The Great Trinity Forest, as Mayor Rawlings is fond of reminding people, is an underutilized jewel, a huge, relatively untrammeled swath of nature cutting through the city's southern half. As the country's largest urban hardwood forest in the country, it's already world-class, to borrow a phrase. Yet Rawlings and his colleagues have figured out what would make it even classier: a humongous, PGA-caliber golf course.
This all started in 2011. Rawlings had just been elected mayor. For months, he had been laying out his vision for southern Dallas, what would become the Grow South initiative. AT&T executives liked his ideas very much and requested a meeting where they offered a suggestion: "'How about building a world-class golf course" in southern Dallas?" This intrigued Rawlings who said -- his words, not mine -- "Let's get it on."
That story was related by Rawlings today at a press conference at City Hall, where he announced that the city will team up with AT&T and SMU to build a golf course in southern Dallas.
Here's what we know about the project so far: The Trinity Forest Golf Course will sit on 400 acres of former landfill just off Loop 12, sandwiched between the Trinity River Audubon Center and the Texas Horse Park, assuming that ever gets built. The centerpiece will be an 18-hole course designed to PGA standards, with a 9-hole short course, practice facilities for SMU's men's and women's golf teams, and offices for the First Tee of Greater Dallas, a nonprofit that uses golf to teach inner-city kids life lessons. Work will begin as soon as next spring, and the course could be open as early as the spring of 2016. The complex will be run not by the city but by a nonprofit formed for the purpose. The course will charge membership fees, but has been described as "semi-private," which means the public could access it.
Here's what we don't know about the project: how it's going to be paid for. The city has committed $12 million to pay for cleanup associated with the landfill, something Rawlings said the city will have to do whether it puts a golf course there or not. And AT&T will kick in $2.5 million to build a recreational trail stretching from the Audubon Center into the Trinity forest. Another $20 million -- the minimum that will be needed to build the golf course -- isn't yet on the table, though Rawlings promises that AT&T will be teaming up with other corporate partners to raise the cash.
But that's just a minor logistical hurdle and no reason to put off a major announcement featuring Rawlings, a third or so of the City Council, AT&T VP Ron Spears, PGA commissioner Tim Finchim (via speakerphone), SMU president Gerald
Ford Turner and, last but not least, golfing legend Lee Trevino.
"This is big, folks," Trevino told the audience, playing the part of the tipsy, wise-cracking uncle who can either ruin your sister's wedding or make it awesome. "This is a lot bigger than anybody can even think about."
Trevino went on at length, about how he learned to play golf, along with dozens of other minority kids from southern Dallas, by caddying at Glen Oaks Country Club, and how golf carts are the reason there aren't more blacks and Hispanics in professional golf. He also talked about that time when, at 16, a police officer caught him with stolen hub caps and suggested he go into the military, which he did. And about how he had never played competitive golf until he left the Marines and won his first tournament. And about how the moms and dads of elite golfers don't want to send them to SMU because they have sub-par practice courses.
There was a lot of talk about First Tee, and how the golf course will help them change the lives of troubled youth. There was also a lot of talk about golf as economic development. Official estimates put its annual economic impact at $32 million, though Rawlings' mental calculations show it will probably be in the "hundreds of millions." Mayor Pro Tem Tennell Atkins spoke warmly of the jobs the course will create, both during construction and once it is operating.
Some, though not all, of the economic development hopes ride on the city getting the Byron Nelson which, serendipitously, will soon be sponsored by AT&T. Finchim, the PGA commissioner, wouldn't say Dallas will definitely get the tournament but said the "odds are quite high."
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As for how much real impact a members-only golf club in a sparsely populated area will have on southern Dallas wasn't really addressed, but Atkins said the course will help unify the city, connecting north and south. And for Voincel Jones Hill, the Trinity Forest Golf Course isn't just a golf course; it's also a not-at-all-overwrought metaphor.
"If you take the rough Road of Determination until it reaches the intersection of the Avenue of Opportunity, turn right and keep straight, one will soon arrive at the wide Boulevard of Success," she said.
Just to be clear, it's Rawlings and City Manager Mary Suhm who are on the Road of Determination and the City Council that will need to make the right turn. As for the golf course? That's the Boulevard of Success.
Update at 3:15 p.m.: Next week's City Council briefing materials provide a few more interesting tidbits. For one the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality has issued a notice of violation on the property, on the old South Loop 12 and Elam Landfills. And the course is contingent on the Byron Nelson coming to Dallas. So it's less "If you build it, they will come" and more "If they come, you will build it." But I suppose with AT&T getting the sponsorship rights, they feel that they've already got it in the bag.