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|The par-3 16th hole on the AT&T Oaks golf course at TPC San Antonio sits in the shadow of the 1,002-room JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort. (Courtesy of TPC San Antonio)|
SAN ANTONIO -- With the opening this year of the 1,000-plus room JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa, the Texas Hill Country is taking its place among the best golf-resort destinations in the nation.
Between Austin and San Antonio, six luxury resorts offer first-rate spas, outstanding dining, activities off the golf course and multiple championship layouts.
Both cities also provide plenty of off-resort excursions. Austin, of course, is the state capital and home to the University of Texas, but one of its main draws is the music and club scene built around Sixth Street.
San Antonio, always a tourist attraction, features the famed River Walk as well as Sea World, Six Flags Fiesta Texas and perhaps the best collection of Tex-Mex restaurants in the state. Both cities -- and the towns that surround them -- serve as home to some of the best barbeque joints in the country.
Each of the following resorts boasts its own identity, through their golf courses, their water parks, their restaurants and hospitality. They draw families and corporate groups. Here is a rundown of the high-end golf-resort scene around Austin and San Antonio:
This 4,000-acre, four-star resort features 300 rooms, a pair of restaurants, 30,000 square feet of meeting space, a tennis center, European-style spa and four excellent golf courses.
The Tom Fazio-designed Canyons Course and Cliffside layout, designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, hosted a Canadian PGA Tour event. And Barton Creek also once served as the site for the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf on the Champions Tour.
Barton Creek's Canyons Course is actually Fazio's second golf course at Barton Creek; he also designed the Foothills Course, ranked among the best resort golf courses in Texas and renovated in 2008. Former President George W. Bush counts the par-3 ninth among his favorite holes. The 175-yard hole on the Foothills, recently renovated, features a cascading waterfall. Barton Creek includes another golf course 25 miles away on Lake Travis, the Lakeside Course. Designed by Arnold Palmer, it's popular among the club's members.
Also part of the resort, the highly rated Barton Creek Golf Academy recently opened its Callaway Performance Center, which uses the same technology Callaway employs to custom fit tour players Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els. Using high-speed cameras and sophisticated computer technology, the system captures data such as swing speed, ball speed, launch angle, spin rates, attack and path angles.
Horseshoe Bay, which overlooks Lake LBJ just northwest of Austin, also enjoys a stellar statewide reputation. Over the past couple of years, the resort spent more than $20 million on improvements.
The resort is known for its three Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed golf courses, including the difficult Ram Rock Course, which has hosted some of Texas' most prestigious amateur and professional tournaments. In addition to Ram Rock, there's the enjoyable Slick Rock and Apple Rock golf courses and the Whitewater Putting Course, which can be played in less than an hour.
Guests can stay at the roomy condo accommodations or opt for the on-site 365-room Marriott hotel and spa. There's also a 325-slip marina, three pools and a riding stable on this 7,000-acre property. Fishing, boating and waterskiing is also available.
This former ranch on the west side of San Antonio features 500 luxurious rooms, four restaurants, an elegant, world-class spa and a four-acre water park. The water park, which includes a lazy river and several pools, is particularly popular in the summer months among families. Also, check out the outdoor movie theater near the pools.
The Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort offers a nightly buffet unlike anything you'll find elsewhere. Each night features a different type of cuisine, prepared by some of the area's top chefs.
The golf is excellent and differs from the other Hill Country resorts. A few years ago, architect Arthur Hills added nine holes to his original 18-hole design. The three nines -– the Lakes, the Creeks and the Oaks -- accurately describe the terrain and layouts. For the most part, Hyatt Hill Country golf requires players to think through each hole, though some holes allow players to blast away with the driver. Guests also see plenty of wildlife at this extremely peaceful venue.
The new home of the Valero Texas Open opened in January and already proves extremely popular. The resort features two golf courses that make up the TPC San Antonio.
TPC San Antonio's AT&T Oaks Course, designed by Greg Norman with Sergio Garcia, is a long, tight, heavily bunkered beast that gave the tour pros all they could handle this spring. The Pete Dye-designed AT&T Canyons Course at TPC San Antonio, created with player consultant Bruce Lietzke, actually ranks as the gentler of the two golf courses because of its wider fairways. But it's no pushover, as both golf courses penalize missed fairways with high native vegetation that gobbles up golf balls. TPC San Antonio is also home to the PGA Tour Golf Academy, offering high-level, tour-like instruction on some of the best practice facilities in the country.
The JW Marriott San Antonio includes more than 1,000 state-of-the-art rooms, seven distinct food and beverage options and more than 140,000 square feet of meeting space. Among the lounge options, a unique sports bar, High Velocity, features a giant video billboard of sporting events -- sure to catch your attention. The resort also provies access to the biggest water park of any hotel in Texas. The six-acre Water Bluff experience has four water slides, a lazy river, jacuzzis and numerous pools, including an infinity pool with great views of the AT&T Canyons Course.
Before the JW Marriott, the Westin La Cantera hosted the Valero Texas Open for 10 years. Now, the resort, recently renovated and updated, simply offers one of the best one-two punches in the state with its Resort Course and Palmer Course.
Both provide as much of a thrill ride as the nearby roller coasters at the Six Flags Fiesta. Westin La Cantera's Resort Course, designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, includes a few holes with excellent views of theme-park attractions from elevated tees and hilly terrain. The Palmer Course features even more dramatic elevations. And both golf courses, as you might expect, remain in excellent condition with terrific practice facilities. La Cantera also has an excellent golf academy.
The hotel sits at one of the highest points in San Antonio, offering spectacular views of the city, especially at night. It has 508 luxurious rooms, six pools, three hot tubs, a health club and spa services, tennis courts, great dining, a kids club and flexible, spacious meeting space.
The 27-hole Tapatio Springs Golf Resort and Conference Center in Boerne just outside of San Antonio has always enjoyed a reputation as a peaceful nature escape, but over the years, it had lost some of its luster. Now it's coming back under its new owners, Tom Cusick and country music star George Strait.
The entire resort was remodeled in 2011, including the golf course. The new clubhouse amenities, which include La Cascada Restaurant and "TaPatio" -- a new and beautiful cedar deck -- really make Tapatio Springs a cut above what it used to be.
The facility also has a resort hotel, more than 20,000 square feet of convention and meeting facilities, tennis courts, swimming pool and a fitness center.
The biggest improvement to the golf course is overall conditioning, helped immensely by a new, state-of-the-art irrigation system and commitment by the new owners to golf course maintenance.
But it's probably the setting, which includes plenty of elevation change, wildlife and general feeling of escaping it all, that make the golf course experience so special. The course was designed by Bill Johnston. The longest nine is the Valley Course at 3,376 yards, a par 37 with several difficult holes, including the par-5 fourth at 559 yards. The other two layouts at Tapatio Springs, the Lakes Course and the Ridge Course are 3,128 and 3,129 yards, respectively. Each course has four sets of tees.
July 23, 2010
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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