On a hot, hazy summer day in Austin, a group of young guys with a few clubs and a cooler full of beer casually walk toward the familiar white and green pro shop. Blanco, the resident white poodle, greets them. They’re not wearing collared shirts and khakis, rather athletic shorts and t-shirts – one’s even wearing a bathing suit and flip-flops. The green fee is appealing for the college crew, only $9 and no tee-time required. At Butler Park Pitch and Putt this is a typical scene.
The nine-hole, par three golf course, once just a piece of land on the outskirts of the city, was transformed into an Austin golf fixture 66 years ago. Overtime the golf course has embraced the laid-back Austin culture and remains an ideal venue and legendary landmark for Austinites to play a relaxed round of golf.
Lee Kinser, owner and general manager of the course since 1995, attributes the courses success to its clientele and relaxed environment.
“Here [at Butler], its young people,” Kinser said, “90 percent of our clientele is between 20 and 35 years old. We welcome anyone and it’s really laid back…its just as much a social event as it is a golfing event.”
Brothers Douglas and Winston Kinser began building the course in 1948 – one hole at a time. Winston designed the course and after three years of construction on June 1, 1950, the course was opened to the public.
Sadly, Douglas Kinser died suddenly within one year of the course’s opening. Winston, his brother and business partner, was left to pick up the pieces and run the course alone. He wasn’t crazy about idea of hiring employees so he recruited his family to run the course.
Lee Kinser, who was once married to Winston’s son Al, was introduced to the course and immediately fell in love with it. She and her father-in-law had a close connection and bonded over the course, working together for 15 years.
“I loved my father-in-law,” Kinser said, “we worked here together for years…he loved it here.”
Winston Kinser truly loved the course, however an overly thrifty mindset and lack of maintenance caused the course to suffer overtime. Lee recalled a time when a customer stormed into the pro shop and loudly declared his angst with the poor condition of the course.
In 1995, Lee Kinser became the sole owner and general manager of the course and began renovations. Kinser hired the professionals she needed to make the necessary improvements around the course. The changes helped and Kinser said business has picked up a lot over the years. Last year 38,530 rounds were played at Butler Park Pitch and Putt.
Due to its size and the fact that regulars don’t like the idea of the course closing for the day, tournaments aren’t frequently held at Butler. However, a two-man scramble, blind draw tournament is still played every Tuesday evening at 6 p.m.– a tradition that has lasted 15 years. Although the Tuesday night tournaments are played for fun, Kinser said there is no lack of healthy competition.
“It’s actually a big deal,” Kinser said. “It’s usually a lot of caddies from different courses around the area that play in [the tournaments]. Anyone can play, but they’re pretty competitive about it.”
A tradition that is well known around the Austin golf community is adding names to the esteemed Butler Wall of Fame that is displayed in the clubhouse. The names of hundreds of Pitch and Putt golfers who have sunk holes-in-one are posted on the wall – an honor only the lucky and talented have known.
The course is by no means perfect. Customers enjoy the golf, but many have complained about the condition of the greens – an understandable problem considering the age of the course. Kinser said updating the greens is the next big project.
“I want to put in artificial grass on the greens,” Kinser said. “It’s so busy and you’re supposed to rebuild your greens every 30 years…ours have been the same for 66 years.”
This won’t be a quick or cheap fix. To rebuild one green with live grass costs $100,000 per green – meaning it would cost over $1 million to update the greens. Kinser is looking at artificial grass for multiple reasons.
“It would eliminate watering, mowing and fertilizing,” Kinser said. “It’s around $10,000 per green – we have 10 with the practice green so it’d be a whole lot cheaper to do that.”
There is still a lot more research and funding needed to rebuild the greens, but improvement is on the horizon.
Butler Park Pitch and Putt has been and continues to be an important golf landmark to Austin golfers old and young.
For more information on the course and its history visit their website.