It’s a cold winter morning. The sun touches on the frost-tinged grass at Lions Municipal Golf Course as weekday traffic crawls by on nearby Exposition and Enfield Road. On a day that many might opt to snuggle in for a few more moments of sleep rather than exercise, the parking lot is filling up for the early tee time at this venerable public course in Austin.
Lions Municipal has been a fixture in the city since it was constructed in 1928; when the lease was conveyed to the city of Austin in 1936, “Muny” became a public course. In 1951, the city voted to allow blacks to play on the previously segregated course—in fact, Lions may have been the first racially integrated golf course in the Southern United States.
Photo by Brian Fitzsimmons
Ginny Rohlich (left) and Diana Evans (center) watch as Mary Rodela takes a swing.
While Muny has been home to many over the years, on this Wednesday morning, it is hosting—as it does every week—the Austin Women’s Public Links Golf Association. Formed in 1940, AWPLGA was one of the first women’s golf associations in Austin. There are three primary ladies’ golf associations in town: another meets on Mondays at Jimmy Clay, and another at Morris Williams. While you won’t find a website with information, the way to learn about each group is by contacting the pro shop at the appropriate public courses. There are nominal fees—dues for the AWPLGA at Muny, for example, are $25 a year, which includes three yearly tournaments and lunch, and playing a round costs $18 (that includes $5 for a cart). Once a golfer has joined the AWPLGA, she simply calls the clubhouse to reserve one of the six tee times available each Monday, Wednesday, or Friday morning. Members are placed into random foursomes to encourage socializing. It’s possible to be a member of all three and play at each course, and each group has developed a distinctive personality.
The group that plays at Muny is an experienced bunch. Ginny Rohlich, this year’s president, is an enthusiastic ambassador and accomplished Austin athlete. She talked about the various activities at Muny (the “Low Putt” game and the Hole in One Club), greeted every woman by name, and discussed the positives of the group. “We want all women to play,” she said. “We have all ages, though most are retired, and even working women, but it’s tough for them since we meet during the day. Some of our ladies are real beginners and some are super golfers, and we have all nationalities.”
Sherry Horan, who’s the president of the Morris Williams group, was playing at Lions that morning, and she pointed out some of the differences in the two groups. “The Friday group has a whole different perspective,” she said. “It’s a little more low key [than the Muny LGA], there are a few scrambles, and we move the morning tee time to 9 a.m. in the winter.” At Muny, there’s a focus on maintaining speed of play and many of the golfers discussed rules as they progressed through the course.
Ethel Cameron, 86, referenced the 90-degree rule as she drove up to the No. 3 hole, which is her favorite. Cameron started playing golf her senior year in high school and continued “in between children.” The colder weather forced her into the cart; on warmer days, she—like the other women—walks. She plays once a week, enjoying the scenery and the company.
Masako Wada joined three years ago. An acupuncturist with Northwest Counseling and Wellness, Wada plays on her days off. She credits the weekly exercise with helping her health: “I used to have hip pain and hear a ‘click’ when I walked,” she explained. “After a year [of regularly walking the course each week], I realized I didn’t hear the ‘click’ anymore and the pain was gone.”
Photo by Brian Fitzsimmons
Lions Municipal Golf Course is nestled in West Austin; deer often roam the grounds.
Some of the newer members present on this day were Edie Elkjer and Cody Brady. Elkjer joined in September. She comes from a golfing family (her grandmother was a state champion in North Dakota in the early 1900s) but stopped playing while she was working. A friend encouraged her to pick the sport up again, and so Elkjer resumed playing in her 40s. Brady had showed up for the very first time and was welcomed into the group. Like Elkjer, she learned as a kid and had taken a break.
“I haven’t played in 40 years,” Brady said. “I’m relearning.”
Many of the AWPLGA members found the organization through playing golf with their husbands. Mary Rodela, Juanita Flores, and their respective husbands are all members of the Austin Pan American Golf Association (APAGA), a nonprofit whose mission is “to promote enthusiasm for golf, fellowship among members, and participate in charitable and civic events.” Rodela and her husband go to the National PAGA tournament every year (this year, it’s in El Paso): “We treat it like a vacation and go for a whole week. Play a few days, do other activities.” Flores and her husband participate in tournaments all over; she keeps a comprehensive list of all the courses she’s played. (Her favorite in Austin is Morris Williams, or "Mo Willie," as she lovingly calls it. “I loved it before the renovation, and now it's so much better. I like that it's got enough of a challenge to make the round interesting and fun, and the setting feels like a country club course.”) Flores recalled how she and Rodela came to AWPLGA about seven years ago: “I remember Cheddie Conder inviting me and Mary to join their group at Lions…we did, and met a bunch of really lovely ladies that all loved playing this game as much as we did. It's been fun.” Conder has been playing with the group since 1997. “I have to make myself get out of bed, and golf does that,” she said with a laugh.
There’s a lot of history in the group, and long-time member Diana Evans was a wealth of information. She talked about Viola Kizer, for whom the AWPLGA Club Championship is named, and pointed out that the No. 5 hole at Muny is “The Kizer Family Hole.” The Kizers, who lived in a house on the course (it was located near today’s Nos. 13 and 17 holes and the cart shop), had children who grew up to be noted Austin golfers; Roy Kizer, Viola’s husband, was the course superintendent from 1937-1973.
Jan Yeakey, 74, remembered playing golf at Muny while the Kizers lived there: “We’d go over to Viola’s house, sit around under the big tree, and have a cool drink.” She recalled that in those days, the AWPLGA consisted of a smaller group of younger women. Yeakey joined in the fall of 1962, more than 50 years ago, and is the group’s longest standing member; that Wednesday, she was playing her third round of the week.
Austin’s public courses provide an opportunity that some other communities can’t. Mary Bower, 85, who joined the AWPGLA in 1993, lives in Georgetown and drives into Austin regularly on Wednesdays to golf with the group. There’s no municipal course in Georgetown and Bower is not particularly fond of playing on the Round Rock course. “I love Lions,” she said. “It’s so pretty. It’s one of the finest public facilities in the state. My fear is we’ll lose it to the corporate bankers and developers who run UT and are salivating to get the land.”