The vibe remains: Renovated Butler Pitch and Putt reopens to the Austin public
Austin may lack the watercolor azaleas of Augusta National Golf Club, and our grackles don’t squawk with the same mellifluousness as the birds in Augusta, Georgia, but the city does have its own “tradition unlike any other.”
Butler Pitch & Putt has sat tucked in a pocket park steps from Lady Bird Lake for more than 70 years, and on Masters weekend the polished jewel will be unveiled to the public.
A group of Austin-based hospitality veterans and creative entrepreneurs operating under the banner Pecan Grove Golf Partners have renovated and enlivened the 10-hole, par-three course sandwiched between Barton Springs Road and West Riverside Drive.
Gone are the patchy greens, replaced by undulating surfaces designed by Austin golf legend Ben Crenshaw’s firm. A scoreboard replicating the style of Augusta National borders the east end of the course. Beer advertised as the coldest in South Austin is served from a mini-truck branded by course partner Yeti. The clubhouse and its cheekily monikered Amateur Shop sell Butler apparel from course partner Criquet (there’s even a sleeveless shirt to fit the course's no-shoes, no-problem mentality). And the menu was designed by award-winning chef, Butler regular and low-handicapper Michael Fojtasek of Olamaie.
The restoration was overseen by the hospitality group New Waterloo (South Congress Hotel, Sway, Hotel Ella), whose CEO, Austin native and Austin City Limits Music Festival co-founder Bart Knaggs, calls the course established in 1949 a “heritage piece of Austin lore and life” that has long lived in people’s memories like a black-and-white photograph. He hopes that the course’s restoration will contemporize the nostalgia-inspiring space while paying tribute to its history.
“It is a park first and foremost, and parks are meant to be gathering places for all,” Knaggs told the American-Statesman in an email. “Yet in Austin, our parks are underfunded and not resourced like they might ought to be. We hope this rejuvenation of Butler sets an example for a way to create a place that can stand up to the expectations of people today, and hold its own among all the wonderful places to eat, drink and play in Austin circa 2021.”
Pecan Grove Partners, which was granted the operating contract in a vote from Austin City Council in 2019, spent $1 million on improvements for the park. Upon reopening, the group will pay a monthly rent of about $10,000 to the city, plus an annual lump sum payment equal to 6% of revenues exceeding $694,444.
British PGA golfer and Austin resident Nick Pateman serves as golf operations manager at the course, which has an added 10th hole for practicing that is known as “Sweet P.” The longest hole (number 7) clocks in at 101 yards, with the first hole representing the course’s shortest at 61 yards.
Pateman, who plans to introduce programming for all age ranges and continue Butler’s weekly Monday night game, says the course was built to provide recreation for all and a challenge even to serious golfers.
“People should expect it to be laidback overall. It’s certainly not a country club. It’s open doors to all,” Pateman said. “From the golf course itself, they should expect a fun but challenging experience, especially from the new greens. It’s like playing a mini championship course but with a welcoming vibe.”
Architect and design partner Jack Sanders has experience curating recreation and camaraderie at his the Long Time, an event space and sandlot baseball facility in East Austin. Sanders, who designed the centerpiece scoreboard and consulted on course layout, thinks the same playful, for-the-love-of-the-game-and-the-hang vibes from sandlot baseball will find an equally suitable home at the par-three course.
“I think the sandlot ethos translates to golf in that it takes fun into consideration, most importantly, and strips it down to some of its most basic elements: being outside, hanging out with friends, and you can bring your own personality and your own quirk to your swing. It’s not robotic. It’s got a lot more personality and mixed personalities. Anybody can do it, if they give it a shot.”
Butler's scorecard rules capture the spirit concisely, with the first rule repeated as the 10th: "Have fun, be nice, swing easy."
The partners hope that the stylized but casual atmosphere, with an aesthetic curated by Austin creatives and a food menu of biscuits and simple Masters-inspired sandwiches like pimento cheese and chicken salad, at a course with greens designed by Masters champion Crenshaw in a park just a drive-and-a-chip from downtown will make Butler Pitch & Putt a uniquely Austin offering.
“Our hope is that Butler can be a truly distinctive collaboration that honors the simple joys of golf, cold-cold beer and tasty, local food from one of Butler’s familiar regulars,” Knaggs said. “If we get that simple mission right, it will deliver on the duty it has on that piece of property to make everyone know that when they are there, they could only be in Austin.”
Butler Pitch & Putt
Rates: Monday-Thursday: $12 ($8 for 65 and older, $5 for under 18); Friday-Sunday: $14 ($10 over 65, $5 under 18). Replays are half-price.
Food menu: Biscuit sandwiches, including ham and cheese, and fried chicken, $7-$10; sandwiches, including egg salad and pimento cheese, $5; hot dogs $5.
Hours: Dawn till dark daily, weather permitting.
Information: 201 Lee Barton Drive. 512-477-4430, butlerparkpitchandputt.com.