SMALL TOWN TEXAS
Small-town Texas, BIG-time golf
Great golf is where you find it, but discovering wonderful courses in the lesser-known places is much easier than you might expect. Smaller cities and towns in the state understand that golf courses, especially ones that offer excellent routing and conditions in locales off the beaten path, can be real economic engines and a true source of pride for their communities.
It seems like the Lone Star State has a plethora of such courses, in virtually every part of the massive state. From San Angelo to Texas City, from Lajitas to Gladewater, from Brownwood to Blanco, there are bigtime golf memories waiting in small towns.
Here are a handful of destinations that you should consider for golf away from the big cities. And we aren’t done yet…
A template for great courses and golf experiences in a smaller town are the two offerings in New Braunfels, which sits about a half-hour north of San Antonio on the banks of the cool blue rapids of the Comal River. New Braunfels was settled by Germans and the influences run deep in the town, which hosts the famous Wurstfest each November. The town is also the home of the original Schlitterbahn Water Park, part of which can be seen from just about anywhere in the area.
The golf courses here – Landa Park Golf Course at Comal Springs downtown and The Bandit Golf Club about 15 minutes east– are very different but equally fun.
Landa Park Golf Course, set in the famous park, was given a new lease on life by a complete renovation in 2013 by the noted Houston-based golf architecture firm of Finger, Dye, Spann. The designers were handed a $7 million budget to
rejuvenate and refigure the course and in the nine years since Landa Park GC has become one of the top places to play golf in the region.
No stone, green or bunker was left untouched in the renovation, and the layout that now winds through the park is fair but demanding, loaded with chances to score and penal enough to quickly get your attention if your game is not sharp.
Landa Park Golf Course is not long – it only plays at 6,205 from its back set of tee boxes. But the par 71 course can be a tester, with three of its par-3 holes carded a 182 yards or more, the tough 434-yard par 4 16th and the 571yard fourth hole, which from the tips is a true three-shot challenge.
“We get plenty of golfers who make their next tee time on our course as soon as they finish playing their round,” said Chad Donegan, PGA golf manager at Landa Park GC. “The reaction we get from golfers who are playing the course for the first time is usually one of surprise. Surprise at how good the course is and surprise that they haven’t played it before.”
Part of the experience at Landa Park Golf Course is watching the tubers tackle the rapids on the course’s edge; on the back nine, you’ll hear a lot of whooping and hollering at Schlitterbahn. There’s plenty of chances to get in touch with nature here as well – you’re likely to see ducks, egrets, and deer in its ponds and shady areas and grazing in the rough.
About 10 minutes east of town is The Bandit GC, the centerpiece of a neighborhood that still manages to be supremely isolated and fun. The track was sculpted into the rolling terrain along Long Creek and the shores of Lake McQueeney by world renowned golf course architect Keith Foster, who crafted a strategic and challenging 6,928-yard par-71 track with significant elevation changes and natural water hazards throughout. The course is a great balance of fun and challenge.
Sticking with the Central Texas theme, we travel another 20 minutes north up I-35 toward Austin and stop at Kissing Tree Golf Club in San Marcos, home of Texas State University and now, one of the most desirable 55-plus neighborhoods in the nation.
Opened in 2018 as an amenity of the burgeoning community, Kissing Tree was routed by Gary Stephenson and plays at an “easier for the senior set” 6,572 yards from the back tees. But there is nothing easy about the course – its set of four par 3s are among the most challenging you will ever play, and there are four par 4s that are carded at more than 400 yards (the 13th is carded at 449 yards!) and all seem to play into the wind.
Stephenson also designed reachable par 4s at the end of each nine – both are attacked downhill with the ninth at 325 into a cape green and the 18th just 287 yards.
“Kissing Tree is very fair and challenging for all levels of play and is loaded with character throughout the course,” said Steve Shields, the facility’s general manager. “The corridors off the tee are wide and forgiving, but not pushovers – this is really a second-shot golf course more because of the severity of the putting surfaces than the hazards around them.”
The routing incorporates the natural rolling character of the land’s footprint and a Hill Country backdrop to create a
Kissing Tree GC hole 18, San Marcos
Vaaler Creek Golf Club Hole # 18, Blanco
memorable and testing experience for golfers.
The course at Kissing Tree serves as an extension of the natural landscape, blending grades on the edges, bringing the slopes and contours of the landscape into fairways. Each hole provides an avenue of play with varied angles that allow golfers of any skill level to enjoy the game and feel challenged.
