Austin Parks Board Recommends New Golf Vendor, Perhaps Ending Family's 70-Year Run

May 29, 2019

An iconic Austin golf course could be changing management soon.

If the Austin City Council approves a recommendation from the Parks and Recreation Board, Butler Pitch and Putt may not have a Kinser running the clubhouse for the first time since it opened in 1950.

Butler Pitch and Putt is a nine-hole, par-three golf course near the corner of Riverside Drive and South Lamar. It was developed on city-owned park land by two brothers, Douglas and Winston Kinser, Lee Kinser’s father-in-law. 

“When he first built the golf course, it was so far out of town, he was worried nobody would come,” Lee Kinser told KUT. "It was all just ranches and farms from the river on out. The first green fee was 35 cents … and that came with a golf ball.”

Winston Kinser started the first management company and leased the course after it opened. Lee Kinser helped him run Butler in the '80s. She took over the company in 1995 and has maintained leases with the city ever since. The City of Austin has earned $493,000 from the current contract, which began in 2004 and has been extended twice. It expires in August with no more extensions. 

Parks and Recreation opened the contract up for new bidders. Staff said they were looking for substantial improvements with the new contract in return for a longer lease. Staff wanted a vendor to improve the greens, clubhouse and safety features, while preserving its setting.

Kinser went through the new request for proposal (RFP) process, as she has done before, except for one thing.

“I missed one signature on an 80-page document and they disqualified me,” she said.

Kinser said she immediately signed the paper and appealed, but was denied again.

After the RFP process, staff recommended Pecan Grove Partners take over golf course management.

On Tuesday, the Parks and Recreation board voted 9-1 (with one member absent) to recommend Pecan Grove. The board noted the unusual circumstances around Kinser's missing signature, but decided it would not be a good precedent to reopen the process for a single business. The board added an amendment hoping to prevent what happened to Kinser from happening in the future.

Michael Mullin plays a hole at the Pitch and Putt on Tuesday.
Credit Julia Reihs / KUT

Pecan Grove told the board Tuesday that new management would help the course. 

“As Austin goes, it can be bittersweet to see things that we love change or go away completely,” Anna Morales, a representative with Pecan Grove, said. "I feel this daily when I go downtown. But I was so encouraged when I saw the social media outcry to save Butler, because, frankly, that is exactly what we intend on doing. We will save Butler.”

Morales and other Pecan Grove representatives who spoke Tuesday sought to assure board members that the essence of Butler Pitch and Putt – affordable, family-friendly golf – would remain.

“It think that place is so special; it’s really doable,” Morales said.

She said getting the grass up to speed and maintenance of the heritage trees in the park is a priority. Pecan Grove hopes to follow up the physical rehab with youth programs and skills-development – if it gets the contract.

The recommendation now goes before the Austin City Council for approval. Council Member Ann Kitchen, whose district covers the park's locations, told the Austin Monitor this month that she leans toward re-opening the bidding process so Kinser can be considered.