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HILL COUNTY ‘S LAGO VISTA GC

Lago Vista Golf Course

continues to shine as its plan is making things even better

Re-building the reputation and great word of mouth for a once downtrodden golf course is no easy task. Any resurgence must begin from the top, with the vision and determination and budget to turn what was once forgettable into something memorable and vivid. And then it takes care and consistency and customer service to keep the ball rolling, and the golfers coming.

There was a three-year plan put in place for the reintroduction and renewal, if you will, of Lago Vista Golf Course and its amenities when Chris Godwin came aboard as the facility’s head golf professional in 2018.

Godwin and his staff have Lago Vista GC ahead of schedule in establishing the course as a sense of pride for its hundreds of members and as a solid go-to option for prime daily-fee play for golfers in the northwest suburbs of the Austin area and beyond.

“It’s not been an easy journey so far, but I’m very proud of how we’ve all worked to bring this course back to relevance and the way our team has continued to focus on the big picture,” Godwin said. “The challenges have just made us want things even more, to work a little harder.”

There’s no way anyone could have predicted a 100-year flood that, literally,

swamped the golf course in 2019 or the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 that forced everyone everywhere to adapt to a new day-to-day routine and shuttered courses for two months. Nor could the historic freeze of 2021, which had Texas in its icy grip for more than two weeks and set golf on its proverbial ear, been anticipated.

Godwin is proud how his golf customers responded to the latest crisis and how his staff have been able to adhere to their customer-service goals.

“Our golfers have been very happy for the opportunity to get on the golf course and we continue to have full tee sheets and lots of repeat customers,” Godwin explained. “We’ve actually been able to weather these situations pretty well, and our course will have more rounds this year than in any year since we’ve been here.”

The city of Lago Vista is serious about golf and its golf course as it has continued to display a commitment to improvement and excellence at this municipal track that commands the better part of a peninsula into the north side of Lake Travis.

For more than five decades, this bedroom community northwest of Austin has been a bit of a secret, its winding streets, small commercial area, and golf courses separated by tall hills and a switchback road from the urban sprawl of Central Texas that has grabbed a chokehold on many of the small towns in the region.

Community leaders have been and are being proactive about their town and its assets, with a keen eye toward the quality of life for residents and the desire to drive tourism, on a limited scale, to the municipality.

Lago Vista Golf Course, because of upgraded maintenance and conditioning and an attention to detail on the course, has enjoyed renewed interest from golfers both in the city and from around the region. The track, long a hidden jewel that might have been lost in the shuffle of other area tracks, has spread its wings.

The latest work to refresh the course is the total reconstruction of the putting surfaces on the fifth, sixth and seventh holes. The project, which was completed last summer, adds better drainage to those greens complexes and returns them to USGA specifications.

“We have been patient and will continue to be so – things are so much better here than when we started it’s hard to even compare,” Godwin added. “We can only control what we can control and are taking things as they come, and enjoying our little milestones and victories along the way.”

Lago Vista Golf Course’s 18-hole layout provides both challenge and plenty of fun – all amid rolling topography with so-close-you-can-almost-reach-out-andtouch-it views of the lake. This course has been one of Texas’ best kept secrets over the years. It plays to a par of 72 and at 6,544 yards from its back set of four tee boxes, which carry a rating of 72.6 and a slope of 134, plenty testing for any level of golfer.

The course was designed by legendary Texan Leon Howard and originally opened as a nine-hole facility in 1971 to help promote lot sales in the young, unincorporated neighborhoods that make up the city of Lago Vista today.

Shortly thereafter the course was renovated and expanded to 18 holes, and operated as a private country club until the mid 1990s. Today, all golfers are welcome to enjoy the undulating fairways, epic lake views, and abundant wildlife at Lago Vista Golf Course.

The course’s two separate nines offer differing tests and a bit of a split personality. The front-nine is basically wide open

Baker’s Bar & Grill

and relatively flat (at least until you get to the ninth hole) and a back-nine is narrower and, in this opinion, sport more of a test.

All four of the par 3s at Lago Vista GC will need a tee shot of 199 yards or more to reach the putting surface, so a good long-iron or hybrid game is required here to succeed.

After a relatively easy opener, the 562yard par 5 second, which plays to a wide landing area over native grass to a slope and then back up to an elevated putting surface, needs three good shots to put yourself into position for a birdie.

At 204 yards and playing downhill, the par 3 third might need one less club than you would normally take off the tee,

The 529-yard par 5 eighth can be tricky, but is ultimately playable with three good shots, the second of which is blind over a hill. Par is a good score, but birdie is well within reach with proper execution.

