No Mulligan for San Antonio PGA Village by: Tony Vaught

Sad. Disappointed. Embarrassed. Mad. Those are just a few of the choice words heard from San Antonio area residents, golfers and non-golfers alike, when asked about the proposed PGA Village and the PGA of America's decision to pull out from the proje t.Tim Harford, a local golf professional and owner of Garden Ridge Golf Center agrees. “I was sad to see that the deal didn’t go through. Being in the golf business in San Antonio I think it would have enhanced everyone’s business from driving ranges to other area courses”. There is little doubt that having a facility like the PGA Village would have an impact on the San Antonio area economically. However, it was politics that stopped the deal right in its tracks. Harford continued, “Folks say that most of the opposition came from the aquifer activists. In reality it was special interest groups who wanted the facility in the south part of the county. The PGA of America has built golf facilities in other environmentally sensitive areas around the country, such as swamps and deserts.” Harford may have a point. Everyone in this region seems very enthusiastic and rallying for the new Toyota manufacturing plant that will be located in south San Antonio. But a venue like the PGA Village near a major automobile manufacturing plant? Let’s be realistic. A very large part of the draw to the Lumbermen’s site, according to the PGA, was the scenic Hill Country.

The PGA of America entered into negotiations with Lumbermen’s Investment Corporation in 1999 to develop a 2,855-acre proposed development located north of San Antonio off Highway 281. The initial project proposal included two golf courses (with possibilities of a third), a 30-plus acre teaching center, a 500-room hotel (negotiations were with the Marriott chain), homes, apartments, condos and possibly an upscale (Ritz-Carlton) hotel.

What it looked like, at least on paper, was an excellent business decision. The City of San Antonio is already widely known for its family entertainment value including attractions such as Sea World, Six Flags-Fiesta Texas, the famed Riverwalk, and the most historic place in Texas, the Alamo. Not to mention it is host of two professional golf events (The Valero Texas Open for the PGA Tour and The SBC Championship for the Senior PGA Tour). Add to the mix the 2-time NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs, the Silver Stars of the WNBA, the San Antonio Missions baseball, the Rampage hockey team, the new golf village would have only added to the plethora of choices for world travelers.

Environmentalists, concerned that the location of the new resort would have a negative impact on the recharge zone, were the largest opponents. The recharge zone is a strip of land located in North Bexar County and adjacent counties that supplies groundwater to the Edwards aquifer, which provides most of the drinking water for San Antonio.

Lumbermen's committed early on in the process that they would carefully monitor and control the water quality in the resort. Proponents said throughout the discussions, if given the opportunity, Lumbermen's could establish a model for responsible development over the aquifer. They also pointed out that the city could have imposed more rigid development restrictions and environmental controls on the golf resort than it could if the land was used for a residential subdivision.

The environmentalists weren't satisfied. Instead, they took an almost unprecedented approach. Following the approval of the initial development plan by the San Antonio City Council, and despite reassurances from Lumbermen's, several environmental groups started a petition drive.

The drive, which took three months, concluded with 77,000-plus signatures; enough to force the city council to rescind its support for the deal or put the matter to a public vote. Neither happened.

The large number of signatures is impressive. However, it does raise questions about the type of tactics used by petitioners. Having been approached myself, I gave them an opportunity to give me all the facts. The petitioner did apologize for not being able to answer some of my questions, and offered to provide more information at a later time; however they still asked me to sign. I declined, of course.

In June 2004, a group of political and community leaders from San Antonio and Bexar County went to Chicago to meet with PGA officials for one last try; or what golfers refer to as a “mulligan”. Unfortunately for San Antonio, that mulligan resulted in disqualification. Why? The delegates weren’t given the mulligan by the PGA. In fact, PGA chief executive Jim Awtrey asked them not to come. Nonetheless, San Antonio Mayor Ed Garza, former Mayor Nelson Wolff, and about 7 others took it upon themselves to take the drop and swing away. They went way out of bounds! The PGA of America had enough of the “good cop – bad cop” routine. They were already in talks with other cities and other states. The delegates got three orders: Get up, get out, and stay out. The PGA of America and PGA Village seem to have had enough of San Antonio.

I don't blame them. Especially when there are half-dozen or more cities that will welcome the PGA Village with open arms, and without the worry of activists or politics. Other cities such as Las Vegas and Phoenix are now gunning for the prestigious development.

Local business leaders have said the loss of the PGA Village reflected a complete lack of leadership and vision by elected officials. San Antonio should be ashamed of itself. You had your chance to shine on the world stage and shanked it.

In the end I personally will be discontent with another location because I won't be able to make a short trip across town to a truly world-class resort. Not that I am downplaying the fine resorts we currently have: Hyatt Hill Country, La Cantera, Tapatio Springs, just to name a few. They are wonderful venues in their own rite. Simply put, the addition of a PGA Village would have made San Antonio the World Class golf destination it deserves to be.


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