AT&T Doesn't Have Its Southern Dallas Golf Course Yet, But It Sure Has Balls

I am not calling names. If anything, I feel a certain admiration. The sheer audacity impresses me. And I do not know that it's an all-bad thing. I just wonder if this can really work.

This morning The Dallas Morning News, our city's only daily newspaper, has a piece on its front page in which a top executive at AT&T says the designer and even the construction boss at a proposed new golf course on city-owned land in southern Dallas should work basically for free.

Please remember: Far from being a public golf course, this will be a private restricted membership club, dominated by AT&T, where membership will cost some unspecified amount north of $150,000.

AT&T Senior Vice President Ronald E. Spears offers what appear to be three reasons why golf course designers and construction contractors should be willing to more or less donate their services. First, it will be worth it just to have their names associated with such a prestigious project.

Second, it's sort of for the kids. Third, the golf course industry is in the ditch. They're not in a position to make demands, like being paid.

Apparently AT&T is in charge of the development of this new golf club, proposed for city land near Loop 12 and Interstate 45 in a belt of flood plain and forest on city-owned land in southern Dallas. I guess we knew that. I'm not sure it has ever been expressed explicitly.

Today's Morning News story does not state it explicitly. But if you pass the paper over a low flame and then hold it up to the mirror so the backwards disappearing ink reappears, it's clear. This will be the AT&T Golf Course in Southern Dallas. AT&T will run it.

Nevertheless, Spears is quoted in the story saying the course will not be, "... just a bunch of guys with lots of money building a toy for themselves."

All right, here is what strikes me. This is the AT&T southern Dallas golf course. AT&T will get 500 acres of taxpayer-owned land for free, plus some $12 million in earth-work and road-building paid for by city taxpayers.

Now they say they will also demand that the person who designs the golf course basically donate his or her services. And they even want the contractor over their part of the construction to work at cost only, without any mark-up.

Spears tells the News this morning he thinks one reason the designer and the contractor should work for free is that the course will be in southern Dallas and will serve two needy demographics: It will include some kind of adjacent set-aside mini-course for children who would not otherwise have access to golf. And either the real course or the miniature golf course off to the side will serve as a practice facility for the golf team at Southern Methodist University.

"This is not something for a bunch of rich people," Spears says. "We're trying to do something good for the city of Dallas, for the kids of South Dallas and to help SMU bring a national championship to Dallas."

OK. Poor kids. Got it. SMU kids. Got it. Plus, it's in the center of a bitterly poor part of town that never gets anything nice built in it. Got that too.

Then we get to the argument about the designer and the contractor working for free: "There aren't many people building courses in the United States," Spears tells the News. "In some cases, this allows people to kind of keep their business going, if you want to know the absolute unvarnished truth."

OK. Golf is on its ass anyway. Even young rich people are more interested in fly-fishing in Wyoming than trudging around in 200-degree heat hitting a ball. So beggars can't be choosers. If the designers and the contractors want to keep the plywood off their windows, they have to take what they can get, even if it's working at cost.

So, do you mind if we go back to the first thing Spears told them? He said this won't be "... just a bunch of guys with lots of money building a toy for themselves."

Free land. Free major earth work. Design and construction at cost. Private golf course with memberships north of $150,000, dominated by one corporation.

Is that not one sweet toy? I'm just saying. Look, I have a column coming out in this week's paper saying the area around the golf course is so utterly woebegone and feels so invisible to the rest of the world that people there are glad to see the golf course come in whether they or their great-great-grandchildren ever get to whack a ball on it or not. It's something. They think something is better than nothing. Who am I to say they're wrong?

But I am stunned by the AT&T piece of it. By invoking every needy case from southern Dallas to SMU and all of southern Dallas to boot, they think they can get their own private golf course at some fraction of what it would cost at market rates. How much do you knock off for the free land and the $12 million in earth-moving? How much do you knock off for the free design and construction?

And you still get to charge six-figure fees and run it yourself. And then on top of that you get a front-page story in the local newspaper making you sound like the Mother Theresa of golf.

Like I say, I am awestruck. From here, I sit back and admire. If that works, you know what I suggest? I think the caddies should work for free, too, in exchange for the honor of being in the presence of such ingenious persons.

Maybe the rest of us should get in the spirit and give AT&T whatever it wants for free. Oh, wait. I forgot. We're already doing that.