Kissing Tree GC is part of the Audubon International program that preserves and highlights the native environment. With that in mind, Stephenson designed the course to be very gentle in shape, allowing it to fit seamlessly into the natural landscape.
A round here is memorable because of the variety, the conditioning and the way the whole package comes together over the course of play.
From San Marcos we head west about 40 miles, back out into the Hill Country to the once sleepy town of Blanco which, in the past decade or so, has become a not-sodistant suburb of north San Antonio, about 45 miles from the confines of the Alamo City.
Blanco is the home of Vaaler Creek Golf Club and the Rockin’ J Ranch neighborhood that surrounds it.
If you’ve paid attention to golf in this neck of the woods over the past 15 years, you know about Vaaler Creek. Word of mouth and a bushelful of great reviews have been enough to elevate the course into the top tier of places to play in the region at any price. Vaaler Creek GC was voted the nation’s No. 19 Best New Course for 2010-11 by Golf Digest, buoyed by its playability and excellent conditioning. Opened as a nine-hole track in 2007, the course – the first signature design by Michael Lowry, expanded to a full 18 two years later. Lowry fashioned a much-tougher-than-it’scarded 6,874-yard, par-72 track among live oak, cactus and scrub brush-filled prairies.
There are all sorts of cool features to deal with at Vaaler Creek GC: ponds, sand hazards of sundry sizes, elevated tee shots and wavy, tree-lined fairways.
“There are a great variety of challenges at our course, and you can be as aggressive as you think you can handle,” said Adam Grosch, Vaaler Creek GC’s general manager and head professional. “The bottom line is that it’s a fun place, a course you can get around in a good pace and one that you will enjoy every time you play.”
Both nines offer far-reaching views of the surrounding region. The back-nine at Vaaler Creek is a bit more mature and not as severe as the newer outward half. Given its length, golfers might think they can overpower the course, but finding success here is not that simple. The routing has a rich variety of long and short holes, with shots involving strategically-placed bunkers and the occasional carry over water.
Vaaler Creek GC’s true last line of defense is its lightning-quick, mounded and sectioned putting surfaces, which can make even the most aggressive players a bit timid and prone to second-guessing.
Vaaler Creek has become a real favorite for Hill Country golfers and continually draws players from the region’s bigger cities. It’s one of the best conditioned and fun places to play in the region.
Hit 281 North up to Marble Falls and turn east on the curvy FM 1431 for about 30 minutes to the town of Lago Vista. Here you will find Lago Vista Golf Course, which in recent years has enjoyed a rejuvenation as the city’s leaders have grasped that having a great public course can be an asset to their residents and drive limited tourism.
Lago Vista Golf Course’s 18-hole layout is rolling topography with views of both the Hill Country and Lake Travis. Playing to a par of 72 and at 6,544 yards from its back set of four tee boxes, the course provides both challenge and plenty of fun and has enjoyed a whispered reputation as one of Texas’ best kept secrets over the years.
Designed by legendary Texan Leon Howard as a nine-hole facility in 1971, the course was used help promote lot sales in the new neighborhoods that have grown over the past 40 years to make the city of Lago Vista what it is today.
Lago Vista Golf Course was eventually expanded to 18 holes, and operated as a private country club until the mid 1990s. All golfers are now are welcome to enjoy the course’s two separate nines offering differing tests and a bit of a split personality.
The front-nine is basically wide off the tee and relatively flat (at least until you get to the ninth hole) while the back-nine is tighter and, after a round or two, certainly proves more of a test.
“We have spent the past three and a half years working on the golf course to improve it and to make it a real destination and option,” said Chris Godwin, the facility’s head golf professional. “It’s so much better now. It’s hard to even compare it to what was here before.”
All of the par 3s at Lago Vista GC asks golfers to hit an accurate tee shot of 199 yards or more to reach the segmented greens, so a good long-iron or hybrid game is required here to succeed.
Lago Vista Golf Course has enjoyed renewed interest from golfers both in the city and from around the region because of its upgraded maintenance and conditioning and an absolute attention to detail on and off the course. The track, long a hidden jewel that might have been lost in the shuffle of other area tracks has, after four decades, come of age.
Further up 281 and off the beaten path is the town on Brownwood, home of the finer-than-fine Hideout Resort and its wonderful, Bentgrass-greened, golf course.