None of what you saw on the first eight holes prepare you for the 377-yard ninth. After you favor the right side off the tee, you’ll have to walk up the fairway a bit to see the green, which is at the bottom of a three-tiered hill and sits up against the access street, with the clubhouse and the 18th green in the neardistance and Lake Travis plainly in view.

You’ll notice a change in the course immediately on the 10th hole, a 495-yard par 5 with a short dogleg to the right. The fairway slopes left to right and large trees and a stream run down the right side. Three bunkers guard the green well.

Godwin calls the 372-yard par 4 11th his favorite hole because of its need for course management, two precise shots to reach the putting surface and a back-tofront undulating sloping green that can easily turn a birdie putt into bogey.

Large trees and a concrete ditch running across the fairway can make navigating the hole, which is the No. 1 handicap at Lago Vista GC, a real challenge. “It’s a hole that demands that you hit two really good shots to score and, with all the trouble, a big number can easily come into play,” Godwin said.

The par 4 14th is short but demanding, asking for a tee shot that carries across a pond onto a small fairway with plenty of trees and a well-placed bunker. Large trees and two more bunkers guard the putting surface, which is elevated.

The round here ends with the 407yard par 4 17th, with its elevated tee and a wide fairway that crosses a shallow valley and slopes left to right, and the 204-yard par 3 18th, which plays over a stream and a residential street to an elevated green guarded by two large bunkers, all in the shadow of the clubhouse.

The city spent more than $250,000 to expand and completely renovate the clubhouse, with the stated goal of making the building and its surrounds into a true community meeting place.

The practice facility at Lago Vista provides a relaxing atmosphere for honing your game with its beautiful view of the lake. Three tiers of natural grass teeing surface and a practice putting green are available.

Lago Vista Golf Course is all that’s good about golf wrapped up in one neat package – and just a short trip from the hustle and bustle of Austin and its suburbs makes it well worth the trip.

DESERT GREENS LA to Las Vegas Golf Journey

Wolf Creek Golf Club photo courtesy of Wolf Creek

Brothers Andrew & Paul Marshall hit the road from Los Angeles to Las Vegas on a classic road journey in search of some of the best places to swing a club…

Road journeys don’t come more quintessential than the 450-mile trip (give or take a few) from Los Angeles to Las Vegas via Death Valley. From lone roadside diners and highways stretching to infinity, to buzzards circling cloudless skies and distinctive Joshua trees dotting the desert landscape –all the classic imagery is here in abundance. And for serious golfers, this is a true place of pilgrimage.

From Trump National Golf Course at $264 million, one of the most expensive golf courses ever built - to the world’s lowest level golf course and some of the best desert layouts on the planet - the sheer quantity and variety of golf courses in California and Nevada is astonishing.

After loading our clubs into our spacious Alamo SUV at LAX, my brother Paul and I cruise north along palm-fringed Pacific Highway 1, passing through Santa Monica, Malibu and Ventura towards the picturesque beachside town of Santa Barbara, dubbed the American Riviera thanks to its low-slung red-tiled roofs, white stucco buildings and gorgeous sunsets.

Santa Barbara makes a good base for our first round at Sandpiper Golf Club, sometimes known as the ‘Poor Man’s Pebble Beach.’ Nestled against the scalloped coastline, it’s an inspiring combination of challenge and beauty with a links-style layout. Another is majestic La Purisima Golf Course near Lompoc, which has been crafted out of a rollercoaster canyon interlaced with scrub oak. A demanding test, La Purisima has been used numerous times for PGA and Champions Tour qualifying events. Mountainside Glen Annie Golf Club in Goleta, and the fun Alisal River Course, where the golf scene in the wine movie Sideways was shot, are other choices.

From Santa Barbara we backtrack to Ventura and follow Highway 33 into the golden hills of the Los Padres National Forest, and the renowned Ojai Valley immortalised as the mythical Shangri-La in the movie Lost Horizon, filmed here in 1937. Here, we play our second round at the historic Ojai Country Club, originally built in 1923 under the direction of George C. Thomas, where old wooden bridges lead over gurgling brooks, and ancient oaks and sprawling pepper trees stand sentinel along the fairways and greens. DESERT DRIVE

Leaving the Ojai Valley behind, we head north-east on Highway 14 to Mojave along roads flanked by distinctive Joshua trees. By late afternoon the sun still beats down like a hammer on Highway 178, as heat waves peel off the sweeping line of asphalt that stretches towards distant snow-capped mountains and Death Valley - one of the lowest and hottest places on earth.

