Teeing off in a state as diverse – culturally, and geographically – as Texas is a pleasurable and often surprising experience. From vibrant fairways that run past the red, sunbaked badlands of west Texas to the sultry, Southern plantation courses in the east, the Lone Star State is home to more than 800 places where you can get your swing on. And with some of the top-ranked courses in the nation, in Texas it’s not just about quantity, but also world-class quality.
Fazio Foothills is a great place to start. Ranked as one of the Top Five courses in the nation by Golfweek magazine (and noted by PGA.com as one of the best courses in the state that’s open to the public), this Austin course, part of Barton Creek Resort & Spa, is as picturesque as it is challenging, with a layout that includes waterfalls, natural limestone caves and cliffs that directly abut the fairways. A par 72, 7,125-yard masterpiece designed by renowned course architect Tom Fazio, a number of the holes here have been recognized as among the most beautiful in the state, including number 12, a classic risk-reward par 4 with a green guarded by two deep pot bunkers and backed by Barton Creek itself, and the final hole, 18, a par 5 that gives those who carry a shot over an abandoned bat cave a very good chance at landing their next shot on the canyon-fronted, elevated green with just a wedge. Then clean up and enjoy a hearty meal in the beautiful Barton Country Dining Room, followed by a cigar and a cocktail in a rocking chair out on the patio, under a big Texas sky.
Greater Houston CVB
Those who have dreamt of PGA glory should head to Humble, Texas, near Houston, home of Tour 18. Here, the most famous holes in the United States have been meticulously replicated, including Amen Corner at Georgia’s Augusta National Golf Club (three holes make up Augusta’s Amen, numbers 11, 12 and 13, which here are replicated on holes 5, 6 and 7). Augusta’s 13, also known as “Azalea,” is perhaps the most renowned single hole in golf, where Byron Nelson clinched his first green jacket back in 1937 by chipping in for eagle, and where, more recently, Tiger Woods lit up the 2001 Masters by birdying the hole on both of his final two rounds, leading to his first major championship. Tour 18’s hole number 13 replicates number 14 at Pebble Beach, an American icon and a par 5 so difficult that Arnold Palmer once shot a regretful nine on it, while Tour 18’s hole number 9 replicates the island green at number 17 on TPC Sawgrass in Florida – a picturesque, watery hole that can turn into a watery hell with an errant shot, and has long bedeviled the top-flight golfers in The Players Championship, one of the PGA’s signature events.
But if you’re looking for something unique and different, then definitely check out Painted Dunes, which sits way out west, in arid, far-flung El Paso. Closer to Phoenix than Houston, El Paso is in the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert; with views of the rugged, rust-coloured Franklin Mountains, featuring elevated, bent grass greens surrounded by intimidating bunkers, the desert-style links at Painted Dunes are unlike anything else in the state. With three courses (East, West and North), there’s plenty of variety, and despite the dry climate, the course still manages to work in a good amount of geographic variety, which adds to the challenge – hole number 2 on the West course, for example, is dominated by a large pond down the left side of the fairway, while the dogleg final hole on the North course squeezes those with a long drive between a water hazard on the left and fairway bunkers on the right. With rates as low as $27 for 18 holes, this is definitely one of the best deals in all of west Texas.
And those who value a beautiful view and an interesting experience as much as a challenging course should definitely take a swing at the Old American Golf Club in The Colony, part of the Dallas/Forth Worth Metroplex. A relatively new course, the Old American – co-designed by 12-time PGA winner Justin Leonard – aims to take golfers back in time, to the sport’s golden age in the first few decades of the 20th century. The 18-hole layout has been ranked in Golfweek’s Top Ten Best Courses You Can Play; it starts and finishes at the old-world Carriage House (a warm, welcoming place designed to make you feel like you’re visiting an old friend), and integrates lovely Lewisville Lake on several holes, as well as an abundance of wildlife, such as coyotes, deer, wild turkeys and even Red Tail Hawks, which nest in the towering oak trees that line the fairways. And while the focus is certainly old school, there are definitely modern amenities here, including an advanced, in-cart GPS system – and several refreshment stations along the way.
But for the ultimate Texas challenge, head to the site of the biggest annual golf event in the state of Texas – the Valero Texas Open – which every year is played at the AT&T Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio, part of larger JW Marriott Hill Country complex (which offers stay and play packages at the course). Designed by legendary golfer Greg Norman – with input from energetic upstart Sergio Garcia – the Oaks plays a long 7,522-yards, a par 72. It’s an undulating, difficult layout, with ragged bunkers and narrow fairways that place a premium on long, well-aimed drives. The enticement to take a slice out of this course will be even stronger in 2013 with the Texas Open moving to an enviable time slot in early April, serving as the unofficial tune-up for the Masters, which will take place on the following weekend, and thus attracting some of the game’s top talent to TPC San Antonio – giving weekend hackers here an opportunity to tread the same greens as golf’s very best. For serious (or even casual) golfers, there are few thrills that match it.