Garden Group Looking To Turn Gus Wortham Golf Course into Botanical Wonderland

Board members of Houston Botanic Garden, a nonprofit formed in 2002 that’s been looking to bring a big-time garden to the city ever since, have had their eyes on several properties, including the KBR site in the Fifth Ward. But it’s the 150 acres home to the 18-hole Gus Wortham Golf Course — the oldest in Texas — that they are after now. The course, which includes a driving range, is owned by the city, and Jeff Ross, president of the garden club, explains that the organization hopes to ink a “long-term lease” that would allow it to “repurpose the property,” much like the 55-acre VanDusen Botanical Garden had done with the old Shaughnessy Golf Club in Vancouver. Ross explains that this repurposing could mean reserving as many as 65 acres for a 9-hole course — which could be built from scratch or involve a kind of rejiggering of the existing holes — and setting up the gardens on the remaining 85-90 relatively hilly acres that roll here toward Brays Bayou.


The 106-year-old course is just north of Idylwood and west of Country Club Place and Simms Woods. Ross explains that the property is appealing in part because of its proximity to the under-construction East End Line that runs along Harrisburg Blvd., just one block north of here, directly to and from the George R. Brown Convention Center and hotels Downtown. Also, says Ross, there are a number of elementary and charter schools in surrounding neighborhoods — Magnolia Park, Eastwood, Third Ward, etc. — that the garden could serve. Additionally, the Brays Bayou hike and bike trail curves along the property’s perimeter and could provide another point of access that would lessen the traffic impact on Lawndale, Wayside, and Harrisburg.

There is, of course, some opposition. A group calling itself Friends of Gus Wortham turned away a few years ago the Houston Dynamo, which was looking to build a facility here. Today, the Houston Chronicle reports that the group is trying to circulate a petition that would preserve the course as is and secure a historic designation to prevent any future development.

Maps: Houston Botanic Garden

37 Comment

  • I like the idea the Buffalo Bayou group had to make the botanical garden in the proposed ecological park right on the bayou, west of Lockwood and south of Clinton.

  • Nooooooooo, not the Gus! It’s my favorite crappy golf course in town. While it’s generally in poor shape, it actually has a good layout. The answer is to pump MORE money into it, not tear it down. it could be a good private or semi-private club.

  • Yeah, this is the old golf course of Thr Houston Country Club before they moved West to Tanglewood. While I respect the duffers who would like this to remain an 18 hole course it really would be better served as a Botanical Garden and 9 hole course. I’ve always been amazed that Dallas and Ft Worth as well as San Antonio have far superior Botanical Gardens to Houston (Mercer is nice but in the suburbs and the one in Memorial Park feels more like Angelina National Forest than a Botanical Garden. Houston is by far the most lush of Texas big cities it really should have a World Class Botanical Garden. My only qualm is that the other cities I’ve mentioned have their Botanical Gardens in really nice areas adjacent to their main parks, this one isn’t. Though I’m sure UH could ultilize it and those who are into Botanical Gardenss will make the drive over. In relation to the KBR site, that would be cool to see someone clean that up and a Botanical Garden there might get more attendance. Hmmm, I wonder how the soil is there, could make for some interesting plants.

  • Mercer and “the one in Memorial Park” are arboreta, not botanic gardens.

  • As much as I appreciate the historical attachment to the Gus, Id prefer the gardens. They could really flourish here, and would potentially have some fantastic views. The twists amd turns of Brays along here and in Idylwood are the most scenic in town. If only we could get some maintenance of the hike and bike trails along this stretch though. Two weeks of inattention and it looks like a rainforest and a good quarter mile of the trail is now under some pretty thick and nasty permamud. Woe unto the unexpecting bike rider the day after a big rain.

  • I love to garden, but even I think this is a lousy idea that smacks of elitism. While the Wortham isn’t PGA material, it is an accessible, affordable course for blue-collar and retired golfers who can’t afford country club fees.

    If the Board of the Houston Botanic Garden is so wild to landscape large amounts of acreage, let them sculpt the berms that border the bayous. That, at least, would benefit more than one neighborhood and would encourage Houstonians and tourists alike to get out and use those wonderful bayou trails.

  • Yes, Gus Wortham is old, but it’s pretty decrepit, and the city seems unable or unwilling to spend what’s necessary to keep it more than barely alive. I’d rather see it turned into a botanical garden that would be a showplace, than keep the golf course just because it’s been there a long time. One of the great things about Houston has been its ability to tear down and rebuild anew.

  • I think converting it into a public park would be a wonderful idea. Something like they have in Curitiba, Brazil. The garden there is extremely gorgeous and beneficial to the health of the city. The problem I have with the golf course is that only a few people can use this wonderful public space.
    Take a look at this link I have provided. The Curitiba Botanic Garden is a masterpiece of public green space. Imagine Our East End with something this wonderful! :)

  • The only interesting story for the day, everything else was filler.

  • How many people actually play golf at Gus Wortham each year, in comparison to other public golf courses owned by the City of Houston? I’m looking for facts, not someone’s best guess.

  • I would love to see this done. Golf courses are the single biggest pointless waste of land that have ever been devised by mankind. Just look at the giant hole in the middle of the forest in Memorial Park they cleared out so rich people can hit a little ball around. The entertainment value per sq. ft. combined with the limited number of people wealthy enough to actually enjoy it make it absolutely ridiculous. A botanical garden would be a FANTASTIC alternative. Plus the city could always use more green space.

  • The proposed site looks to be 2 blocks away from a Light Rail station which would make it accessible to locals and visitors alike. I’d say build it and make it the best Botanical Garden in the region!

  • @#6, STG….

    “would benefit more than one neighborhood”

    Which neighborhood exactly? And how would it benefit ANY ONE neighborhood?

    @#8 Adam Socki….

    “a public park”? Open to the public, yes. Free, no. And likely it would have such a high admission fee that most in the east end would not be able to afford going there more than once.

  • Mercer Arboretum and Botanical Garden and Houston Arboretum and Nature Trail both include…Botanical Gardens

  • Botanical Gardens… contrived.
    Best use of the Gus is to let it be the natural extension of Mason Park. That combo would rival Memorial Park, well, almost.

    We’ve successfully fought off Luck’s bad idea to put the soccor stadium at the Gus, and this bad idea needs to move on, also.
    Let them take on the old KBR site, if they’re looking for a project. Or a stretch of the Bayou, as has been suggested.

  • I don’t play disc golf, but I like the game because the hippies don’t seem to mind sharing their courses with the public. Maybe the duffers should trade in their Calloways for Frisbees and turn the rest of the course into public gardens.

  • Wonderful idea. Golf courses are a poor use of green space with very little use per land space. Imagine a well attended beautiful garden to go too and relax, learn and enjoy.

  • Why in the world does CoH own a golf course? Forget an arboretum, sell it to the highest bidder and repair some streets.

  • It’s not just the oldest, but it’s one of the best golf courses as well, maintenance sucks, but it’s a great, fun course.
    let them do their botanical stuff, but keep it a golf course as well, doesn’t anyone understand dual purpose? Sure, people on both sides will have to make adjustments, families walking around the golf course, or golf balls whizzing around old ladies out for a stroll, it’s all part of life’s great tapestry.

  • I really hope this happens. I have no doubt it would be 1st class and a jewel that we’d be proud of and being right across the street from the MetroRail station would assure lots of tourism.

  • NOOOO!!! I love Gus Wortham. Botanical Gardens?!?!? Seriously? Replace an affordable golf option for the middle class with an elitist garden? Screw that. I’m signing the petition.

  • It always strikes me as lazy and a bit paternalistic when someone decides that they have a better use for public land than its current use. “Everyone will, of course, recognize the brilliance and superiority of my idea, if only they will give me all of the land and resources to implement it first.”

    Yes, golf is an elitist sport (but so are botanic gardens). However, golf at any of the City of Houston’s courses is anything but. I’m not a golfer, but I have been known to spend considerable time on Houston’s bike paths in the area, and the people I see playing at Gus Wortham are not people who are looking for an alternative from their regular foursome at HCC.

    If someone wants to redevelop a golf course owned by the city, let me recommend following they follow the “golf cart” path along White Oak Bayou until they make it up to that shining example of golfing imperialism, Inwood Country Club, or at least, what’s left of it. I am sure the residents there will be more than amenable to having ANY organization take over the property who is willing to take care of it, and it doesn’t require picking a fight over existing public amenities in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood. If some group wants free land, then let’s give them land that is free.

  • And what is up with everyone wanting to build a house? I have friends who are building in the Heights, Spring Branch and Oak Forest. I can tell you that it is a miserable process. Lots of delays (trades and materials can be in short supply), cost overruns, failed inspections, builders who don’t return calls until you start dropping the “l” word (not “lesbian”) and having a double bill for housing if you buy the land. All of that just to get a “custom” home that is really just a slight variation on a form residential design that an architect has recycled dozens of times for different clients all around Houston. Why not just find a house you like well enough, make an offer, sweat the inspection and move in after 30 days?

  • When did gardens become elitest? Last I looked having lived in that neighborhood before, middle class and poorer folks enjoy gardening and growing shit as much as anyone. When was the last time you saw anyone in Memorial or River Oaks doing their own gardening? Is everything in this city that deals with parks and aesthetics need to be considered “elitest”? Seems to me, last I looked, there aren’t a whole lot of east end poorer folks on the golf course wearing bad pants and shirts, in fact in the time I lived there, I never saw ANYONE playing on the course. Let them share the property. We already have to share a huge amount of land with golf at Hermann. Remember, the current gardens aren’t exactly accessible to lower income people. And who said there would be an exorbinant price charged to enter?

  • Last year the Dallas Arborteum ( which is really more of a Botanical Garden) saw over 950,000 visitors from over 70 countries. They plant 500,000 bulbs and over 2.3 million bedding plants on their 60+ acres. And Dallas is just as hot and miserable in the summer as Houston. They have summer concerts in the gardens, activities for children, and they liason with the industry by providing the only field trial gardens in Texas.
    A well done, well funded botanical garden for Houston could actually be a tourist attraction and help the economy on the East End. I think public golf courses have a place, but I doubt the Gus Wortham sees anywhere near 900,000 golfers on it’s links each year.

