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Before a part of campus, there was “Goat Hills”

All that’s left of Fort Worth’s first public golf course are the legends — and an old bridge you’ve probably walked across.

Before a part of campus, there was “Goat Hills”

Opened in 1923, Worth Hills Golf Course was the first public course in Fort Worth and sits on the land between Bellaire and Stadium drives.

Before a part of campus, there was “Goat Hills”

All that’s left of Fort Worth’s first public golf course are the legends — and an old bridge you’ve probably walked across.

Sit around any 19th hole in Fort Worth and nothing, save cheap beer, flows more freely than talk of local legends. Pro shops, driving ranges and golf course parking lots fill with proud duffers boasting about the time they received a smile and a nod from Byron Nelson. Or how they talked to a guy who once sat on the Colonial veranda at the table next to Ben Hogan. Or that they had a friend whose kid at TCU was in class with J.J. Henry ’98 or Angela Stanford ’00.

For more than 80 years, Fort Worth has been a pillar in the Parthenon of American golf. Many locals revere Nelson, a Fort Worth Polytechnic student, and his seemingly insurmountable streak of 11 consecutive tournament victories. Others marvel at Hogan, who caddied at Glen Garden Country Club until he turned pro at age 17. They stop Charles Coody ’60 at TCU games and talk to him about the ’71 Masters.

Fort Worth folks have left nearly as many marks on the world of golf as they leave on Leonard Golf Links in the month of May. But, more than the people, one golf course offers as much mystique and history to golfing lore as its celebrated players. Jim Nantz may speak reverently about Hogan’s Alley, and everyone will have claimed to have been there when Annika Sorenstam played Colonial. But for more than three decades, there was a golf course that did more for the sport in Fort Worth than any sponsor’s exemption. The Worth Hills Golf Course brought together the rich, the famous, the tired, the poor, the huddled sevensomes with over $200 on the juice heading down No. 17. For many, Worth Hills, AKA “Goat Hills,” simply was golf in Fort Worth.

And exactly two features from its 18-hole design still exist today. Underneath the southwest side of TCU are wooden tees and old balata from one of the first golf courses in town. And before another structure is erected down one of Worth Hills’ forgotten fairways, it might bear value to listen to what the “Goat Hills” ghosts can tell us about its semi-proud 18 holes.
Opened in 1923, Worth Hills Golf Course was the first public course in Fort Worth (Glen Garden and Rivercrest, both private clubs, preceded it). The course sat on the land between Bellaire and Stadium drives that now contains fraternity and sorority houses, intramural fields and athletic facilities.

When scribe Dan Jenkins ’53, wrote a seminal piece of golfing literature in a 1965 edition of Sports Illustrated titled “The Glory Game at Goat Hills,” it thrust the old course, by then bulldozed and reshaped in the name of Horned Frog progress, into the national spotlight. More, it let municipal golf course denizens from coast to coast see that the characters they played with week in and week out were all kin to a wacky class of … athletes?

The mystical nature of the course remains intact even though jogging trails have replaced its cart paths. One related Goat Hills tale begs to move from the “fiction” category to “non-fiction.” It focuses on a time in the mid ’70s when Worth Hills allegedly held one last encore performance. Not for Matty, or Cecil the Parachute, or Foot the Free from Jenkins’ 1965 article, but for golfers with names like Nicklaus, Palmer and Player.

In 1974, the PGA Tour selected Colonial Country Club to host, during its annual spot on the tour, one of three “designated” tournaments, meaning that the top 150 touring members were required to play that event for a sweetened pot: a purse of $250,000. The following year, in August, the PGA Tour selected Colonial to host the Tournament Players’ Championship.

But, the added influx of players for the ’74 and ’75 Colonial events meant less room on the practice range. A course that typically saw 100 golfers for its annual invitational event now had 150 trying to make the cut. The pros needed a spot to practice their drives for a shot at the winner’s $50,000 check. Needing elbow room, legend holds that many of the PGA Tour members came over to the remnants of Worth Hills and practiced where many TCU students jog today.

“Friends remember watching Nicklaus hitting balls off the No. 3 tee, the only hint of anything left from the original 18,” Jenkins said.

The No. 3 tee is still visible today on the western end of the entrance to the Bayard Friedman Tennis Center and Lupton Stadium parking lot. Still elevated and enjoying the shade of a live oak, the original tee box can be made out. More, the bridge over the pond behind the Kappa Sigma/Sigma Chi house remains a solid structure from the original course.

Nobody is exactly sure that Nicklaus played a swatch of Goat Hills. Many people associated with both Colonial Country Club and the National Invitation are aware that Worth Hills might have hosted PGA pros, but precious little proof exists. And while some legends retain their mythical quality by existing partly in the unknown, some fans of golf, of Fort Worth and of the old Goat Hills might like to know for sure that the Worth Hills Golf Course enjoyed one last swan song 50 years after it first hosted players.