Though the years our club has been known as the Austin Lions Club, the Lions Club of Austin, and the Downtown Lions Club. In 1976, the name was formally changed to the Founder Lions Club of Austin. It is now known as the Austin Downtown Lions Club.
The club's origins are described by Past International President Julian C. Hyer in his book, Texas Lions, 1917-1967:
And speaking of Austin...The Austin Club is an interesting as well as an historic one dating far back into "the early days." It was organized in January 1916 by E. A. Hicks for Dr. Woods and it sent to the 1917 Convention at Dallas Harry Reasonover and W.A.L. McCormick. While seeking to evoke no controversy and settling nothing here, the San Antonio Club was organized prior to Austin, but some claim is asserted that the Bexar County Club was dormant for a time and had to be reorganized and that this makes Austin the "oldest continuing club." At any rate, the Austin charter reads January 18, 1916, which makes it two months older than the Little Rock charter, and the Arkansas club has long held itself out as the "oldest club in Lionism"
We still enjoy our status as the "world's oldest continuously operating Lions Club." But, we like to think that our efforts in community service are typical of Lions Clubs the world over. It's a story of stage shows, garage sales, rodeos, rose sales and other kinds of fund raisers. It's a story of answering the needs of the community and of disadvantaged groups and individuals. And it's a story of building and working with other Lions Clubs to promote teamwork in service.
Early service activities were predictably oriented toward the Great War in progress, such as the adoption of an 8 year old French orphan girl, sales of War Bonds, and fund raising for the Red Cross. Then in 1926 Helen Keller implore Lions to be the "Knights of the Blind" and gave direction to many future Lions service efforts. The Club instigated vision testing for Austin schoolchildren, and worked with other Austin Lions Clubs to form the Austin Lions Sight Conservation Committee and the Lions Indigent Vision Enterprise, which provide eyeglasses for needy children and adults, respectively. The Club also supports the Lions Eye Bank which makes cornea transplants possible, and the Texas Lions Camp in Kerrville Texas, which provides experiences in self sufficiency for handicapped and diabetic children.
Over the years the Club has contributed in many ways to a host of individuals and families in need due to hardship or handicap. The Club annually provides a scholarship for a vision-impaired student. This program has interesting roots. In 1928, a young woman named Tina Lou Wallace graduated from the Texas School for the Blind. An orphan who had been totally blind since early childhood, Tina Lou had a brilliant mind, but her only source of aid for college was $25 per month from the State to hire readers. The Lions Club committed to pay for her entire education at the University of Texas. This was a wise investment, for Tina Lou graduated a Phi Beta Kappa in 1932, and went on to a long and distinguished career as a nationally-know authority, first in the field of Braille publishing, then in recording for the blind. This in itself was a wonderful return on the investment, but in ______ she endowed our scholarship fund with a gift of $40,000 to help others have the same kind of opportunity.
Programs for Austin youth have also had their share of attention. The Club sponsors an annual sportsmanship award for Austin high schools and middle schools, and in 1945 the Club constructed the scoreboard at House Park stadium as a memorial to Austinites who died in World War II. And the Club continues to provide support for the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program.
In 1924 the Club began what developed into a close and lasting association with public recreation and community beautification in Austin, when Club members built the Lions Municipal Golf Course and turned it over to the City. The Club continued to add to the golf course and to promote the formation of a Recreation Department, and brought to Austin the first director of what is now the City's Parks and Recreation Department. Among other activities of this kind have been:
- The planting in 1938-39 of 78 pecan trees along Barton Springs Road. The mature trees which now shade that area are in important part of the ambience of Austin's Town Lake district.
- Funding for the 1976 beautification of a portion of the Republic Square park in downtown Austin.
- Funding for the Zilker Park childrens' playscape. The initial contribution to the City was a replacement for fountains given to the City on our club's fiftieth birthday in 1966--fountains which unfortunately proved incompatible with the lake's algae! The playscape became one of the most heavily utilized park features in the City. In 1991, in celebration of our 75th anniversary, we contributed another $10,000 for renovation of the playscape.
We are perhaps most proud, however, to be a part of Lions International, which provides the opportunity to support nonpartisan service activities that are worldwide in scope. Through Lions International we can help fight blindness and other social problems around the world while promoting international understanding, and that's what makes our association so special.
LIONS MUNICIPAL GOLF COURSE
In 1923, the Austin area had one golf course in the city proper - Austin Country Club. Unfortunately it wasn't open to the public. In 1924, that changed. Lions Municipal Golf Course, or "Muny" as it is called by those who know it well, officially opened in October 1924. The opening of the first 9 holes was announced in the Austin-American paper. The headline read "Nine holes on course ready; heavy timber cleared for scenic beauty."
In the accompanying story, John H. Tobin, the Lions Club's finance chairman and a founding member, said the course is "one for all Austin." The story said the course had been under construction since June, but there was no mention of a designer. 87 years later, the designer is still in question and the subject of great debate.
One of several stories identifies Tom Penick, the older brother of legendary golf teacher Harvey Penick, as the main designer. Before he became head pro at Lions from 1928-61, Penick was an Army road engineer in Europe during World War I. His background of building roads and water drainage systems lends some credence to the story.
Another theory has architect John Bredemus as the original designer. Golf historian Frances Trimble writes in her book that Bredemus, a civil engineer, was designing holes at Austin Country Club when Lions was being built and says she"s "99% certain" that he was involved with Lions design.Others think Bredemus and Penick worked on it together.
The Lions Club turned the course over to the city in 1929. Whoever the designer was, they put a premium on shot placement and maneuverability of the ball. Trees, including oaks, cedar, and pecan line many of the holes; any errant shot that lands in the tall sticks will almost certainly cost you a stroke or 2. Doglegs on more than half the holes require accuracy and proper club selection off the tee. It is a course challenging for the advanced player, but it is a course where the newcomer can hone his or her skills.
Lions has had its ups and downs through the years beginning with its early beginning with the Great Depression. In the early 1950s, the course became the first public golf course in the South to allow African-American golfers to play. In 1972 The University of Texas, which owns the property, announced they were reclaiming the land and planning to build student housing. The "Save Muny" campaign was born and the course was saved.
The most famous player to step on the course occurred in 1950 when Ben Hogan teamed up with Harvey Penick to play against Ed Hopkins and Texas golfing legend Morris Williams Jr. in an exhibition match. The story goes that the soft-spoken Hogan stumbled around the first hole as if he had stayed out a little too late the night before. The crowd was stunned. Then after the first hole was complete, and his team lost the hole, Hogan got a big smile on his face and lit up the course the rest of the round. Penick and Hogan eventually won the match although Hogan stood on the No. 16 tee box and muttered "Where's the fairway?" There was a mound in front of the tee that made for a blind tee shot. As a result of his comment, No. 16 is "Hogan's Hole." Other famous golfers that have enjoyed playing the course are Byron Nelson and Austinites Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite.