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Austin City Council vote brings new management to Butler golf course after 70 years under one family

Friday, June 21, 2019 by Jimmy Maas

The Austin City Council voted 8-3 on Thursday to lease Butler Pitch and Putt golf course to Pecan Grove Partners, marking the end of an era for the Kinser family, who have run the course since construction began in the late 1940s.

City Council members agreed with city staff recommendations and a Parks and Recreation board vote last month to award the contract to the new company.

The lease on the nine-hole course near Riverside Drive and Lamar Boulevard expires in August. Lee Kinser said when she submitted paperwork to the city for renewal, the application was disqualified because it was missing one signature on “an 80-page document.” She appealed, but was denied.

City staff chose Pecan Grove based on its proposal, and, in part, because the technicality disqualified Kinser. That was a sticking point for some Council members, including Leslie Pool.

“We don’t want to see major changes at this site, because that wasn’t what this (lease contract) was about,” Pool said before the vote. “The concession was to continue what was going on there. And frankly, the Kinser bid would have been considered if not for one missing signature. And I can’t step away from that clear fact.”

The major changes Pool referred to are what Pecan Grove promised in its proposal. The group said it would invest in the grounds and safety upgrades, while ideally preserving the golf course’s character and affordability.

“It’s relatively low-key,” Council Member Kathie Tovo said. “In a city that is dynamically changing, Pitch and Putt has remained a vibrant place, but it’s not overly commercial. It feels like old Austin to many people, and that’s what they enjoy and appreciate about it.”

Mayor Steve Adler, Tovo, Pool and Council Member Ann Kitchen voted against awarding the contract to Pecan Grove.

“There’s an admitted violation of the procedure,” Adler said, adding that reopening the bid process would be “sort of like a pardon.”

Council Member Jimmy Flannigan pointed out the deference the city has given the Kinser family in the past. At the end of Lee Kinser’s last lease option in 2014, the city did not open Butler Pitch and Putt for bids and awarded her a five-year extension. He said it’s important to stick with the city’s procurement process.

“I don’t believe that 70 years – thinking back to what the city of Austin was like, and who got access to contracting, and who got access to government process – is evidence alone that it should continue,” he said. “There were definitely folks that were not given access to the city of Austin in the ’40s.”

The golf course was designed and managed by brothers Douglas and Winston Kinser. Douglas Kinser died shortly after Butler opened in 1950. Winston Kinser ran the course for decades until ceding it to Lee Kinser, his former daughter-in-law, in the 1990s.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Lee Kinser said in April, when it appeared she would be left out of the process. “I could retire, but I don’t want to. I like it here, but I will be forced to if I don’t get this lease.”

This story has been changed since publication to correct the vote taken. This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Julia Reihs/KUT.

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