STORY

By Steve Tankersley

 

The question is what is a “Ghost Course”? Jason Stone of “The Texas Golf Bible” fame thought that the Rankin Golf Course in Rankin was a “Ghost Course”. While the Rankin Golf Course was certainly headed in that direction it is now alive and well thanks to Upton County. The greens are treated and watered with tender loving care and trees have been added.  No, this is not a “Ghost” anymore, it just has a very small volume of people playing everyday. A “Ghost Course” is dead or gone.

Before
Now the question is what is “Dead” or “Gone”. If you watched “The Princess Bride” you heard Billy Crystal’s character state that there are two kinds of dead.  “All Dead”, which means it ain’t coming back, and “Mostly Dead”, which means if somebody doesn’t get to it soon it will be “All Dead”.  I would like to give you examples of each and then add three more categories or stages of “Dead”.  The third stage is being brought back to “Life” from the “Dead”, and the forth stage being uncompleted or never finished. A fifth stage is a completely unique situation in that the old course goes away and a completely new course arises. I am not talking about just adding a new nine; I mean a complete makeover of the old holes and a name change.
After

 

Mostly Dead Courses

Rankin is a good example of a course in the “Mostly Dead” stage being brought back to “Life”.  Another good example is James Connally in Waco. It closed completely for four months, then was taken over by a group of people and is now thriving.  I was travel/golfing through Rising Star Texas a couple of years back and stopped to play at Rolling Oaks Golf Course. The sign on the door said “closed forever indefinitely” - one week before I got there. I went back a year later and it was open again and when I played it was in great shape! There was another course in Rising Star called The Lakewood Recreational Center and it is now The Turkey Run Resort. The clubhouse burned down and they let the golf course go to waste, so it is now “All Dead”!  Honey Grove Texas had a course with sand greens built by the WPA. It had “Died” a long time ago but it turned out it was only “Mostly Dead”. A couple of the locals restarted it as three holes and soon it was restored to nine, complete with grass greens. Membership is over one hundred. I pronounce it “Alive and Well.”

Also in the “Mostly Dead” category are two courses right here in Waco.  There is a lighted nine-hole par three on the outskirts of town that is for sale. The last name of several it has had was Creekside.  This course is in dire straights and if someone doesn’t get to it soon it will change to “All Dead”.  Rolling Oaks was an eighteen-hole course that was doing well, but problems arose and it fell into disrepair and is headed for that big resort in the sky! Both of these courses have been around since the 70’s.  I was told that there was a course at Thurber.  I checked it out and there is a nine-hole par three at an RV resort. The only problem was the whole site is closed and for sale. Looks like this one needs CPR soon!
 

All Dead Courses

 I encountered some “All Dead” courses on my recent travels and was saddened by the thought that these courses had once thrived and that people had enjoyed the game of golf for at least awhile.  The first course I came across was in Mertzen called the Cowboy Country Club.  It was a nine-hole course and some of the signs are still there.  The ranch style clubhouse has been taken over by the Mertzen Head Start program. What a shame! Water woes were the culprit.  I was next directed toward Grandfalls Royalty to a nice little six-hole course.  Whoops! Where did it go?  I caught a county worker nearby and asked him what happened?  He said that when they had water, it was as nice as any course around and then they had to start buying water from Colorado River Authority and could not afford to keep it any longer.  The only remnants are a driving range and a couple of signs. 


While in Rankin I was informed by Hal Hutchins, a local newspaperman, of three “Ghost” courses. One was located at Midkiff at the Western Gas Resources. It was a six-hole course that was abandoned for whatever reason. You can still see remnants from the highway as you drive by.  At Sheffield, Joe Chandler’s Ranch had a small course, but the whole ranch shut down. Texon had a six hole course that had sand greens and oiled fairways. It was built and maintained by Dean Stephenson, a man with whom I’ve had the pleasure of playing a round of tournament golf. Remnants of the course can still be viewed with a side trip 


In Waco on the east side of town was a nine-hole course called Huaco Golf Course. You cannot find it unless you know specifically where to look. It was located off Primrose Lane and some of the old timers remember it.  They also said there was a course at the Castle on Franklin Avenue, but I have not been able to confirm or deny its existence.


The course at Post has been turned into a hunting lodge. The caretaker died and no one knew how to take care of it!  The course at Brownfield died when they ran their members off to Seminole, and even new management could not undo the damage! It has also been turned into a hunting/shooting range. At Clifton, the course was replaced with a park and sewage treatment facility.  It was a sand green facility and has been gone for quite a while. A couple of fairways are all that’s left.

When I played at Paducah, Texas, the pro told me to go just north of Crowell and check out what was once a nice, nine hole course. I found the gate is now padlocked and members with a key come here to hunt and fish.


The town of Perryton, in the top of the Panhandle, cut some sort of deal with the nine-hole country club in order for them to build a sparkling new eighteen-hole facility. Members told me that the deal was for the Country Club to abandon their course.


