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|The sixth hole at Tour 18 near Houston is a pretty good likeness for the 12th at Augusta National. (Mike Bailey/WorldGolf.com)|
HUMBLE, Texas - Long gone is the red and white lighthouse that used to tower behind the first green, letting visitors know that they were playing the likeness of the famed finishing hole at Harbour Town Golf Links.
With a little imagination, though, you can still see it there, even though legal action forced Tour 18 Golf Club to tear it down a few years ago.
In the early '90s Tour 18, the most original collection of unoriginal golf holes in the country, was creating fervor with its copycat holes from venues like Harbour Town, Augusta National and Pinehurst No. 2. Some of the original venues weren't happy and took legal action, which also brought Tour 18 nationwide publicity.
It was a novel concept, to be sure, as the original investors took aerial photos of the originals and did a pretty good job recreating them on this somewhat swampy flat land just east of George Bush Intercontinental Airport. A lot of dirt had to be moved to create many of the copies. And many of the holes, which feature cool season grasses on the original, are Bermuda here; they have to be.
Still, for most of the people who play Tour 18, it's the closest thing they have to experiencing Amen Corner or the Blue Monster at Doral. And if you've only seen these places on TV, the Tour 18 experience is a pretty good one.
When Tour 18 opened in 1992, it was the first course of its kind. Passengers who flew into Houston often caught a glimpse of the church pew bunkers of the 14th hole, which replicates No. 3 at Oakmont Country Club, and their curiosity was piqued.
The most obvious copy is probably the ninth, which replicates the par-3 17th at the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass. While the wind is usually calmer here than it is in Florida, the hole is still intimidating at Tour 18 and many good golf balls find a watery resting place here in Humble as well.
Players who find the drink are directed to use the generous drop area next to the green. Otherwise many players could empty their golf bag on the ninth hole trying to put one on the green. Plus, it's a good way to keep your score in check. One member of our group actually made par from the drop area when he drained an 80-foot putt from off the green.
In truth, the hole really isn't that difficult, just 140 yards from the back tees, but it can still be intimidating. As can be the seventh at Tour 18, which copies the Golden Bell 12th at Augusta National. No, the wind doesn't swirl like it does on Amen Corner, and the green, I'm told, is actually a little larger to accommodate the traffic, but it's still thrilling to find the putting surface on your first shot.
The seventh, in fact, may be the best of the three Augusta hole copies. The fifth is a re-creation of the old 11th at Augusta, just 455 from the tips; the seventh is Augusta's 13th hole. And while the Texas pines aren't quite as majestic as Georgia Pines, the trees still give the Augusta holes a nice feel.
Some may call Tour 18 gimmicky, but even if you didn't know it was a collection of "America's Greatest Holes" this 6,807-yard par-72 course flows fairly well. In fact, the front nine is very walkable, if such a thing were encouraged.
Still, the draw here is pretending to play holes on courses you couldn't ordinarily set foot on, and most people really enjoy the experience.
General Manager Mike Shoelen says Tour 18 still fields calls daily from out-of-towners who come in for business and want to catch a quick round at this course that's just 15 minutes from the airport. The Tournament Course at Redstone Golf Club, also close to the airport, is a popular draw these days as well, as host of the Shell Houston Open.
"It's hurt a little and helped," said Shoelen of the competition from Redstone. "Really, it makes for a good one-two punch."
Tour 18's green fees are also less than half of Redstone's. If you've never played it before, Tour 18's a no-brainer.
Tour 18 has adequate practice facilities with a medium-sized driving range and an ample putting green. Food at the clubhouse is very good, and you can occasionally order items such as fish tacos or a Philly cheese steak, which aren't on the menu. Plus, the bartenders and servers are friendly and accommodating, which is something more courses need to copy.
April 27, 2009
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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