AUSTIN, TX - Midway through the private plane flight from Austin to Lajitas, golf course architect Roy Bechtol was asked to recount the day he brought a 107 mile-per-hour fastball to his first game as a University of Texas baseball player back in 1966.
If he had been in earshot, his partner, Randy Russell, wouldn't even have blinked - he's heard the story before.
To condense the adventure, legendary Texas Longhorn coach Bibb Falk saw the blazing speed his freshman outfielder possessed on throws from the Clark Field warning track and wondered out loud why this talent couldn't translate into a strike-out pitcher.
Quicker than you can say Hook-Em, Bechtol was the starting pitcher in his first collegiate game - the season opener against the Minnesota Gophers.
"It was like an out-of-body experience," Bechtol recalls. "I did have the speed, but I didn't know where it was going."
After four warm-up pitches hit the screen behind the catcher, the first Gopher batter was beaned in the head, knocked out and sent to the hospital. Thirty minutes later, after the medics put him on a stretcher and things calmed down, Bechtol faced another wobbly-kneed Gopher who was promptly beaned resulting in a bench-clearing brawl. The ensuing melee took 20 minutes before tempers calmed.
In the following innings, the Austin High grad racked up eight walks, four balks and nine strike outs. But when Coach Falk asked him to pitch batting practice the next day Bechtol politely declined. "Coach, I'm an outfielder," Bechtol respectfully declared.
Today, Bechtol, initially a land planner by trade, and his partner Russell, a former club pro and superintendent, are throwing strikes, but it is in another game - designing golf courses.
There have been some prolific duos in recent golf course architecture - Tom Weiskopf-Jay Morrish and Bruce Devlin-Robert von Hagge. And the duo of Ben Crenshaw-Bill Coore continue to excel.
But this Central Texas team might be the hottest new design pair to come along in years. Since its founding in 1998, Bechtol & Russell Golf Design, Inc. has created a number of highly praised championship-caliber golf courses.
These layouts include The Golf Club of Texas with a Lee Trevino signature in San Antonio; The Club at Comanche Trace Ranch in collaboration with PGA legend Tom Kite; The Golf Club at Star Ranch in the Texas Hill Country with Carter Morrish; and three practice holes of Diamondback Golf Academy in San Antonio.
The Ambush at Lajitas, a new Bechtol-Russell course at Lajitas Resort and Golf Club located along the Rio Grande in the Big Bend area of Texas, has gotten lots of ink for its scenic golf course and boondocks location.
Venturing into California was also rewarded. Saddlecreek Golf Club, home course to the Northern California PGA, was ranked No. 7 in Golf Digest's Best New Upscale Public Course in America in 1998.
Located in Copperopolis, CA, Saddle Creek, a Bechtol venture with Carter Morrish, meanders through the Sierra Nevada foothills with elevated tees framed by shale outcroppings, oaks and meadows filled with wildflowers.
"Saddle Creek may be the best new course built in California in years," said Bob Fagan, executive director of the Northern California PGA. "The strength of this course is that it has no weaknesses."
Bechtol-Russell also designed Steiner Ranch on Lake Travis just 15 miles northwest of downtown Austin, which will be home to the University of Texas golf teams. Construction on the 7,008-yard, par-71 course could be finished by November 2003.
Bechtol's native Austin drawl rolls off the tongue like Brer Rabbit molasses on a 100-degree Austin day. He's got game, he's got stories and he's got what it takes to make it big in the golf architecture business.
Bechtol got his start when he was hired for the master plan of the relocation of his home course, Austin Country Club, and Pete Dye was selected for the design. After working at Dye's side, Bechtol caught the golf course design bug.
Bechtol was also by Jay Morrish's side while routing The Boulders in Carefree, AZ. He was instrumental in the routing of Barton Creek's Fazio Foothills and has done other routing jobs for Tom Fazio, including Vaquero, a brand-new high-end private course in Westlake, north of the D-FW Airport. He's also teamed with Jack Nicklaus in the past.
Russell, his somewhat quieter partner, is also a son of the South, having grown up in Philadelphia, MS. He served as the City of Austin's Director of Sports where he designed Roy Kizer Golf Course and immediately gained acclaim.
"One of the major goals for the Kizer project was to produce a course that was fun to play," said Russell. "But I think that's the goal of all of our designs today. We don't want to create golf courses that are grueling."
Both agree that when golf beginners quit the game many of them do because of the difficulty of the courses they had been playing.
Roy Kizer was sculpted from an abandoned sewage treatment plant with a goal of protecting the environmentally sensitive areas of Onion and Williamson Creeks. It also provides a haven for waterfowl on the 6,749-yard, par-71 course.
Russell developed his design hallmarks as a golf pro in California and New York and served as a design associate for the Ron Kirby and Gary Player design team. Russell carries a background as a superintendent, too. He graduated from Mississippi State with a BS in Agronomy and Turfgrass Management.
Both Bechtol and Russell are classic design lovers. "Strategy is paramount in a golf hole," Russell says, "but a golf course should provide pleasure to all levels of golfers. A course must have variety and look natural and weaker players should always have an alternate route."
They both have loved working with Kite, saying the Texan and Senior PGA Tour player is involved in the entire design development, digs into strategy, plans heartily and dives into the construction observation like a kid in a sandbox. The company thinks that matches well with Bechtol's experience, flare for strategy, and environmental sensitivity. Russell lends golf operations expertise to the company from inception and financing to construction management.
Watch out for these guys. They are already making history in the business.
Bechtol & Russell Golf Design, Inc.
2219 Westlake Drive
Austin, TX 78746
Roy Bechtol's Planned Environments Inc. won the City of Austin Environmental Awareness Award five different years (1984-1990).
Saddlecreek Golf Club, home course to Northern California PGA, was ranked Golf Digest's No. 7 Best New Upscale Public Course in America in 1998.
Bechtol's 1 handicap at Austin Country Club prompted legendary golf instructor Harvey Penick to tell him (tongue-in-cheek?) "You are the best player to have never won a major championship I've ever seen." Both Russell and Bechtol are near scratch golfers.
The Ambush at Lajitas Resort and Golf Club, Lajitas, TX
The Golf Club of Texas(with Lee Trevino), San Antonio, TX
RiverPlace Golf Club (with Tom Kite), Austin, TX
Circle C Ranch Golf Club (with Jay Morrish), Austin, TX
The Golf Club at Star Ranch (with Carter Morrish), Hutto, TX
The Club at Comanche Trace Ranch (with Tom Kite), Kerrville, TX
Saddle Creek (with Carter Morrish), Copperopolis, CA
Austin Country Club (with Pete Dye), Austin, TX
Roy Kizer Golf Course (Russell design), Austin, TX
Diamondback Golf Academy, San Antonio, TX
The Golf Club at Somersett, Reno, NV (opens 2004)
Legends on LBJ (with Tom Kite), Kingsland, TX (opens 2003)
Shadow Glen, Manor, TX (opens 2003)
Steiner Ranch, University of Texas home course, Austin, TX (opens 2003)
Black Bear Golf Club, Delhi, LA
The Polo Club, Dripping Springs, TX
Pioneer Crossing, Austin, TX
David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter at @David_R_Holland.
PGA pros are hitting the ball longer than ever, and the tour views the onslaught as problematic, at least if you judge by how often they seek to lengthen tournament venues. Throughout the rest of the golfing community the distance issue has become even more pandemic, one that views nearly every important golf course as a potential victim of obsolescence. So what should golf course owners, club committees, and architects - presumably also key figures in the equation - do about it? Senior Writer Derek Duncan has is suggestion, or lack there of.
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