- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Many of the names are recognizable, but with play underway, the field for the Houston Open is lacking something important — a top-10 player.
The highest-ranked player in this week’s PGA Tour event at Memorial Park is Tony Finau, who currently stands at No. 12 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Why does it matter? Just last year, the event moved from the private Golf Club of Houston to the municipal Memorial Park after significant investment from Houston Astros owner Jim Crane and his Astros Golf Foundation. Crane’s group funneled enough cash into the muni track to get esteemed designer Tom Doak on board, with Brooks Koepka as a player advisor.
Memorial Park had always been the crown jewel of the Houston public golf scene. Originally built as a nine-hole course in 1912, an extensive redesign by John Bredemus (who had co-founded the Texas Professional Golfers Association in 1922) led to its “official” 18-hole opening in 1936.
From 1947 to 1963, the course hosted a PGA Tour event 14 times. Arnold Palmer won it once and Jack Nicklaus had a second-place finish. Famously, 1965 PGA Championship winner Dave Marr asked that his ashes be spread at Memorial Park — even though he never won there, he credited the track for shaping his career.
And while it maintained its status as one of the state’s top municipal courses for decades after the Tour left in 1964, the big names hit the bricks, heading to the suburbs as part of a disturbing trend. It appeared Memorial Park’s day as a top-flight nationally recognized course had come and gone.
After Crane led a $34 million renovation of the property, it returned to golf’s highest stage, and many expected that because of his connections, Crane would be able to consistently pull a stellar field. For example, then-No. 1 Dustin Johnson — a friend and neighbor of Crane in Florida — played in the 2020 event, citing his relationship with the Astros’ owner as the key.
But this year, Johnson didn’t commit, nor did any others from the top tier. And one player who most assumed would be a yearly staple — No. 11 Jordan Spieth — is expecting his first child in a few weeks and won’t be in the field. While his eagerness to become a parent certainly could be a swaying factor in his decision, Spieth’s poor showing in last year’s event — he missed the cut after rounds of 73 and 71 — couldn’t have helped matters.
Like it does with many events, the PGA Tour agreed to a five-year deal with Memorial Park, meaning the event has a little time to show its value if it hopes to stay part of the long-term schedule. Before Crane’s involvement, there had been rumblings that the Tour might leave Houston.
The hope is that strong corporate involvement and good ticket sales will force the Tour to reposition Houston somewhere in a Texas swing, which typically runs through late spring. Right now, as a one-off, travel to and from the event is inconvenient for players and their support systems, with this week’s event outside Cancun and the following event in Sea Island, Georgia.
Last year’s field was stronger because it led up to the only fall Masters in history. And it’s not like the field is devoid of star power — a number of top-30 players are taking part, including Finau, Koepka, Sam Burns, local resident Patrick Reed and former University of Texas star Scottie Scheffler.
There’s “good news” on the corporate front, too, as Hewlett Packard Enterprise was brought aboard as a corporate sponsor last week, although the timing of the move is peculiar with just a handful of days until the event was set to tee off.
“We are excited to have Hewlett Packard Enterprise on board as the title sponsor for the 2021 Houston Open,” said Giles Kibbe, the president of the Astros Golf Foundation. “Based in Houston, Hewlett Packard Enterprise shares the same mission as the Astros Golf Foundation, and we are proud to have them join us in representing world-class PGA Tour golf, while giving back to our local Houston community.”
Crane’s foundation is loaded with reserves, so the tournament can take time to build some cache, but it’s unclear if players like the course.
Will the event remain at Memorial Park? Will the Houston Open eventually get shuffled into a Texas swing, giving it the best chance for success? And will the Tour stay in Houston?
These questions are as difficult to answer as picking a winner from the 132-player field.