Second Thought: Wednesday, May 1, 2003
A Diamond Set in Broken Glass

Glen Garden isn’t rich these days, but it still has soul.


There are people (usually men), I am convinced, who would play golf if the sky were raining pig doo and the course were built on a city dump.

Oh, wait — there are golf courses built on city dumps, like the one in Perryton, Texas, where the clubhouse was corrugated metal and the course backed up to a steakhouse with exhaust vents that blew on you like the exhalation from a giant unfiltered cigarette.

Some golfers hold out for the “crown jewel” courses — St. Andrews in Scotland, Augusta, Pebble Beach. Others are content with their local jewels in the rough.

Glen Garden was once one of those jewels, the queen of Cowtown courses a few decades ago, the fabulous drinking-clinking, see-and-be-seen royal residence of Fort Worth social life. Damned fine golf course, too.

These days, however, her tiara is made of barbed wire, and that string of pearls is actually the trash that lines the ditches. The grass in the gutters is greener than that on the fairways. Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan caddied here as teens in the 1920s. All that’s left of those legends now are their photographs on the wall.

“It was the second course in Fort Worth,’’ said Dan Jenkins, sportswriter and golf author. “Rivercrest was first, then Glen Garden,’’ the two siblings of the infant years of Fort Worth golf.

But you’d never know today that the two were sisters. Rivercrest can afford liposuction and didn’t smoke. Glen Garden married the first guy she met in high school and could barely buy golf shoes for the kids.

“I loved that golf course,’’ said Jenkins, whose golf movie Dead Solid Perfect was filmed at Glen Garden. “It was wonderful. It had the funkiest layout in history. It had the funkiest nine in history. It’s about the funkiest golf course in the world.’’

Even today, Jenkins can begin to recite that nine — “Now write these numbers down,’’ he said, “4-4, 5-5, 3-3, 3-3...’’

Just three years ago, private donations paid for a new $1.2 million clubhouse, a testament to the love Fort Worth has for this place. But you don’t have to look far past the rusted yard markers on the driving range to see the Brinks signs of rougher urban living — large dogs chained in front yards. Burglar bars on the brick homes along the course’s perimeter face a fairway enclosed with barbed wire.

The club is still privately owned, but open to the public.

“If you’re short on money,’’ said Jerre Todd, a semi-retired marketing exec who has worked the Colonial for years, “it’s the place to play.’’ Greens fees are relatively cheap — $35 on weekends and $25 on weekdays. “It appeals to a different type of golfer,” Todd said. “They had four par threes in a row (no longer, since the course was re-routed). They’re probably the only golf course in the world with a transformer tower on the fairway. So you always tried to hit the transformer, because if you hit it you knew you’d get a free drop.’’

I kind of like it, too, despite the places where holes have been cut in the fence large enough to let in whatever the fence was supposed to keep out. I like it despite the ambience, which starts on the road to that clubhouse with beer cans, car parts, pie plates, and empty wine bottles. And despite the view that righties have from the driving range, of metal heaps where old carts go to die.

I’m a registered Democrat, so call me a hypocrite, but looking over Glen Garden a few weeks ago, I thought, “I would not want to play golf alone here.”

Then I checked the stats.

In police report lingo, Glen Garden’s neighborhood is E490, and in 2002 it reported 140 incidents, including two rapes and four aggravated assaults. In 2001, there were 138 total crimes in the area.

Sister Rivercrest’s reporting area, where déclassé burglar bars have been replaced by “home security systems,” reported 99 total crimes in 2002 and 82 in 2001. Around a few bends in the Trinity, Colonial Country Club, not surprisingly, had 39 crimes in 2002 and 34 reported in 2001.

Hmm, let’s try Z Boaz. “That will probably be right up there with Glen Garden,” said Gini Connolly of the Fort Worth Police Department. But it wasn’t. It was way past Glen Garden, with 304 total crimes in 2002 and 313 in 2001. Meadowbrook rang in with 320 in 2002, and 289 in 2001.

Conclusion: Glen Garden’s neighborhood looks scarier, but maybe it’s just because I’m white and the area is mostly black, and rundown to boot, and the people don’t know that I actually travel to follow Dunbar’s basketball team on the road.

Back at the course, it’s a mild Saturday. There are only 11 cars in the parking lot and only three golfers on the course.

The member count is about 250, much lower than in Glen Garden’s heyday but better than in some years. Public attendance is down as well, according to those who still play there occasionally. “We’re not getting ahead,” said Peggy Walker, who has been the office clerk for 35 years.

What’s going to become of this place? “I don’t think Fort Worth would ever let Glen Garden go away,” Todd said. A few seconds later, he doesn’t sound so sure.

“It would be sad to see that old course go.’’

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