The resort’s Bill Johnston-designed track was expanded from nine to 18 holes in 2008 and takes full advantage of the rolling terrain to create a true Hill Country destination. Teeing it up from the track’s highest points provide beautiful vistas of lush fairways, meandering creeks and giant oaks, along with distant views of Lake Brownwood.
Johnston didn’t have to manipulate the ground much here to fashion the 6,981yard par-72 course, using the natural
The Hideout Luxury Resort, Brownwood
beauty and the native hardwoods to create the perfect mix of challenge and fun. There are four sets of tees to allow everyone to enjoy the course, as the routing allows for a playable round for golfers of all skill levels.
The course here is replete with plenty of bunkers, stands of trees and water hazards strategically placed to reward distance and accuracy. And, again, the putting surfaces are smooth and flawless Bentgrass, a rarity for a semi-private course in these locales.
Amenities at The Hideout include an 11,000-square-foot lodge, a 55-foot by 95-foot swimming pool with spa and, for the little ones, a kiddie pool. Dining at the Hideout Golf Club Restaurant is a snap for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with food so good you’ll likely want to take all three meals here as often as possible.
You can stay and play in style here, with the choice of well-appointed accommodations in either the resort’s six clubhouse lodge rooms, one of the property’s 17 cabins, or the expansive Ranch House for larger parties.
Further on north up the road is the Somervell County destination of Glen Rose, a charming town of shops and restaurants and tourist attractions worthy of a whole weekend’s stay. That stay would include a round at both the golf courses at Squaw Valley Golf Club, a 36-hole facility ranked among Texas’ top public-access courses and drive-to golf destinations. Squaw Valley GC, with courses designed by noted Texasbased architects and former partners Jeffrey D. Brauer and John Colligan, is a true joy to experience. Starting as an 18-hole championship course designed by Brauer in 1992, Squaw Valley GC was, in 2001, expanded to 36 holes with the addition of a new track fashioned by Colligan.
The two courses have their own personalities, and each is really fun to play.They are a study in contrast, with the eastern portion of the property virtually flat and treeless, while the western half contains large native live oak, pecan and bur oak trees.
Squaw Valley GC offers golfers a serene and satisfying golfing experience via beautiful vistas of century-old oak trees that define rolling plains. Squaw Creek meanders through both courses, creating carries over water on numerous holes.
“Our two courses are fun and challenging for all levels of golfers, and that’s always been our draw and the reason we get repeat play and strong word of mouth,” said Steve Heppler, Squaw Valley GC’s head golf professional. “There’s a little bit of everything in the courses – from
drivable par 4s, reachable-intwo par 5s, and long and short par 3s.”
Somervell County and Glen Rose have plenty to do off the courses, including Barnard’s Mill & Art Museum, the building that started this area as established by Charles Barnard in 1849; the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, ranked No. 3 in the nation as the “Best Wildlife Safari Park;” and Dinosaur Valley State Park, one of Texas’ top State Parks and a place where children of all ages can walk in the fossilized footprints of dinosaurs.
Other favored attractions are: the Eagle Eye Ranch and Carriage Company (for horseback riding in the park, hayrides, and carriage rides); Dinosaur World, where 150 life-size dinosaurs are displayed in a unique setting; and the Creation Evidence Museum, with its 25-foot replica of Noah’s Ark, a biosphere, and artifacts and scrolls.
No trip around the Lone Star State would be complete without at least a day on the coast, so we high-tailed it south to Texas City and the wonderful Bayou Golf Club just on the mainland side of Galveston Bay.
Bayou Golf Course has long been known as one of the region’s friendliest and most playable places to tee it up and roll it in. But in recent years, with the City of Texas City footing the bill for a needed renovation and refreshening, things have gone from good to even better.
The hybrid links/parkland-style course was originally designed by legendary Texan Joe Finger back in 1974, and was restored in 2014 by Houstonian Mike Nuzzo and is carved out of about 200 acres.
The Bayou GC’s 6,596-yard par-72 track has a little bit of everything, with plenty of challenges for every level of golfer. Moses Bayou skirts the property as the tributary makes its way to Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, with the routing bringing water into play on 12 of the holes. There are also 18 sand bunkers scattered about to form a formidable combination with the course’s slightly elevated tees and greens.
“When things are right with this course, we can get the greens rolling to 13 on the Stimpmeter and, with the undulations added in, can create as challenging a round of golf as you would ever want,” said Mike Skiba, the course’s head professional and director of golf. “But in reality our course is a place where golfers can have a blast playing with their friends.”
