With two new TPC golf courses on the way and one bang-up restoration of a classic course, Brackenridge Park, recently completed, San Antonio continues to increase its stature as a tourist city and Texas golf vacation destination.
SAN ANTONIO, Texas - On the northwest side of San Antonio, a colossal golf resort is rising out of the rocks. In the center of the Alamo City, a classic is reborn. And near major theme parks in San Antonio are two resorts where the golf, food and pampering are all top-notch.
Of course, the Alamo City has always been rich with history. But in recent years, it has added theme parks and world-class resorts, and with that, some pretty good golf. Often overlooked is that San Antonio has a climate pretty close to central Florida, meaning November and December are arguably some of the best times to visit, especially if you play golf.
Soon, there will be another reason for golfers to visit. In 2009, the Valero Texas Open, one of the longest running events on the PGA Tour, moves to the spring schedule with the rest of the Texas stops. And in 2010, it will have a new home, the TPC San Antonio.
Couple that with the reopening of historic Brackenridge Park Golf Course, top-tier golf resorts like the Westin La Cantera Resort (current home of the Valero Texas Open) and Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa and several memorable daily fees, and you have some pretty good options for a unique golf vacation.
Scheduled to open early in 2010, the new JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa is currently under construction. The 1,002-guest-room resort will have two TPC San Antonio golf courses. The Greg Norman course, with input from Sergio Garcia, is scheduled to host the Texas Open starting in 2010.
Both the Norman and Pete Dye/Bruce Lietzke-designed courses, well under construction in late 2008, will measure more than 7,500 yards and offer great views of the Cibolo Canyon countryside on the northwest side of the city. The resort also will feature 138,000 square feet of meeting space, a large spa and water park as well as six restaurants.
The new Brackenridge Park, an A.W Tillinghast classic that hosted the Texas Open for more than four decades, opened in December. Colligan Design Group, of Arlington, Texas, overhauled the course as close as it could to the original specs, except it now has the benefit of MiniVerde greens and TifSport fairways and roughs.
Beyond the new turf, six of the greens, in the Tillinghast spirit, are now rectangular in shape, trees underwent a massive trimming and thinning out process, and the clubhouse, which will house the revived Texas Golf Hall of Fame, has also been renovated.
Named by Conde Nast Traveler as one of "The 100 Best Golf Resorts in the World," Westin La Cantera, perched high above the city, was built on the site of an abandoned limestone quarry (la cantera in Spanish).
The resort features the original Resort Course, designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, as well as the more recent Palmer Course, created by the Arnold Palmer Group. Both courses feature several tees a hundred feet or more above the landing area as well plenty of brooks, doglegs and undulating greens.
Of note, the food at Palmer Clubhouse is outstanding. The trio of queso, salsa and guacamole with warm chips is unforgettable. As night falls, resort guests have a bird's eye view of the seasonal nightly fireworks display from the nearby Six Flags Fiesta Texas amusement park.
For some real tranquility, check out the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort, set among 300 meadow acres. Also on Conde Nast Traveler's top golf resorts list, golfers can play three Arthur Hills-designed nines, all of which will make you think a little off the tee. Tight landing areas, for example, on the reachable par 5s should make you consider whether or not hitting driver is the right choice, especially if you can't turn it in the right direction.
Located right next to SeaWorld San Antonio, the resort also has an extensive water park of its own and a world-class spa, and the cuisine at the resort - which features fare from Tex-Mex to German - is as good as it gets.
Just north of downtown you'll find one of the most unique golf courses in Texas, the Quarry Golf Course, The back nine of this Keith Foster gem was laid along the natural stone quarry walls that were once the former Alamo Cement Plant. The back nine can get a little hot during the summer months, but it's a memorable experience no matter what time of year. Sometimes if you get a good bounce off the rock-faced sides of the old quarry, you can make some interesting pars and birdies.
A few miles north of The Quarry is Canyon Springs Golf Club, a superbly conditioned and serene golf course built along an 1800s trail stop on some of San Antonio's highest points. Just south of downtown, there's historic Pecan Valley Golf Club, which hosted the 1968 PGA Championship. Designed by Press Maxwell, Pecan Valley was renovated in 1998 by Bob Cupp. And finally, one of San Antonio's newest public golf challenges, the Republic Golf Club, shares Salado Creek with Pecan Valley.
There are a ton of things to do in San Antonio, and it all starts with the famed River Walk, which is undergoing a $345 million improvement project to lengthen the it from two to 13 miles - making it the nation's largest linear park. At the heart and soul of San Antonio, the River Walk meanders through old arches of stone bridges.
Along its banks, you will find countless cafes, restaurants, bars and historic hotels, all backed up with the sound of mariachis. The planned extension will connect the original River Walk to the historic Pearl Brewery, Brackenridge Park, museums and cultural attractions to the north (the Museum Reach, scheduled for completion in 2009) and San Antonio's four Spanish colonial missions to the south (the Mission Reach, scheduled for completion in 2014).
The city's historic Main Plaza also recently unveiled a new facade. This lush plaza is bordered by San Fernando Cathedral, the oldest courthouse in Texas and the Riverwalk.
Visitors can stroll through shaded areas framed by stately live oaks and relax on stonework benches to enjoy views of interactive fountains that transition into stages for lively performances. This vibrant, public gathering place also incorporates modern conveniences such as Wi-Fi service.
Of course, no visit to San Antonio is complete without visiting some of the city's five old Spanish missions. Chief among them is the Alamo, site of the famous 1836 battle where 189 defenders of Texas independence held the old mission against some 4,000 Mexican troops for 13 days.
There are also theme parks, open daily during the late spring, summer and early fall and on select weekends over the winter. SeaWorld San Antonio is the world's largest marine park, and besides Shamu and other marine exhibits and entertainment, the park also has a couple of roller coasters and an expansive water park.
Six Flags Fiesta Texas, with its thrill rides and as well as tamer attractions, is designed around four themed areas: the Mexican town of Los Festivales, the German village of Spassburg, the 1920s cowboy boomtown of Crackaxle Canyon and the small Texas town of Rockville, which includes a '50s-'60s seaside boardwalk. Themes are carried out by musical shows and rides, including massive wooden and steel roller coasters.
The world's largest Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium also just opened in Alamo Plaza across from the Alamo, and San Antonio also has a Guinness Book of World Records Museum. Another popular stop is the Buckhorn Saloon & Museum, which showcases a 118-year-old bar, one-of-a-kind oddities, Western memorabilia and offers visitors a journey back to the Old West through exhibits, an old-fashioned arcade and a shooting gallery.
December 8, 2008