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The Palmer Course at La Cantera: Arnie Transforms Hill Country Land Into Winner

By David R. Holland, Contributor

SAN ANTONIO, TX -- The land was deemed "hilly, rocky and valueless" in 1840, when Horace Beall, a private and physician in the Republic of Texas Army, was deeded the hilltop land that is now part of the Westin La Cantera Resort.

Beall died a year later and had no descendants willing to claim his Bounty Warrant of this property, situated in Bexar County on a branch of the Leon Creek, a tributary of the Medina River, 15 miles northwest of downtown San Antonio.

When Cal Brannon showed up in the 1880s and claimed the land under the Homestead Act, there were thousands of settlers heading to San Anontio to claim "free" land. The only catch was the land was also considered worthless.

Today as you stand on that hilltop, with the massive Westin La Cantera Resort surrounding you, look westerly out and downward across the valley. Your view is Texas golf heaven -- two verdant golf-course gems Beall and Brannon could have never visualized -- The Resort Course at La Cantera and the just opened Palmer Course at La Cantera.

The land is now priceless.

Arnold Palmer knew when he first saw the land it was unique for Texas. "The topography of La Cantera (Spanish for rock quarry) exhibits interesting characteristics that will be beautiful and unique," Palmer said on his first site visit. "The natural beauty will be displayed in existing rock outcroppings, dry creeks, hills and incredible views of San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country."

After soaking in the hilly 7,034-yard, par-71 Palmer Course for the first time you might just close your eyes and think you are in Colorado. The elevation changes, and up-and-down holes, many blind shots, are equal to many mountain layouts.

No. 18, Palmer's favorite hole, is a memorable view and challenge. Would you believe finishing your round on a par-4, astounding 503 yards from the tips? And there's no 10-15 percent additional carry you get in the mile-high altitude of the Rocky Mountains.

The tee shot is semi-blind, but just aim for the mission bell top of the clubhouse. The second shot is an 80-foot drop with lake and waterfall right and terraced landing areas on the steep hill for the average golfers. Only the longest of hitters will be marking down 4s on this hole.

The Palmer Course front nine features the par-3, 183-yard, No. 4 signature hole, which tests you to clear a creek and pond in front and a trickling waterfall to the right. The bridge to the green has been dedicated The Winnie Palmer Memorial Bridge, in honor of Palmer's wife, who died of cancer in 1999.

Two downhill, breathtaking par-3s await on the back nine. No. 13 is 209 from the rear with just a slim shaft of green to drive though. On the left is a limestone cliff, stationed to knock down hooks. On the right is a drop-off of unrecoverable status -- a hill-country ravine, deep and dark.

No. 17 is a beauty, 166 yards downhill with the ground slanting abruptly to the right. The long, narrow green can be a three-putt invitation should the flag be planted right and your tee shot finds the left side of this enormous green.

After your round the view is awesome from the mission-styled clubhouse, one of the most beautiful in golf, perched high above the 18th green, where you can sit and enjoy the scenery. You might envision that fairway drop on 18 -- if there was snow, you could ski down it.

On his new course at La Cantera being named The Palmer Course: "This golf course will be here long after I'm growing grass from the bottom up and I'm very appreciative and humbled they named it for me. It's also a sentimental thing to go out to No. 4 and see the bridge and the plaque in honor of Winnie. I'm just very pleased to be able to do what I can in the golf world today.

"The Hill Country terrain and the undulations make this very different from most courses we design," Palmer continued. "I really enjoy this golf course. The climate is ideal for golf all year long. I like the rugged look with all the limestone rocks and the natural rock formations and the ones we created by moving a half million yards of rock and dirt. It's just a very attractive golf course."

The Palmer Course at La Cantera, his first in South Texas and fifth in Texas, was developed by La Cantera Development Company – a part of the USAA Real Estate Company. USAA was originally founded as the insurance company for military officers, something that San Antonio has lots of, both active duty and retired.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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