|San Antonio Express-News|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Aug. 6, 2004 - The Professional Golfers' Association of America may have dumped plans for a PGA Village development in Northeast Bexar County, but PGA Tour -- a separate organization -- now is considering the same land for another major golf project, the property owner confirmed Thursday.
In other words, the fight over the 2,600-acre site atop the Edwards Aquifer may not be settled.
Florida-based PGA Tour is studying San Antonio as a potential site for a Tournament Players Club, which a source said could include at least one top-flight 18-hole course, a resort with up to 700 rooms and a training facility.
"We have had discussions with the Tour," said Trish DeBerry, spokeswoman for developer Lumbermen's Investment Corp., which owns the land. "But it's one of many options we're looking at."
The possibility of a PGA Tour-owned course has the city's golf community excited.
"We hoped they would at least turn their attention to San Antonio and our hopes are being realized," Golf San Antonio chief executive Tony Piazzi said. "I am aware that the Tour is at least looking at San Antonio as a possibility for future opportunities and that's really all I can talk about."
With several other undisclosed cities in the running, PGA Tour -- which is regarded as the top golf tour in the world -- is expected to make its decision in two to four weeks, according to people close to the negotiations.
The organization wouldn't comment directly on talks with Lumbermen's.
"The PGA Tour regularly evaluates opportunities to develop (TPCs) throughout the country," PGA Tour officials said in a written statement.
"The Tour certainly is familiar with San Antonio due to our outstanding history through the Valero Texas Open and Champions Tour SBC Championship, and we would categorize it as a potential area of interest."
Previous plans for the property, as sketched by PGA of America and Lumbermen's, called for building two golf courses, a training facility and a resort, as well as smaller boutique hotels. But the project plunged the city into a three-year battle between supporters yearning for economic benefits and environmentalists wanting to safeguard the city's drinking water.
PGA of America backed out of the development May 28, citing the lack of an agreement with Lumbermen's, "a churning political environment" and a downturn in the golf industry. Two weeks later, a group of nine local, civic and business leaders traveled to the PGA's board meeting in Chicago in a desperate but unsuccessful push to save the project.
Lumbermen's discussions with PGA Tour apparently started after PGA of America sent the delegation home empty-handed.
Although PGA Tour evolved from PGA of America, the two organizations are separate.
The PGA of America is comprised mainly of club pros while the PGA Tour is similar to the National Basketball Association or Major League Baseball.
The PGA Tour conducts more than 100 professional tournaments through its PGA Tour, Nationwide Tour and Champions Tour.
PGA Tour operates 24 TPC facilities in the United States. If the organization builds here, non-pros could use the course -- probably for a hefty fee.
Part of the TPC's marketing campaign is "Play where the PGA Tour professionals play," but having a course owned by the PGA Tour does not mean the city's two professional tournaments -- the Valero Texas Open, a PGA Tour event held at La Cantera Golf Club; and the SBC Championship, a Champions Tour match held at Oak Hills Country Club -- would move to the site.
In the meantime, Lumbermen's isn't pinning its hopes solely on a PGA Tour development.
The developer, DeBerry said, is considering building a master-planned community with houses bordering a non-PGA golf course, or a housing development without a golf course. Several weeks ago, the city's Planning Commission approved Lumbermen's plans to build 183 homes on 52 acres at the site.
Worries abound over the damage a major residential development could do to the aquifer.
Under an agreement with the city for the PGA Village, Lumbermen's committed to series of environmental and water protection measures. In exchange, the city pledged not to annex the property for 15 years.
It was unclear whether Lumbermen's would -- or could -- seek to substitute the PGA Village for a TPC under the development contract. In any case, Mayor Ed Garza said he would want to see similar protections with a PGA Tour course.
Plans for the possible development, Garza said, appeared vague.
"We'll have to see if there's anything to it," County Judge Nelson Wolff said, "and then we'll have to judge it."
By Greg Jefferson and Raul Dominguez
WHAT'S A TPC COURSE?
It's a Tournament Players Club golf course, which encourages players to 'Play where the PGA Tour professionals play.' The first of the courses owned and operated by PGA Tour was Sawgrass in Florida. The newest is in McKinney, north of Dallas.
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