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Golf legend Jack Nicklaus conducts an impromptu clinic while chipping balls for a crowd of media and dignitaries Wednesday on the driving range at Traditions Golf Course. He and son Jack Nicklaus II were on hand for the grand opening of the recently completed facility off Villa Maria Road in Bryan.

By SOMMER HAMILTON

Eagle Staff Writer

The long-awaited and controversial Traditions Club in Bryan was officially inaugurated Wednesday with a burst of applause as the golf course’s famous designers drove range balls into the air with graceful practice strokes.

More than 200 club members and invited guests crowded in to watch father and son Jack Nicklaus and Jack Nicklaus II practice Wednesday morning, later touring the facility as the two played through the holes and shared their thoughts on the course they created.

“This is something you can’t buy,” City Councilman Paul Madison said, strolling through Traditions after the golfing clinic hosted by the Nicklauses. “Five or 10 years ago, I don’t think anyone would have envisioned something this big.

“You have land that was valued as farmland, [and] today it’s money that the city is going to recoup in the form of taxes.”

The moment is one many officials in Bryan have counted on since city leaders in 1999 first suggested that 900 acres of wooded land on the city’s west side could be home to a state-of-the-art golfing facility that would host Texas A&M University’s golf teams and boost growth in Bryan.

The course opened for play in June after lengthy delays precipitated by a lawsuit — filed in 2002 by TAC Realty, builder of the rival Miramont golf development, to halt work on Traditions — and the changing roles of the golf and residential club developers.

The city will have spent a total of $27 million on the development before all is said and done. So far, Traditions includes an 18-hole course and sites for more than 180 homes.

To drive the development forward, Bryan officials purchased the land and agreed to build streets and infrastructure to put the premium golfing club on the map.

Questions about how the money was to be spent and what benefit the private, pricey club would have for the Bryan taxpayers footing the bill helped fuel controversy over the course.

This week, with the city now netting more than $3 million from the sales of 95 residential lots since January, officials agreed they officially could celebrate.

“It’s like a grand-slam home run in the bottom of the ninth,” said Bryan City Councilman Russell Bradley, the only remaining council member of the original group of leaders who championed Traditions. “First swing and it’s out of the park.”

The city’s investment in Traditions will be recouped through tax reinvestment funds generated through city property taxes — and a portion of the county’s taxes — from the area. The tax revenue will pay off the debt the city has issued to pay for the project.

Over the 25-year life of the tax abatement “zone” around Traditions, the city should regain all of its investment, as well as an additional $4 million or so to pay for other city projects as needed, Bryan Chief Financial Officer Kathy Davidson said.

The club already has gathered 210 golfing members, including 42 considered $60,000 “founder” members and 115 in the $20,000 “charter” membership range.

Traditions sales executive Geoff Myers said 75 to 80 rounds a week are played on the course, with peak play during A&M football home game weekends.

That’s good news for city leaders who have fought hard to ensure Traditions would get on its feet. Bradley, whose term began in 1999 just as the project was being proposed, has been one of Traditions’ biggest proponents, this year purchasing a lot in the development to eventually build a home on.

He said the city had to be proactive and offer incentives to get a pro course that would give A&M golfers a home — and become a site in Bryan for residents looking for a spot for homes valued at $200,000 and greater — or risk losing the development to neighboring College Station.

“It wouldn’t have come here on its own,” Bradley said. “My job is to make sure Bryan is a destination of choice for people who want to move to Brazos County.”

The goal always has been to increase the city’s tax base by encouraging the golf development, which translates into increased services for all residents even though the club is private, Bradley said.

Officials expect the scenic course and rolling greens carved out of the farmland and wooded areas to become catalysts for renewed growth in Bryan.

“We primed the pump out there to try and cause more development,” Bradley said. “People are going to look back on this in 10 years, 20 years and say, ‘What were we even arguing about?’”

• Sommer Hamilton’s e-mail address is shamilton@theeagle.com.

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