The Harlingen public golf course bears the name of the man, Tony Butler, who helped bring some of the sport’s greatest athletes to the Rio Grande Valley for professional tournaments during the Great Depression. His style of play, a consistent short game and accurate putts, came to reflect the character of skills required for success to those pursuing challenges on the Tony Butler Municipal Golf Course.
Born in Ganado, Texas, on April 19, 1908, Tony Butler died at the age of 71 on Dec. 9, 1979, following a 49-year career in golf. He gained fame with the four wood as he occasionally played entire rounds of golf using only that club, and he proved to be accurate with the putter. Butler became captain of the Austin High School golf team and then at age 20 defeated Tinsley Penick for the Austin City Championship. His college golf career at the University of Texas in Austin was brief before he turned professional in 1928 and moved to Port Arthur.
However, later he returned to the University of Texas as the first golf coach at the university. In his Professional Golf Association career he advanced to compete against legendary professionals such as Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen, and Dick Metz.
In 1931, Butler won the Texas PGA title by shooting seven under par on the last 10 holes to beat Metz by one shot. Butler finished in the money six straight times in 1931. The next year, Butler finished second when the Texas PGA Championship was played at the Harlingen Country Club.
In 1934, Butler traveled to the British Colonial Open at Nassau, The Bahamas, where he finished second to the 1927 leading money winner Bobby Cruickshank by a single shot. Butler was tall, thin, with small hands and slender arms. He was a regular competitor across Texas. One of his more notable highlights occurred in 1933 when he defeated the reigning National Open champion, Gene Sarazen, in an exhibition match at the old Corpus Christi Country Club on Upriver Road. Shortly thereafter, Butler was contacted by the Harlingen Country Club about its golf pro position, a position he kept until 1937. He eventually left Harlingen for another position, and the Rio Grande Valley lost its position as part of the PGA Tour to bigger markets. His name reappeared on June 20, 1973, when the Harlingen municipal course was renamed in his honor. He retired to become a professional emeritus in 1975. The Rio Grande Valley Sports Hall of Fame chose him as one of its inductees in 1998.
The Harlingen Country Club had opened in 1929and was originally a 9-hole layout designed and built by John Bredemus. Bredemus was acclaimed as a genius and that’s most likely one reason Harlingen suddenly became the site for the Rio Grande Valley Open. Later, the City became the host for the Life Begins at Forty Tournament. The original Harlingen Country Club was not a long course by modern standards. However, it required and continues to demand strategic thinking and consistent use of fundamental golf skills.