  • Gus Wortham is a great affordable golf course for those who are trying to learn the sport and don’t want to deal with the crowds / scene at Memorial.

    Does anyone know what the proposed admission would be for the garden? I have a feeling that if the admission is as high as it would need to be for proper upkeep, not enough people would be interested in going, and going repeatedly for that matter.

  • Some people like botanical gardens, some people like golf. Almost no one gets their jollies by going to a redundant convention center. Scrap the Dome and give the money to gardens, golf, or both. Anything is a better value. If you want to save the dome, put one of these enjoyable activities inside it.

  • @ LSM and @PYEWACKET2

    There are methods of establishing and maintaining Public Gardens/parks without resorting to charging an admission fee to get it. I agree with you both that making people pay to get in would be a horrible idea. In Curitiba, Brazil the city employs a Transfer of Land Development method to pay for the garden’s upkeep. This may or may not be appropriate for this case, but what is important is that there are methods the city can employ that would eliminate the [horrible] idea of making people pay to come and visit a park/garden/whatever we decide to call the place.

    (Idea: if they are interested in keeping it a 9-hole course, they could use the money generated from this to pay for the garden.)

  • Full disclosure, I have no attachment to the Gus and would much rather prefer that area be developed. Regardless, I’ll play devil’s advocate.

    Why not Hermann Park? People visit it to go to the Museum, zoo, concerts and play golf. Outside of that, I don’t know anyone who actually visits the rest of the park. Why not turn all of that extra land into a true Botanical Garden like Dallas’ Arboretum? It is similar in size, already has a lake, miller outdoor theatre, light rail stop and is in a much more appealing area than the Gus.

    Although this area already has a ton of stuff to do, I feel like an awesome centrally located botanical garden would be much more appealing to the superbowl, rodeo and convention tourists than one on the east side.

  • @LSM: Admission to the Dallas Arboretum is $15. Almost 1 million visitors last year.
    Denver Botanic Gardens:$12.50 and 640k visitors
    Missouri Botanic Gardens:$8.00 and 900k visitors
    San Antonio Botanic Gardens: $8.50

    Gus Wortham Golf Course: $16.00 weekdays and $23 on weekends.

  • @ 10, hermann park golf course averages 108 golfers per day, I assume Gus Wortham course is about the same

  • The inner-loop and surrounding areas are already a golf desert… there are too few public courses, whether CoH owned or not, within close proximity to anyone living inside the loop. I find myself driving 45-60 minutes plus to get out to the far flung suburbs to play at reasonably nice courses open to the public. Hermann, GW and Glenbrook are pretty much the only alternative to that and all three share a deep history with the City. Hermann is in relatively good shape, but it’s sad to see the current state of the other two.

  • I’m guessing they didn’t want to use Hermann because it’s as flat as a pancake. It sounds from the description like the GW site rolls a little bit, and has some views.

    This discussion is a typical Houston example of people opposing something that they don’t really understand due to lack of travel/experience. The Dallas Arboretum is a big time attraction, probably the best place in the city for an outdoor wedding or engagement photos, always tons of people. And Houston has much more potential for a garden considering our soil and rainfall. Time to claim this one.

  • It would be a great addition to the area and help the East End with its much needed revitalization. The location will give Metro light rail riders and people using the hike and bike trail that is under construction easy access. Its only 4 miles from downtown and has views of the downtown skyline. It will be funded by private contributions so Houstonians won’t have to foot the bill. Plus the proposal is for a botanic garden and a nice 9-hole course so there’s something for everyone. Other areas of town have greatly benefitted from the amenities that were built around it. It would be really nice to see the same thing happen to the East End.

  • ITS ABOUT TIME! Too many of our major parks have been decimated botanically, extirpating the indigenous species to create a wasteland called a golf course, that few benefit from its use. Herman and Memorial parks need to be redone this way too using locally collected seed and cutting stock.

  • It would seem, from the incredibly large unused acreage in Memorial Park, and, with the already established arboretum in Memorial Park, that the logical direction to take this would be ……to locate the botanical gardens next to the arboretum in …..Memorial Park. Am I missing something here? What an incredible extension of the arboretum / nature center to have, as a next door neighbor attraction, and right in the middle of Houston’s dynamic core, this botanical garden. Since there is opposition to the Gus Wortham useage other than as a golf course, and since this proposed botanical garden’s location is somewhat questionable, why hasn’t the interest been shown in locating it as per the above?

  • Gus Wortham Golf Course would make money if the city took the same care of it, as they do for the Memorial Golf course. Seems the city rather not take care of a historic course in a poorer neighborhood. In reality, the layout of Gus Wortham has more elevation and more challenging holes then Memorial. Unfortunately, litter, ground and facilities are minimal maintained by the city. As in any business, you need to invest and spend money to make money. Just letting it set there and run it into the ground is what the city is currently doing.