Breezes off the bay and the tides constantly affect this open course, making it play longer than the yardage on the scorecard and more difficult that its 71.1 rating and 123 slope. From the tips every par 5 plays at more than 500 yards, and four of the par 4s are carded at over 400 yards.
One of the best parts of Bayou Golf Club is its five-and-a-half acre, walking, family pitch-and-putt course that helps grow the game by benefitting both the skilled golfer looking to hone his or her short-game skills (and who isn’t) as well as the beginners just learning about how great golf can be.
This is the first of a continuing series… stay tuned to this space for even more big time golf in Texas’ smaller locales.
Bayou Golf Club, Texas City
Visit colorful Kerrville in the Texas Hill Country for golf and much more
A trip through the Texas Hill Country toward the city of Kerrville, long noted as one of the Lone Star State’s most popular escape destinations, makes one think a lot about the beauty of this often-austere landscape, and the will and work it took settlers to bend the land in ways to make life a little easier.
Kerrville, about an hour’s drive from San Antonio and twice that distance from Austin, was built by those settlers in the early years of Texas as a part of the United States.
Surrounded by bony hills, outcrops and rolling pastureland and nurtured by the sparkling, spring-fed waters of the Guadalupe River, Kerrville attracts tourists, summer campers, hunters and (for our purposes) golfers from around the world.
Aside from its setting, Kerrville’s resort-city atmosphere stems from the combination of its many attractive features: unique antique stores and unusual gift shops in Old Town Kerrville; the exceptional gold and silver jewelry of world-famous James Avery Craftsman; the significance of the Hill Country Museum’s rich history; and the truest testimonies of the Old West portrayed in the art displayed at the Museum of Western Art, which houses works by some of the nation’s most distinguished living artists following the tradition of Remington and Russell. There’s natural scenic beauty for miles in every direction, and many artisans and musicians make Kerrville their inspiration and their home. Then there are the ranches.
Perhaps the most famous is the legendary Y.O. Ranch, which spans more than 50 square miles
Downtown Kerrville at Dusk
and contains one of the nation’s largest registered herds of longhorn cattle. Also roaming the range are zebras, giraffes, antelope and more than 36 other exotic species spotted on a guided tour.
Golf is a true passion in Kerrville and a draw to the region as well, and a venture to the city and its surroundings showed us a trio of courses that rival any in the region. In a recent trip here, and on a flawless spring day, we teed it up at one of the area’s top municipal tracks.
Scott Schreiner GC is muni golf at its best
History and challenge rule the day at venerable Scott Schreiner Golf Course. Set against the foothills of Tivy Mountain, the city-owned and operated layout provides both challenge and fun. The par-70 track plays to 6,453 yards from its back tees and features mounded greens in a variety of sizes and shapes. Schreiner’s fairways offer generous landing areas, yet are tight enough to present a test.
Originally opened as the Kerrville Country Club in 1923, the vintage nine-hole course was the design of John Bredemus, the true father of Texas golf and the architect of such gems as Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth and Memorial Park Golf Course in Houston.
Throughout the Roaring Twenties, Kerrville Country Club was the social and recreational hub of the region as its original clubhouse was an inspiring stucco building with a large gallery, ballroom and band alcove.
Situated on gently rolling terrain and offering many holes with scenic vistas, Scott Schreiner Golf Course was taken over by the city in 1933 and nine more holes were added in 1977. The facility, named for a former civic leader and
Scott Schreiner Golf Course
rancher and a member of the famous pioneer Schreiner family, underwent extensive renovations by renowned architect Joe Finger, who had retired in the area, in 2000.
Finger came out of retirement to make the $2 million Schreiner renovation his final project; he reportedly charged the city nothing for the design and only half his usual fee for overseeing the work.
“Joe had played the course and heard comments about it, and he hoped it could be improved so Kerrville could have a better municipal course, so he took it upon himself to do it,” Julia Finger recently said of her husband’s interest in improving the Schreiner layout.
Despite a rating of 70.4 and a slope of 122, Scott Schreiner Golf Course has plenty of teeth. The outward nine has three par-3s, all of which play at 178 yards or less, and is highlighted by the 582-yard par5 third with water cutting into the fairway twice and an elevated green that requires a perfect approach.
Another great offering is the 407-yard par-4 eighth, which plays downhill from the highest spot on the course near the newly refurbished clubhouse. Your tee shot here is always under scrutiny from those gathered to settle scores and enjoy a pre- or post-round libation on the nearby veranda.
