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Cheap play: San Antonio's Northern Hills Golf Club offers great greens for little 'green'

Mike BaileyBy Mike Bailey,
Senior Staff Writer
Northern Hills Golf Club - No. 4
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Even through a severe drought, Northern Hills' greens are in excellent condition. (Mike Bailey/TravelGolf)

SAN ANTONIO -- Ask a golfer what's most important on a golf course, and most of the time you'll get the same answer: good greens. And that's exactly what you'll find at Northern Hills Golf Club, an economically priced semi-private facility on the north side of town.

In 2003, the club spent well more than $1 million on renovations. Among the changes were new greens, planted with mini-verde Bermuda, the same surface that's used at the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, for example.

Even through a drought this year, Northern Hills has taken great care of its greens. While the fairways are stressed (but still playable), the greens have thrived, even in 100-degree heat. Get to these smallish multi-tiered greens, and you can expect good speed and true putts.

There were other changes as well, including new bunkers and a new, modern irrigation system with 562 sprinkler heads. But the greens have been a source of pride and one of the reasons locals love to play there.

Northern Hills Golf Club's history

Northern Hills G.C. isn't your typical daily-fee golf course. Next to the 25,000-square-foot clubhouse is a pool, used by the local residents.

In fact, the pool crowd is just as likely to get a snack at the 19th Hole as are the golfers. The bottom line is that the atmosphere here is informal (despite all the wedding receptions staged outside and in the View Room).

Northern Hills is blue-collar Texas golf at its best. The course isn't a pushover, but pretty much everyone can play it. There are difficult shots -- slicers certainly have to be careful on the first hole, for example, with out-of-bounds and the driving range to the right – but for the most part you can't get into too much trouble.

"It's not overly difficult," said Pete Peterson, vice president and general manager of Northern Hills. "You get it out of the fairway and you still have a shot."

Designed by former pro Joe Behlau in 1969-70, the par 72 is 6,728 from the back tees. One of the most difficult holes is the opener, a dogleg left that wraps around a lake with out of bounds looming large on the right. Slicers are forced to aim their tee shots over the lake to avoid the driving range on the right. Behlau, by the way, lived on the course until recently.

The rest of the course has a few doglegs, a number of straight-away holes and some pretty challenging par 3s, including the finishing hole, which is 220 yards from the tips.

What gives the course character is its namesake -- the Hills. A modest amount of elevation change forces players to adjust club selection, and a few of the tees have some pretty good views. Although it's routed among houses, they really don't come into play unless you're really wild off the tee.

Northern Hills Golf Club: The verdict

At $31 during the week, including cart, and $41 on the weekend, Northern Hills is a pretty good value.

How good is this price? Peterson said without the wedding and banquet business he does in the clubhouse, he'd probably be out of business charging those rates on the golf course.

"The problem with San Antonio golf," Peterson said, "is that golf is so darn cheap."

Drought conditions aside, Northern Hills is an enjoyable test. There isn't a signature hole you can point to, but golfers will have to bring most of their arsenal to succeed here.

And the greens really are good. Bottom line: Northern Hills is a good value.

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Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 20 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @Accidentlgolfer.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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