LUBBOCK, Texas - Someone once said this South Plains city was so flat all one had to do to see Colorado was to drive to the outskirts of town and stand on a coffee can.
That person never stood in the man-made crater that is now known as The Rawls Course, Texas Tech University's shiny new golf course.
After pushing around 1.3 million cubic yards of dirt in a former cotton field, and planting more than 2,000 trees, award-winning designer Tom Doak has created something never seen in West Texas. The Red Raiders' new 7,207-yard, par-72 course hopes some day to host the NCAA Championships.
It is just another High Tech venture for a school that has accomplished mind-boggling upgrades of its sports facilities since joining the Big 12. Jones SBC Stadium home of the Red Raiders' football team just unveiled a luxury suites-press box "building" that increased the press box size from about 12,500-square feet to 175,000-square feet.
Author of nationally ranked Pacific Dunes in Bandon, Oregon, Doak, contoured the flatness to mimic land east and south of Lubbock, where plains meet an area called the Caprock. Here, canyons and valleys dominate the semi-arid landscape, breaking up the monotony of the Texas prairies.
Doak's crew, lead by Jim Urbina, excavated several feet of dirt from the center of the property, then built 10-foot high berms surrounding the 230 acres. The crew, who graded and shaped for about 300 days, hoped it would create an appearance of natural erosion throughout the bumpy contours of the wide, rolling fairways, and artificial canyon areas, complete with rugged bunkers and tall mounding.
Sounds artificial, and it is, but this course's main calling of nature comes from a frequent visitor to the South Plains - wind. Strong wind.
And just when you think you have the prevailing breeze figured out, and read the yardage book that talks incessantly about the southerly wind, you could experience a cold front from the north like the one that arrived in Lubbock over the Labor Day weekend - three days of cool, north wind - sweater weather.
Any one who ever played golf in Lubbock knows about wind. In the spring residents often face days of brown skies and blustery conditions that can blow more than 30 mph. Doak says he tried to design a course where the player must learn to play the wind. Downwind holes, often big-time challenges to hold greens, were designed so you can play run-up approach shots.
Fairway bunkers often jut out in your line of sight and force the player to decide whether he can carry them - these traps are true one-shot penalties if you misjudge. But wide fairways also allow good players to place drives on one side or the other.
Strategy is key to Doak designs and he also thinks Texas Tech's course will force young college golfers to learn to control their emotions. With a south wind this layout begins benignly and birdies can be scored, but the middle of the back nine is difficult and the player who can remain cool can take advantage of two par-5 holes to end the day.
Doak calls No. 10, a par-3, 182-yarder his ode to the 11th at St. Andrews. The wings of the green are guarded by deep bunkers and if the south wind is strong it will be nearly impossible to carry the front bunker and stay on the green. A lake also guards a right pin placement.
Other historic holes Doak used include the par-4 second, based on a hole at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland. No. 5 came from San Francisco Golf Club, first designed by George Thomas Jr. in the 1920s. Another originated from Royal Melbourne West.
The 476-yard par-4 eighth will bite you if you don't use your golf smarts. "It is one of the most difficult holes we've ever designed," Doak said. "When the wind comes from the south most players should be content to play it as a three-shot hole, keeping their seconds safely out to the right." Anything hooked will find a hollow left, 20 feet below the green's surface.
A 4.5-acre lake must be negotiated on holes No. 10 and 18 and a 53-acre driving range doubled the acreage for Lubbock practice opportunities as soon as it opened. General manager Jack North thinks it's one of the largest in the world.
"I think golfers are going to like the playability of the course," said North. "The fairways are huge, but from the back tees with typical wind you will need good course management to score well. We could set this golf course as tough as anyone would want."
In the first two weeks the golf course was open more than 4,000 rounds were played. That's major. And grand opening ceremonies were major, too. Texas Tech basketball legend Bob Knight invited many celebrities and former pro athletes he's known over the years.
That's what the golf course is going to be for West Texas - a hit.
Doak was challenged to build a course to test the best college players in the USA, but it was also to be a showplace of the community. It's a bargain for the students of Texas Tech and even though adults will pay a little more it's a bargain for them, too. You won't find many travel golfers heading to town, but business travelers will play here along with parents who come to visit students.
Why is it named The Rawls Course? Some guy donated a lot of money to build it.
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Hawthorn Inn & Suites
2515 19th Street
Lubbock, TX 79410
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Best of Lubbock? The chicken-fried steak at the Red Raiders' golf course comes highly recommended. Voters selected Chili's, Abuelo's Mexican Restaurant, Home Plate Diner and Jason's Deli. You can't come to Lubbock without tasting the barbecue - try Rudy's, a Hill Country favorite, now moving into other regions, including Albuquerque. It's spicy sauce is laced with huge chunks of pepper. Stubb's has been in town for years along with Bigham's.
In my rearview mirror? Come on, Lubbock isn't the center of the world, no doubt, but this city of 200,000 has lots to be proud of. Have you ever seen an oil well on a golf course? You can in Lubbock, which is the cotton capital of Texas.
How about home of Buddy Holly (lubbockmusic.com) and Mac Davis? What would the world of music be without Holly? Did you know John Denver studied architecture at Texas Tech? That Waylon Jennings was once a disc jockey at a Lubbock radio station? Other West Texan musicians include, Bob Wills, Roy Orbison and Grammy winner Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks.
Country music superstar Don Williams was born just 50 miles away in Floydada, home of a nine-hole country club that has the exact landforms Doak was talking about in Caprock golf - it's down in a canyon with a dry creek running through the land where Native Americans once hunted.
Course architect Tom Doak calls the Rawls Course his most challenging work to date.
October 5, 2003