A final decision on the future of the iconic Butler Pitch & Putt nine-hole golf course in Central Austin has been pushed to June 20 after Austin City Council voted to postpone what has become a highly anticipated vote.
The historic short-iron par-three course, located at the corner of South Lamar Boulevard and Barton Springs Road, has been owned by the city since 1950 but has been operated by the Kinser family for seven decades. The course is beloved for its affordability and welcoming atmosphere and stands for many as a relic of “old” Austin.
The Kinser family’s latest contract with the city expired, and although the agreement has been routinely renewed throughout the years, the city faced a tough decision this time. Operator Lee Kinser had hired a consultant to fill out the bid for the up to 20-year, $2.5 million contract, but Kinser said a consultant left out a single signature, leading the city’s procurement office to automatically disqualify the bid.
The only other qualified application belonged to Pecan Grove Partners, a group of Austinites led by hometown resident Jason Black. The news of the Kinser’s disqualification from the bidding process and the potential of the course changing hands sent shockwaves through the community, who pleaded with the city officials to reconsider the legacy operator’s proposal.
The City Council-appointed Parks and Recreation Board recommended City Council award the bid to Pecan Grove Partners. When City Council took up the vote June 6, Council Member Ann Kitchen, whose district surrounds the course, led a push to reject Pecan Grove’s bid, extend the Kinsers’ contract for 6 months and rebid the agreement.
“A decision that is as important as this, which is about the stewardship of what is a very important place in our city, needs to be made on the merits of a fully vetted application process and not on a technicality,” Kitchen said.
Council Member Kathie Tovo said it was important to preserve Austin’s sacred spaces and continue them for future generations. Council Member Leslie Pool said she was “disturbed” the city’s procurement staff did not even consider the Kinser bid because of a single signature.
Council Members Jimmy Flannigan and Pio Renteria were less flexible, saying it was important to protect the sanctity of the city’s procurement process.
“You have to be competitive,” Renteria said. “One signature is left out—that will disqualify you. You should know that. I cannot understand why we’re not giving [the contract]to the people who followed all the rules and did it right.”
In light of Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison’s absence, Flannigan proposed a postponement so as not to make such a decision vote without two crucial votes. After Kitchen’s motion to reject the Pecan Grove bid failed, council voted to postpone the decision to June 20.
Many members of the public came out in support of Butler Pitch & Putt for very specific aspects of the course—from affordability, to the ability to bring dogs, no tee times, the BYOB policy and the ability to have unlimited members in a golfing group—aspects which they said they feared would change with a new operator.
Council Member Greg Casar said before the next vote, he wanted to understand the details of the procurement process by city staff. He said if the request for bids was not specific in asking for applications that would preserve the very specific, quirky aspects of the course, then there was an issue with procurement, not Pecan Grove’s bid.