Pitch & Putt operator wants one more RFP round from Council

It was heartbreaking, like losing a match on a close putt.

"This golf course is more than a business to me, it’s family,” Butler Pitch & Putt operator Lee Kinser said.

On Monday morning Kinser stood with supporters at the Butler Pitch & Putt. The long-time operator is asking the city to give her one more chance to stay.

"We've had an outpouring of people wanting it to stay like it is,” said Kinser.

The property is wedged between Riverside, Lamar and Barton Springs and owned by the city, but like the pecan trees, Kinser's family has deep roots here dating back to the late 40s. Kinser’s father planted some of the trees. 

Despite that, city managers disqualified Kinser after filing her renewal application. Notification, according to Kinser, came by text message.

"Austin prides itself on being so cool and hip, that wasn't very nice at all,” said Kinser. 

The disqualification was because of a minor mistake: Kinser had missed signing one of the pages on the application. 

“It’s the Kinser family that has made this location iconic to Austin,” said local community activist Paul Saldana. 

The action by the city, according to Saldana, was heavy handed.

"We are really losing sense of how we can support small business and making sure we can mitigate any processes that might disqualify a small business over a technicality where you are missing a signature,” said Saldana.

The city council is expected to make a decision Thursday on whether or not to award a contract to a new operator. The company that the parks department is recommending is called Pecan Grove Partners. 

A petition is circulating requesting the city to reopen the bidding process. It’s already got the vote of council member Ann Kitchen.  

"I support reissuing the RFP, so that the Butler folks that have been operating that place for years, have the opportunity to participate and compete,” said Kitchen.

The committee that reviewed the selection process has suggested the council make the process more user-friendly. 

Kinser said if she is able to keep control of the course, she will invest more money into the site. There are several much needed improvements. Tee boxes are in need of repair as well as sitting areas. The greens are not smooth; on some there are large patches of dirt to play through.

"We're going to put $500,000 into it and make it nice,” Kinser said. “The last 5 years I did about $120,000 worth of improvements but with only a 5-year lease it’s not justified to put a lot of money into it.”

The fees are low because of the rough edges, according to Nicholas Trice who runs a camp at the course.

"This is the ultimate symbol of non-traditional golf and it has to stay here and it has to remain that way and some way, change is great we should change, but we shouldn't change the essence of what this place is, where literally anyone can come here,” said Trice. 

City officials say fees are to remain affordable regardless of who ends up running the site.