One of Del Rio’s crown jewels had lost a little of its luster in recent years, but all it took was a little polish and a lot of work to get back the shine it’s always had.
For nearly a century, 99 years to be precise, the San Felipe Springs Golf Course has had an odd relationship with the citizens of Del Rio. For years, the phrase “membership has its privileges” could have meant as much about the men and women that played on its fairways and greens as it did just the right to play on the course itself.
In recent years, the push to make the course more accessible to the public has been key in the drive to bring golfers back. It’s also the driving focus behind new golf pro Ariel Lee Falcon and his approach to revitalize the golf course now and its hopeful expansion in the future.
Falcon is a Del Rio product. He graduated from Del Rio High School in 2007 before heading off to college, first at Lubbock Christian University and then Texas Tech. His goal was to become a teacher and a coach, but the path there and then back to Del Rio took a few turns.
He was hired to work for the Spurs Entertainment Organization as a sales rep, but knew that’s not what he wanted to really do with his life. He then decided to look into teaching and began working in West Texas as an English teacher and head golf coach at Big Spring.
Success soon followed. In two years he took the boys golf team to state and then an individual medalist on the girls’ side the next year.
Frustration with teaching took its toll at Falcon’s next stop at Midland Lee, so he left the profession and went to work in the oil fields as a roustabout. When things didn’t seem to be getting any better, he received a screenshot of a job opening at the San Felipe Springs Golf Course. It couldn’t have been better timing.
“They were looking for someone with experience in retail, instruction, groundskeeping, pro shop and repair shop management, and every one of those requirements I was qualified for. It’s what I had been doing for years,” Falcon said. “Plus, I wanted to be home. I’d been gone for 10 years and had missed out on a lot. Where I was, I wasn’t going anywhere and was hours away from my family. This was a big blessing. It was the perfect storm of what I wanted, what the city wanted, the requirements I had and what I was going through.”
Falcon became the head golf pro at the San Felipe Springs Golf Course in April 2019, and he knew right away what his biggest priority for the course, and the game, was going to be.
“I wanted to grow the game of golf in Del Rio,” Falcon said. “In 2009 I worked as a server at the country club and back then this place had an exclusive feel. I couldn’t play unless I was sponsored. I never wanted to have that approach when I took this position. I wanted everyone to feel welcome here and open the course to all kinds of folks. I saw the decline of the course. Fixing the course was easy, but I still had to sell it to the people. I want more people to enjoy this game.”
Some of that work has included better groundskeeping, better green and fairway management, new landscaping and improved involvement from local private entities.
Falcon has worked alongside the city’s golf commission to try and find a solution for creating sustainability and improving the golf course as a whole. That could include expansion of the current nine-hole course to 18 holes, a plan that has been the end game since the city purchased the necessary land for expansion and old country club building in July 2016.
Recently, the city advertised for requests of qualifications, or RFQs, for architects interested in developing a master plan for the expansion of the golf course. It’s a small baby step, but a step nevertheless.
“For a project like this, here, you might get two or three. We received eight,” Falcon said.
Some of the architects that submitted items included Robert Trent Jones, Nicklaus Design, Finger Dye Spann, Inc., and Weibring Wolfard Golf Design.
“This response is overwhelming. This is what was needed to show the golf course is progressing and a lot of people are paying attention to it. They are interested in building up golf in Del Rio,” Falcon said.
Falcon said no financial figures are in play yet, but the interest in the course means the work he and his team, including the maintenance team and pro shop employees, are putting in is paying off.
“There’s a lot of potential here thanks to the history of this area and marketability. Just drive around here and you’ll realize this place could be something. At one time, this course was among the top 10 private golf courses in Texas back in the day. It could be that amazing again. It certainly has that potential,” Falcon said.