Renovation of Stevens Park is done right

Stevens Park in Dallas

Stevens Park in Dallas

DALLAS - I’m standing on the 15th tee of Stevens Park, peering out to the Dallas skyline three miles away and thinking, “This is what municipal golf is all about.”

Here’s a model of what the modern game could be – urban, part of a neighborhood, slightly overloaded by sounds and images, but fun and sociable. Why this can’t be re-created elsewhere is a question that folks in the golf industry need to ask. The renovation of Stevens Park is a case study in how to do things thoughtfully, efficiently and modestly. Let other municipalities waste tens of millions of dollars chasing championship events and delusions of grandeur.

Meanwhile, golfers here at Stevens Park will be lined up day after day, thankful that they have access to a well-groomed, pleasant, walkable track at affordable rates.

Stevens Park, one of six courses operated by the Dallas Department of Parks and Recreation, dates to a routing by Jack Burke Sr. (father of the 1956 Masters champion, Jack Burke Jr.) from 1922 to ’24. It had six snap doglegs and squared-off greens. A subsequent renovation in 1942 marginally expanded the fairway corridors. The course enjoyed popularity mainly because of its accessibility to midtown Dallas and its low green fees. At its peak in the early 1990s, the course registered 68,000 rounds annually. Then came a regional growth spurt in daily-fee courses. As supply doubled, conditions at Stevens Park deteriorated, to the point where the course was down to 31,000 rounds per year before closing in December 2010 for a 10-month renovation.

The redesign, by Dallas-based course designer John Colligan, is a paradigm of value engineering. Colligan, 55, is a self-effacing, cherubic fellow trained in landscape architecture. He earns his living not by spending his client’s money, but by deploying it wisely.

At Stevens Park, working with design associate Trey Kemp, Colligan made ingenious use of an overloaded, 112-acre parcel – a tract with 55 feet of elevation change that includes parking, clubhouse grounds, maintenance building, short-game area, three roads (that golfers cross six times) and modest homes that converge on the land.

The new par-70 routing, lengthened to 6,285 yards, eliminated the awkward uphill approaches and no longer fights the rolling terrain. The meticulously scripted project moved only 85,000 cubic yards of earth, created better safety margins and restored the unique, linear putting surfaces. The $4.5 million bill also included new greens, tees and bunkers, a continuous paved cart path, extensive tree plantings, a new irrigation system and storage tank. The city spent another $3.4 million on clubhouse renovation, a maintenance building, tasteful perimeter fencing and to reinforce a stream, Coomb Creek, that now plays a strategic role on six holes.

Colligan is an advocate of low-scale, “brown is the new green” turf and water management. At Stevens Park, however, he gave way to an ambitious landscape scheme by director of golf James Henderson that has turned the golf course into a garden park.

Henderson, who operates the course for the city as an independent contractor, has been there since 1988 and is only the sixth pro the course has had in its 90 years. He’s also a skilled gardener with a private landscape practice and knows his plant material – enough to have selected the palette of crepe myrtle, nandina, magnolia and red-and-white rose beds that give the course a lustrous glow. Henderson had the blessings (and budget support) of assistant parks and recreation director Barbara Kindig. Golfers aren’t the

only beneficiary. The middle-class community of Kessler Park, in which the golf course sits, has a new look, too.

If there were a top-100 list for “best bang for the buck,” Stevens Park would make it – not only for the green fee (a peak rate of $31) but for the value Colligan achieved with the city’s investment. m

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