The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
Late last summer a long-time friend from Beaumont called to ask if I had played at Henry Homberg Golf Club recently. I told him it had been a good while since I’d been there.
His response was rather forceful. “Don’t waste your time,” he said. “I’ve been a regular there for years but I won’t be going back. It’s become a goat ranch. There’s no grass in the fairways. The greens are terrible. What’s happened is a real shame. A lot of the regulars are going to other places.”
My first thought was of Henry Homberg and how sad it was that a a golf course renamed in his honor had been allowed to deteriorate so badly. I have plenty of familiarity with the former Tyrrell Park layout because it was the first course I played when my buddy Dave Wilson and I moved to Texas from Missouri in 1965 to attend Lamar.
Over the next decade of so, I logged many rounds there and got to know and really respect Henry Homberg as a man, and for his involvement with junior golfers. Tyrrell Park, of course, hosted a PGA Tour event — the Big T — in the early 1960s, and was the place where Homberg helped Bruce Lietzke get his start toward a PGA career in which he would win 13 times on the PGA Tour.
It just didn’t seem right that the city of Beaumont would allow a place with so much history, and a placed named for a man revered by so many young players who passed through there in the 1950s and 1960s, to go into the toilet.
The good news is that Beaumont city manager Kyle Hayes shares that feeling and has ridden to the rescue. Hayes, after an up close and troubling look at Homberg’s condition last fall, brought Port Arthur’s Jimmy Fetters, one of the leading golf names in Southeast Texas, on board to formulate a plan to save the golf course.
“I went out to Homberg and was appalled by what I saw,” said Hayes. “Besides the condition of the course itself, there was bad signage on the holes, we didn’t have enough ball washers and the ones we hadn’t weren’t in good condition. It was not a pretty picture.
“I decided we needed someone from the outside who knew what he’s doing to tell us the steps we needed to take to make playing golf at Homberg an enjoyable experience. I happened to bump into Jimmy one day and we started visiting. I thought, ‘man, this is the guy who can help us.’ The more we talked the more I felt it was a win-win situation.”
For those from another generation, Fetters was the head pro at various area courses, most notably Beaumont Country Club and Port Arthur Country Club, for many years. He was such a good player that he once qualified for the U.S. Open while working as the Port Arthur Country Club pro. At age 72, he still plays regularly at The Patch and gives lessons at Whitey’s Driving Range on Hwy. 69 and at Tyrrell Park.
Fetters was the first guy I took my kids to for lessons. Took a few lessons from him myself. The more I was around him, the more I could tell how much he loved golf and how much he was into the history of the game.
What a perfect choice for Hayes to make on bringing back Homberg.
“The first thing that had to be done was to get the irrigation system up and running,” said Fetters. “They were in a situation where they couldn’t water the fairways, and last summer’s drought compounded the situation. They have already spent about $50,000 and it’s up and running. Water can be pumped out of Hildebrandt Bayou, so that’s not a problem.”
Among the initial priorities was upgrading cart paths, bridges, restrooms, signage and ball washers. And a key hire was made by luring Paul Borque from Brentwood Country Club as course superintendent.
“Paul has worked on remodeling and reconditioning golf courses,” said Fetters. “He has a tremendous pedigree in that area. He will get results. One of the keys is that have a staff out there, headed by Jerry Reid, that is very dedicated to the facility. They have really worked hard.
“They put 140 new valves into the irrigation system. It’s the wrong season to grow grass, but that season is coming and we will soon have grass back on the fairways. That’s part of phase one. Phase two will be promoting events, getting a golf association going and implementing a full slate of activities.”
The biggest obstacle, as is with the case for municipal golf courses everywhere, is money. Hayes said everything to date has been paid for out of an operations budget and a capital reserve fund. But there are limitations. At some point, there is going to have to be revenue generated by fees-paying players.
There is, however, one ace in the hole that could lead to a massive facelift at Homberg. It is believed that there may be oil and gas underneath the Tyrrell Park property. Drilling is to begin in the near future. Should it lead to a financial windfall, the Tyrrell Trust decrees that 75 percent of the revenue goes to park improvements, some of which would go to the golf course. The other 25 percent would go to the Tyrrell Historical Library.
Stay tuned. This could get exciting. For Henry Homberg’s memory, I hope it does.
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at email@example.com.