Take advantage of the short (342yard) par-4 10th because you will need all your game on the next three holes. No. 11 is a 443-yard, dogleg-left par-4 that requires a big ball off the tee and precision to reach the green, which is surrounded on both sides by trees and on the front-right by a sand bunker. The 12th is a tight hole that sports trees and a creek bed down the entire left side and requires an approach that will have to carry uphill and over that creek near the putting surface.
After that tough pair, you’ll need perhaps your best shot of the day on the uphill par-3 13th, which – at 226 yards from the tips – usually plays into wind and is guarded by a bunker front-left and two more front-right.
The signature hole here is No. 17, a 535-yard, par-5 where water comes into play on the second shot, then again on the approach to a green ringed by water on three sides. A waterfall to the right adds an aesthetic touch to the proceedings, but is of no help if you hit your shot in that direction. Because of the various shots required during your round, Scott Schreiner GC proves a good test for all level of golfer and is well worth the trip.
For more information, visit http:// www.golfkerrvilletex.com.
Amphitheater in Kerrville-Schreiner Park
Other Surprises in Kerrville
When in Kerrville stay at either the expansive YO Ranch Resort Hotel and Conference Center (check out the huge pool, and chandeliers made of branding irons in the hotel lobby) or the Inn of the Hills Resort and Conference Center. Both hotels are run by 1859 Historic Hotels, Ltd., a firm known for quality and service.
Nestled in the hills and along the Guadalupe River you’ll find a 517-acre camping park – Kerrville-Schreiner Park. The campgrounds include camping accommodations to suit almost any preferred camping style. RV hook-ups— many with water, electricity and sewer connections—are plentiful, as are tent campsites, cabin rentals and ranch houses.
The recreation amenities at KerrvilleSchreiner Park include a fishing pier, boat ramp, and approximately 10 miles of hiking and biking trails. Whether you’re a novice hiker or an experienced trekker, you’ll find a trail and terrain fit for your skill level. Basketball, sand volleyball courts and a playground are additional outlets for fun.
Wildlife you may spot in the park includes whitetail deer, blackbuck antelope, axis deer, rabbits, foxes and birds. Annual passes to Kerrville-Schreiner Park are $50 per vehicle, or day-use passes may be purchased for individuals at rates ranging from $2-$4. Overnight camping and facility rental fees vary. For more information, please visit www. kerrvilletx.gov, call (830) 257-7300, or e-mail email@example.com.
As far as restaurants, we visited a few that were awesome. We were supremely pleased with the offerings at Francisco’s Restaurant on the square downtown; order the Veracruzana nachos (they are made with a signature chicken salad) and sit back, relax and contemplate your next round in Kerrville.
Municipal Course MAP # 17
RATES 18 Twilight
Mon-Thur $43 $33* Fri-Sun $50 $38 Holiday $50 $38 Pricing includes cart fee *Twilight Winter months start 2 p.m.
Summer months start 3 p.m.
Par: 70 Yards Rating Slope Blue 6453 70.4 122 White 6016 68.4 116 Gold 5184 64.4 108 Red 4826 67.8 104
AMENITIES • Putting Green • Chipping Range with Sand
Bunkers • Driving Range • Complete Pro Shop • Professional Golf Lessons
1 Country Club Drive Kerrville, Texas 78028 (830) 257-4982 firstname.lastname@example.org www.kerrvilletx.gov
Kerrville Scott Schreiner Golf Course
BEST KEPT SECRET OF THE SOUTHWEST
Scott Schreiner Golf Course is an 18-hole course that is nestled among the rolling hills in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. Redesigned by renowned golf course architect Joe Finger in 1999, it is one of the best kept secrets of the southwest. The layout features mounded greens in a variety of sizes and shapes. The fairways offer generous landing areas, yet are tight enough to present a comfortable challenge. The signature hole is number 17, a 535-yard par-5. Water comes into play on the second shot, then again on the approach to the green, which is surrounded by water on three sides. A waterfall to the left of the green adds a pleasing aesthetic. Set against the beautiful hills and rustic Texas landscape, this course is fun for all.
The course is located in Kerrville, Texas making it an easy drive from San Antonio or Austin. A putting green, driving range, chipping greens with sand bunker, complete pro shop, and available golf lessons with the latest video technology are some of the many amenities at the course.