As the name might suggest, Fossil Trace officials fought a protracted battle to overcome environmental objections (64-million-year-old triceratops tracks and other prehistoric remains litter the landscape), but the $14 million facility has already drawn raves as one of the best new links in Colorado. More importantly to locals, head pro Jim Hajek kept greens fees low, at $28 to $40 for Golden residents. Another Colorado city course, Murphy Creek, debuted last year in the Denver suburb of Aurora at about the same price, and was named one of the top new courses in the state by Golf Digest.

"There is no doubt that if those courses were run by private firms, the greens fees would be $25 or $30 higher, just on the quality of the courses," says Jim Keegan, president of the golf consulting firm Fairway Systems.

Fred Buehler admits that when Houston's Memorial Park project was first discussed in the early 1990s, there were few examples of great municipal golf and no blueprints to follow. But Mayor Bob Lanier championed renovating the course as a true city asset. A committee recommended the city spend $3.4 million on course improvements and another $1.2 million on a new clubhouse.

The money for renovations was raised through city bonds and by selling on-course sponsorships. The course was closed for 13 months for the work, which generated its share of ire. Increased greens fees, up from $12 and $16 to $22.50 and $32, raised eyebrows as well.

The flip side is that income from the course to the city has more than doubled, with revenues in the last fiscal year at $2.5 million on a $2.2 budget, compared to sales of just $1.2 million before the renovation.

"We still have people saying they'll never play Memorial because we raised the prices, but most people can't believe how nice we made it," says Buehler.