In the Killeen area there are now two recently “Deceased”. Anderson located on the base at Fort Hood, was a wide open, easy to play course that was abandoned when Clear Creek expanded. Lakeview Golf and Country Club at Harker Heights had been struggling for a while and finally caved in to the pressure.


Fairway Farm, at San Augustine in East Texas, had one of the longest courses anywhere at 7573 yards. It was ranked in the 50’s as one of the top courses in the country and a rich people’s playground. At one time there were thirty-six holes with all the trimmings. Financial problems overcame the place and it closed about 1993. While in San Augustine I was informed by Norrell Thomas, who is a long time resident, that San Augustine also had a municipal course that lasted until the 50’s.  Probably shut down by pressure from Fairway Farm. There is nothing but pine trees where the muni course once was. He also said that there used to be a nine-hole golf course that ran around the perimeter of the old gas refinery in Carthage. It’s no longer there!


The Sundance at New Braunfels was supposed to be one of the best youth teaching facilities around. The Texas Golf Bible website says that the evil developers got it! I should have gone sooner to play, dang it, just missed another one!

On a recent fact finding/golf playing trip to the Lake Jackson area I came across four more “All Dead” courses.  Old Ocean was a fine nine with one hundred and fifty regular members. In 1998, the Phillips plant needed the land to expand, so they just swallowed it up. You can’t even get past the guard gate to see the remnants. They are still there because the plant hasn’t expanded as of yet. The only good news was that all of the members got one free year membership at the Bay City Country Club.

At Simonton there was an eighteen-hole course that sat on the Brazos River called the Valley Lodge Whispering Oaks Golf Course. A beautiful, scenic design that was rumored to have had Tiger Woods come practice in solitude. Alas this course submitted to financial woes and a very nice lady bought it from the bank and turned it into a horse farm. The sand from the traps is now used in the barn and a fellow actually rents the clubhouse to live in.

I was informed that Bend of the Brazos at Rosharon had bit the dust! This could be another case of Houston swallowing them up or the over building of golf courses in the area.


I was told Old Orchard at Richmond went down. What? No way! How could that possibly happen? A twenty seven-hole beauty, as fine a course as you could play, succumbs to a housing development. That’s the same thing that happened to Astroworld. The land was more valuable than the place. ‘Nuff said about that!


I had to run over to Lake Jackson and play the Riverside Country Club just in case. Four separate people told me that it would be closing at the first of the year. The golf shop informed me that they had lost several members but they were not supposed to close as of yet. Let’s hope some money comes their way, as this is another beautiful course that deserves to be here for us to enjoy!

Phantom Courses

The fourth group that I mentioned is the unfinished. These are “Phantom” courses that never quite made it to begin with.  There is a nine-hole course in Robinson that was almost completed but never officially opened because of a water problem.  At Wink, I did a double take, just as I was leaving town, at what I thought were three tee boxes. I was right! They ran out of money before they could build the greens. In Hillsboro they were building a nine-hole par three at the driving range. Not only did they not finish, but the driving range collapsed as well. In Woodway, a Waco suburb, there was great fanfare as Gary Player arrived to hit balls into the woods of what was to become Waco’s newest and best course. Something wasn’t quite right though, and there was a lot of speculation as to what happened. The only sure thing was that the course never happened. There are probably other fancy smancy courses that did not make it as well.
           

Back to Life

 

Lajitas Golf Course before the flood The fifth case of “Dead” brings to mind three courses. The nine-hole course at Frankston called Dogwood Trails was typical of small town golf.  It is now an elite eighteen-hole course called Pine Dunes Resort and Golf Club. The old course is definitely “Gone” forever.  The same thing happened at Hempstead. A neat little nine-hole course called the Lawrence Marshal Family Recreation and Golf Center was completely changed, and a new nine was then added. It is now called Legendary Oaks Country Club. Goodbye little family golf place. Lajitas had a quaint little inexpensive nine-hole course that was gobbled up by “big money,” expanded to 18 holes, and you had to open your wallet wide to the course. It than went through bankruptcy, was acquired, and emerged as a course for the masses with much lower and more affordable rates! And then in September 2009, the Rio Grande flooded and destroyed nine holes. What will it regenerate into next? The pictures are of Lajitas' par 1 international hole (that's a first!) - you drive across the Rio Grande and closest to the pin wins. The picture on the left is of the lush greens before the flood and the right picture is shortly after the flood receded leaving the green with 5 feet of mud on top of it. Lajitas Golf Course after the flood

In my travels I have found twenty-five or so, “Dead Courses” over the width and breadth of Texas. In the overall picture that is a small percentage to lose, especially when compared to the amount of courses that are still in existence. It’s still really a shame though. I am sure I will run into or hear about more of these “Ghosts” and it is sad to see them gone.  What caused them to go?  Well money, water, mismanagement, lack of play, new housing developments, new better courses, and various other oddball reasons. 
 

I was lucky enough to have played at a few of these courses before they died. Just think of the history of who’s who and nobody special that have played there.  I know I would have enjoyed a round on any of these now “Heavenly” courses.           

Thanks Tank

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