SAN ANTONIO - Opened just this year, traditions are forming at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort. It's minutes until sunset, and waiters are scurrying the floor passing out small glasses of wine in the lobby, where the sun sets on the floor-to-ceiling glass wall overlooking the Hill Country.
At the front of the room, a cowboy raises his glass and offers a toast to everyone in the room, asking us all to "pause a moment, meet with friends and family, and reflect on what you accomplished during the day."
It's a toast dating back to the days of the cowboys and ranchers who spent all day farming the Hill Country. The JW Marriott is out to offer a taste of pure Texas, with limestone and wood architecture, plus local artwork both traditional and contemporary throughout the resort.
But it's a luxury resort property making a bold statement, too.
Blending Hill Country charm with Texas bravado, little is subtle upon first sight when you're driving up TPC Boulevard and the hotel appears, towering over the hillside. It's the largest in the world of the JW Marriott Resorts with 1,002 guest rooms on 600 acres.
There is plenty of room to mosey around or just lounge throughout the public areas - it will take a day or two just to get comfortable with the sheer size of the building.
Within the resort's two-story main lobby are many small nooks, like the lobby area's library, and outside there are benches surrounding fire pits. It's a bustling scene but large enough to never feel on top of one another.
After the sunset toast, it's time for dinner, and options at the resort abound.
The new trend everywhere at resorts is to keep ingredients local and organic, but few resorts are this big. To help keep the resort stocked is its own 5,000-square-foot organic garden, while outsourcing the rest to area farmers.
Crooked Branch is the largest, most lively and casual of the seven resort dining options, making up the bulk of the downstairs lobby area and outdoor patio, more suited for a quick snack or appetizers. The signature restaurant is Cibolo Moon, offering casual Texas cuisine in a stylish atmosphere.
A wide variety of tequilas are available to go with BBQ brisket or chicken-fried steak. A step up from Cibolo Moon into the fine dining category is 18 Oaks at the TPC clubhouse, dimly lit and serving a wide selection of wines and steaks, including its signature Texas Waygu.
Serving its own bar food but built more for drinking is High Velocity Sports Bar, well on its way to becoming one of golf's great 19th holes. A massive, curvy screen, 120-feet wide, can show up to 24 different channels at once - or combine into four, or even one, game. It can be an overwhelming visual, so for more personal viewing, booths come with their own TVs.
The smallest dining venue at the resort shouldn't be overlooked, either. Spa Bistro next to reception of the Lantana Spa has just a few tables and an open kitchen, where you can order up fresh sandwiches and salads while making chit-chat with the chef. It's also the place to grab a fruit smoothie if you're not up for a Shiner Bock at High Velocity.
Outside, kids will be busy during the San Antonio summers all day at the six-acre water park, complete with a lazy river and water slide. Sound wild? Rest assured there's an adults-only area so you're not getting sprayed with a squirt gun the second you open up the paper.
Guests of the resort have access to the private TPC San Antonio AT&T Oaks Course and AT&T Canyons Course, two new designs from Greg Norman and Pete Dye, respectively, built to the specifications of the PGA Tour. The courses will host the 2010 Valero Texas Open (AT&T Oaks) and Champions Tour's AT&T Championship on (AT&T Canyons) in the near future.
Though the TPC brand is on display, they don't necessarily have all the traits of a traditional TPC venue. The grass mounding so often prevalent at Stadium venues like TPC Scottsdale and TPC Sawgrass are gone in favor of more natural-appearing surroundings. Environmental sensitivity played a key part in how the TPC project was approved, and the highlight is the closed-loop irrigation system that will corral all runoff for reuse on each course. And, yes, we checked, AT&T 3G service works well on both sponsored courses.
Both golf courses are very different in terms of design and topography, but both close in dramatic TPC fashion, including short par 4s and picturesque par 3s, such as the 16th of the Oaks course featuring a bunker in the center of the green, ala Riviera Country Club.
They're both tough as nails. The Oaks gets high marks for its sharply contoured green complexes with runoff areas and a max yardage more than 7,500 yards, which should become the toughest course in Texas - in the state's new largest golf resort.
April 9, 2010