The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
Barring an unforeseen last-minute development, a slice of Southeast Texas golf history is about to bite the dust.
The Patch, formerly know as the Pea Patch and Port Groves Golf Club, won’t be around to bring in the new year. Groves mayor Brad Bailey, who along with partner Dwayne Romero breathed new life into the venerable 9-hole layout in 2006, has announced the doors will close on Dec. 30.
Bailey didn’t go into detail beyond the fact that it had become cost prohibitive to keep The Patch operating. From having as many as 78 members after the course re-opened in September of 2007, membership has dropped below 30.
It has been rumored the property upon which the course sits is being sold as part of a real estate development. That’s where it was headed in 2006 when Bailey and Romero purchased the land from Billy Doornbos and did extensive remodeling on what was the area’s second oldest golf course next to Beaumont Country Club.
“At this time, I have no concrete information about what the future holds for the property,” Bailey said. “All I can tell you is that the constant rise in fuel prices, insurance, insecticides, herbicides and the cost of maintaining equipment, combined with declining revenues, left us no choice.”
The imminent closing of The Patch continues a disturbing trend in the golf industry. According to the National Golf Foundation over 350 golf courses in the United State have been shuttered in the past six years. Included in that group are San Antonio’s Pecan Valley, which hosted the 1968 PGA Championship.
Though it was only a 9-hole layout, and was always pretty much a bare bones operation, The Patch is rich in history and was a developmental ground for kids who went on to become top-notch players. Foremost among those is PGA Tour pro Chris Stroud, who was taken aback when informed of the closing.
“That’s sad. I really hate to hear that,” Stroud said. “The Patch has a special place in my heart. It’s where I developed my short game. It was my spot when Josh LaBove was the pro. He took me under his wing when I was about 8 or 9. I spent all my free time out there.
“When my friends were going to parties, I was at The Patch, often playing by myself. Josh was so good about letting me play there and working with me. I’m disappointed for all the kids who won’t have the opportunity that I had there.”
Some of the other familiar golf names who came through The Patch were Larry and Dennis Walsh, Andrew and Adam Landry, Mike Hoelzer and Jimmy Fetters, who would eventually spend four years as a pro there. Future PGA player Marty Fleckman also spent time at The Patch, although he mostly played at Port Arthur Country Club.
Perhaps the best history at The Patch was made when one of the PGA Tour greats of another era, Byron Nelson, was paid the princely sum of $500 to play an exhibition there in the 1940s. Nelson reportedly played with Dalton Raiford, Reggie Overman and a friend he brought along. One report has him breaking the course record, but another says he purposely missed a putt on the final hole to keep from breaking the record.
Fetters, now in his 70s, plays occasionally at The Patch. He said he’s down in the dumps over the closing.
“It’s tragic we’re losing the second oldest golf facility in this part of the world,” he said. “I have so many wonderful memories tied to this place. My dad was the Port Groves club champion in 1949. I still have the trophy. He was the runner-up several times. It wasn’t easy to win because there were so many good players there.
“A lot of the kids who came out of there will tell you they became excellent short game players from their work at The Patch. This is really depressing. I know the Baileys gave a valiant effort to make it work. The economy is just not friendly to the golf business.”
Nobody is taking the news harder than Dennis Walsh, who grew up in a home adjacent to the fifth fairway and still lives there.
“I’m sad,” he said. “When I got a phone call about what was going to happen, I almost cried. That place has been a big part of my life. I learned how to play golf there. Most of my heroes were golfers I got exposed to there. Guys like Ed York, Reggie Overman, Buddy Carr and C.B. Carroll. I loved those guys.
“It used to be a real hangout. Not just for golf, but for dominoes, for playing cards, for shooting pool and just hanging out and talking. It’s a landmark. I’m still holding out hope that somebody with some money and some promotional ideas will come along and save it. I know that’s a long shot, but I don’t want to let go. This is like losing a dear friend.”
Bailey, meanwhile, said he’ll always be indebted to family, friends and the scores of volunteers who worked numerous hours to help get the course playable back in 2007. He praised is dad, Buddy Bailey, in particular for his efforts in helping bring back The Patch.