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Palmilla Beach Resort & Golf Club: The evolution of a premium golf resort on the Texas coast

Mike BaileyBy Mike Bailey,
Senior Staff Writer
Palmilla Beach golf course - 13th hole
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The Gulf of Mexico is in range at Palmilla Beach Golf Club & Resort in Port Aransas, Texas. (Courtesy of Palmilla Beach Golf Club & Resort)

PORT ARANSAS, Texas -- At Palmilla Beach Resort & Golf Club, there's a golf course, a clubhouse, a restaurant and even an outdoor stage for concerts. So where's the resort part?

Stay tuned. It's coming.

Located right next to the beach on Mustang Island near Corpus Christi, Palmilla Beach Resort & Golf Club is certainly in a resort location. When it opened in 2008, it was called Newport Dunes with plans for expansive development that would have included a hotel, homes and condos and other resort amenities.

But, of course, we all know what happened in 2008: The U.S. economy, on the brink of disaster, tanked.

So everything stood still until San Antonio real estate firm Koontz McCombs (partner Red McCombs is the former owner of the San Antonio Spurs and owns the Minnesota Vikings) bought the development out of bankruptcy in 2013.

With property they already owned in Port Aransas, they rebranded the entire development as Palmilla Beach Resort & Golf Club with plans to build homes, condominiums, a clubhouse for the golf course, nature trails and several other amenities. Residents and guests also have access to the beach via a private dunes crossing.

The clubhouse has been built, but as of yet, visitors can't stay at the resort since there are no rental properties or hotels available. The clubhouse, though, includes a restaurant and outdoor venue overlooking the Gulf. And if everything goes as planned, soon there will be casitas and homes available for golf packages for visitors who would like to combine golf with beach, entertainment, dining and fishing.

Director of Sales Tiffany Holmgren said the hope is that the resort could enter an agreement with a hotel brand within the next year or so. She also compares the development to the WaterColor Inn & Resort near Panama City, Fla., which features shops, restaurants and, of course, golf. Lots at Palmilla Beach start out around $160,000, while condos and homes can go for a million dollars or more. Eventually, there will be shopping and more restaurants.

This is good news for Port Aransas, which despite being a longtime beach destination for San Antonio residents two and a half hours away, has never really been fully developed. As of now, the hotels and motels are largely old and mom and pop, and many of the region's visitors simply drive and camp out on the beach. The new development, as well as the golf course, could give the area more of an upscale feel.

Palmilla Beach golf course is unique to Texas

Arnold Palmer Design was hired to craft the Palmilla Beach golf course. South Padre Island Golf Club near Brownsville is similar, but it's a couple miles or so away from the Gulf. Galveston's Moody Gardens Golf Course is close to the sea, but it's certainly not a links design. And the Rawls Course at Texas Tech in Lubbock is links in almost every aspect except it's nowhere near a coastline.

A lower ball flight is crucial for success at Palmilla Beach. With the prevailing wind coming off the Gulf of Mexico, most of the holes either play in a crosswind or into the wind. The penalty for wayward shots is often a lost ball as the fairways and greens are well protected by marsh grasses and dune vegetation. Still, though, on many of the holes, especially from the upper tees, you can play the ball on the ground if you can avoid the course's scattered pot bunkers.

While the all-paspalum course with its undulating greens certainly won't be confused with Bandon Dunes or Pebble Beach, there are ocean views, even though they're from a distance. A bridge, which links the first three holes and driving range to the rest of the course, provides a panoramic view of the entire area, including the beach. And when you get to the par-4 12th, which turns toward the ocean, the next three holes are fairly close to the coast with good views of the water.

Palmilla Beach's 14th is perhaps the quintessential ocean hole. With a narrow fairway, you have to try to hold the wind off the tee of this par 4, then it plays to a semi-blind approach over the dunes. Players have to be careful here, too, as a high ball can easily be blown right into oblivion.

While the fairways are fairly generous, it is a common sight to see golfers hunting for balls. A little more clearing could make the course a more playable, but it's still a very enjoyable test.

Much more than golf already

If you're planning a trip to Port Aransas and golf is on your agenda, you'll want to make a day of it at Palmilla Beach, especially in late spring, summer and early fall.

The resort's restaurant, the Black Marlin, is one of the finest eateries on the island. Terrific local seafood, appetizers (including bone marrow and duck wings) and a wide assortment of spirits in a casual atmosphere make this a great place to hang out.

Even better, the resort also features an outdoor stage and summer concert series featuring quality bands from Texas and beyond. Over the 2015 Memorial Day weekend, country/southern rock performer Charlie Robison entertained the crowd, and Texas legend Joe Ely was scheduled for July 4.

And while the resort doesn't offer any packages with local hotels, there are plenty of accommodations available. A Hampton Inn, for example, is located just a mile down the highway from the golf course.

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Palmilla Beach rental propertiesPalmilla Beach golf course - 10th holePalmilla Beach Resort -- Black MarlinPalmilla Beach - beach accessPalmilla Beach Golf Club - fifth holePalmilla Beach G.C. - 14th

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.

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