Don’t mistake Brooks Koepka’s involvement in the Memorial Park Golf Course renovation project as meaning the four-time major champion was an equal partner in converting the Houston municipal course into the gem it is today.
The $34 million reboot funded through a foundation headed by Houston Astros owner and Koepka’s friend Jim Crane was largely handled by Tom Doak, the masterful architect who has a bevy of top courses on his resume, including a pair at Bandon Dunes.
But Koepka was indeed a team member on the project, which took nearly a year to execute once shovels entered the ground. And when asked about it on Wednesday in advance of the Vivint Houston Open, the former World No. 1 bragged at length about the process — before quickly explaining his part in this production was minimal.
“I’ll be honest, I give Tom all the credit. He came up with 99.9 percent of (the ideas) and I just kind of threw in a couple ideas here and there,” Koepka said. “He’s a hell of an architect and designer, so it was fun to work with him.”
OK, so Koepka can’t take credit for many of the details about the revamp, one that has converted Memorial Park into the second municipal golf course on the PGA Tour schedule.
But the Florida State product admits something stirred in him while seeing the process through. Koepka took the gig simply to appease his buddy Crane, but as it wore on, he warmed to the concept of watching the course mature.
“To be honest with you, I had no aspirations of ever being like, ‘I want to design golf courses,’ — nothing,” Koepka said. “But then being asked to do this, it’s a really cool idea. Obviously, I wanted to help Jim out. I think any time you can play a hand in having some opinion on a course that we’re going to play out here, I think it’s unique, it doesn’t happen very often.
“And it’s been cool just to see it evolve. I know this golf course is quite difficult. It’s quite long. You’ll see some high numbers especially if the wind gets up, it kind of resembles a little bit of a U.S. Open I think some people would say, which I feel like I’ve done pretty good at.”
Of course, Koepka’s not in Houston to simply marvel at the work he’s helped produce. This week’s event is largely a tune-up for next week’s Masters, and Koepka believes his body is finally in a place where it can help him secure that coveted green jacket.
He’s played just one Tour event since August, finishing T-27 at the CJ Cup in Las Vegas two weeks ago, but said on Wednesday that all systems are go for this week and beyond.
“I feel great, I feel better than I did even three weeks ago, two weeks ago, whatever I did at Vegas. That’s behind me now. I feel as good as ever and just go out and play,” he said. “I need some reps just because it feels like it’s been so long. That’s why we’re playing this week.”
But since he’s here, Koepka will certainly enjoy playing holes he helped craft. For example, his idea was to make a strong finishing stretch that could tighten up a leaderboard on Sunday. Doak helped make that vision a reality — No. 15 is a short par 3 that will punish players who miss the green, 16 is a reachable par 5 and 17 is a risk-reward short par 4.
And for someone who never saw course design or management in his future, Koepka certainly talked like an architect when he discussed some of Memorial Park’s best features.
“I’ve seen so many different versions of this place from the first, I guess, architectural designs to basically playing it today. I mean, there’s been I don’t know how many versions of it, but it’s been quite interesting to see the little things change, the subtleties that maybe a lot of people would never notice,” he said. “It’s been fun, I’ve enjoyed the process. It’s been cool just to put my, I guess, hand in something else other than just playing golf.”