The long-embattled Lions Municipal Golf Course got a boost for preservation from an unlikely source last week. The Texas Historical Commission review board, meeting in San Antonio, voted to recommend the course be listed on the National Registry of Historic Places due to its role in desegregating Southern golf courses in the 1950s.
The fate of the West Austin golf course, which is owned by the University of Texas System and operated by the city, has been in question since 2009, when UT commissioned plans to develop the land along Lake Austin Boulevard for commercial and residential use. While the move would have generated several million dollars more than would leasing it to the city, which manages the course, it was met with fervent opposition that has shown surprising staying power, mostly via the Save Muny group, which counts retired pro golfer Ben Crenshaw among its vocal members.
The course became desegregated quietly—some might say passively—in 1950, when city officials simply allowed two black men to play on the course, which would have been illegal at the time. According to the Austin-American Statesman, scholars assert that it was the first Southern municipal golf course to do so.
The Historical Commission's executive director has 45 days to approve the recommendation. A National Registry listing would not prevent the course from being demolished, but it would require the development go through a historic review process before doing so and possibly bring pressure to bear on the UT Regents not to do so.