Fort Brown Memorial Golf Course closes after 50 years - Brownsville Herald: News

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GAME OVER Fort Brown Memorial Golf Course closes after 50 years

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Posted: Monday, October 5, 2015 11:30 am

Diana, and their son, Joseph, on a recent visit to Fort Brown Memorial Golf Course, which the family leased and operated until just a few months ago.

The formerly manicured space had become overgrown with weeds. Dead branches littered the ground near the pro shop. Orange barricades blocked the entrance.

The course, which opened in the mid-1950s, closed its doors May 21, nearly 28 years to the day after Robert Lucio signed a contract with the city of Brownsville to run it.

The scenic 18-hole course, abutting the earthwork remnants of the original FortBrown on the banks of the Rio Grande, was for years a popular destination for Winter Texans. Robert Lucio coached the University of Texas at Brownsville golf team there from 2006 to 2010. Joseph Lucio, born in 2000, practically grew up on the 165-acre course and, like his father, is a golf pro.

More than one factor led to the decline of what had once been a thriving business, though the final nail in the coffin, according to the Lucios, was indifference on the part of Texas Southmost College following the split with UTB — an assertion TSC disputes.

The college became the Lucios’ landlord in 1992 when the city assigned the contract rights to the Southmost Union Junior College District, TSC’s taxing district, now called the Texas Southmost College District. The city bought BrownsvilleGolfCenter in the Brownsville Country Club in 1991.

The city had originally built the FortBrown course for the area’s Mexican-American golfers, who weren’t allowed to play at Brownsville’s private country club, said Robert Lucio, the younger brother of state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr.

During its heyday with the Lucios at the helm, the course hosted close to 40,000 rounds of golf a year, allowing rates to stay low, Robert Lucio said. The most lucrative time of year was between the first of November and the end of March, he said.

The course was popular but old. The pro shop and the irrigation system were falling apart. But business was strong enough that in 2004 the family took out a large loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration and used their life savings as a down payment to build a new pro shop, upgrade the irrigation system and install new turf. Total cost was around $815,000, he said.

UTB-TSC’s stipulations on design specifications and materials “skyrocketed the cost of the project,” Lucio said. The loan payments doubled as rent payments, plus the Lucios got their contract extended to 2031, which was good. The timing, however, was bad.

In 2006, Congress passed the Secure Fence Act. The effect on the golf course was immediate. Although nothing happened right away construction-wise, business started to dry up. Some members, uncertain about the course’s future, stopped renewing their memberships.

“Without even the fence going up we were already affected by it, just by word of mouth,” Lucio said. “Our membership declined right of way.”

Nonetheless, the Lucios rolled up their sleeves and managed to do OK between 2007 and 2009, Robert Lucio said.

Homeland Security eventually built its border fence on the levee, leaving a gap at the entrance to the golf course, which was now entirely on the Mexican side of the fence.

Adding to the family’s woes was BrownsvilleGolfCenter, where fees were set so low in order to attract business that it was undercutting the FortBrown course, Lucio said.

“They were so cheap, they were almost giving it away,” Lucio said. “They were taking our tournaments and groups. The Winter Texans started leaving.”

After buying BGC in the early 1990s, the city spent $5.3 million renovating the course, which has consistently lost money since. The city’s 2014 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report shows BGC had total expenses of $999,620 compared to total revenue of $425,020 — a shortfall of $574,600.

In May, the Lucios held a family meeting and came to a decision: They could not continue. The terms of the loan were such that if the Lucios defaulted, the lease with TSC would revert to the lender, IBC bank, which it did.

“Today IBC owns the contract to the golf course,” Robert Lucio said.

 

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com

A more complete version of this story is available on www.myBrownsvilleHerald.com.

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