As we near Death Valley, the names on our crumpled road map take on an ominous tone: Furnace Creek, Desolation Canyon, Starvation Point, Hell’s Gate and Stovepipe Wells. Death Valley National Park’s headquarters are situated within the welcoming oasis of Furnace Creek where a plantation of 1,800 date palms were planted in the 1920s, creating a scene that wouldn’t look out of place in the African Sahara.

We base ourselves at The Ranch, comfortable accommodation in Furnace Creek situated close to the 18-hole golf course nestled among the date palms, with magnificent views of the surrounding desert mountain ranges. On Masters Sunday, we watch the final round drama unfold in the comfort of our air-conditioned room. As Tiger Woods slips on a green jacket for a momentous fifth time, we slip out for a late afternoon round - on the lowest golf course on earth. THE ROAD TO VEGAS

It’s twilight the following evening along Highway 160 when the pulsating neon

A golfer takes a rest among the date palms at Furnace Creek Golf Course, Death Valley

signs and surreal skyline of the infamous Las Vegas Strip looms into view. Love it, loathe it, or both, Vegas may be cheesy, artificial and completely over the top, but it’s also one of the world’s best luxury golf destinations.

Over the past couple of decades, the number of immaculately conditioned golf courses within a two-hour drive of the city has increased to more than 70 and many are top-flight tracks designed by some of the biggest names in golf including Nicklaus, Palmer, Dye and Fazio. The desert landscape has offered them an amazing canvas from which to create their works of art - swathes of emerald green fairways in a sea of red rock, such as Primm Valley, Angel Park, Paiute Golf Resort, Bali Hai, Shadow Creek, Cascata and Desert Pines.

Our base in Las Vegas is the Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa - one of the most luxurious golf resorts in the Vegas area. With sparkling blue waters, white-sand beaches and gently swaying palm trees, it’s a desert oasis away from the razzle and dazzle of the Strip.

From our room’s patio we have fantastic views of the par-3 8th hole of Reflection Bay Golf Club. When it opened in 1998, it was the first public resort course in Nevada to be designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus. Sculpted from the desert’s natural contours and surrounded by stunning lake and mountain vistas, highlights include five eyecandy holes that run along a mile and a half of shoreline. We couldn’t wait to tee-off in the afternoon and check out the course for ourselves. VINTAGE GOLF The following morning, we find ourselves inside the office of Vegas Vintage Classic Car Rentals, surveying the list of exotic vehicles for hire. We want to add a little ‘vintage’ to our LA to Las Vegas golf trip and before long, our classic 1961 Cadillac Series 62 with fins is cruising down Highway 15 towards the border town of Mesquite (77 miles north of Vegas), and the promise of eighteen glorious holes at one of the planet’s most amazing courses - Wolf Creek Golf Club.

The palm-fringed green at Reflection Bay’s par-4 7th, Lake Las Vegas Resort.

There are some overused words when it comes to describing a golf course - spectacular, dramatic and golf on a grand scale - which makes it difficult to describe Wolf Creek in an original way as it’s all of those things and more. Set high above the desert floor among red-rock canyons, teeming waterfalls and glistening creeks, it looks as though strips of green velvet have been laid out on a lunar landscape. There are precious few courses that can generate a genuine sense of awe for several holes at a stretch. Exceedingly rare is the layout that can sustain the feeling for an entire round - Wolf Creek Golf Club is such a place.

Developer Doug Clemetson was determined to leave the distinctive natural landscape in place, accepting that a number of non-traditional golf holes would be the result. On the 2nd tee box, for example, 90 granite steps lead up to the driving area, which is located some eleven storeys high. The 215-yard par-3 3rd hole plays uphill to one of the highest points on the course with 70-mile views and the 5th is a short par-5 that makes a rather abrupt turn left through the rocks before heading to the green.

Night Scene, Los Angeles. Photo Courtesy of Los Angeles

Another classic is the par-3 11th, an island in a sea of red rock and typical of Wolf Creek’s dazzling visual appeal. As we prepare to hit our drives from the elevated tee of the 17th hole, the sun casts long shadows across canyon walls, gullies and surreal dried-earth formations, which glow red, pink, and gold in the late afternoon light. Leaning on our drivers we take in this classic desert scene - one that provides a fitting finale to our LA to Las Vegas golf journey... WHERE TO PLAY Sandpiper Golf Club: www.sandpipergolf.com Ojai Country Club: www.ojaivalleyinn.com Furnace Creek GC: www.oasisatdeathvalley.com Reflection Bay Golf Club: www.reflectionbaygolf.com Wolf Creek Golf Club: www.golfwolfcreek.com

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