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Diamonds in the rough: 10 hidden lone star jewels

By David R. Holland, Contributor

SAN ANTONIO, TX - Sometime in the next few years, if the current construction boom continues, the number of golf courses in Texas will reach the 1,000 mark.

It's a great time to be a golfer in the Lone Star State with glitzy new courses opening at a rapid rate in a Tarrant-Dallas-Collin County golf corridor north of the D-FW Metroplex and in the burgeoning growth sector surrounding Austin. The boom has even reached such South Plains areas as Childress and to a Tom Doak-design at Texas Tech in Lubbock.

From the Hill Country to South Padre Island to the huge Houston metro area, golf is growing in Texas.

That may be all the reason not to forget some of the state's historic courses, some hidden gems, lost jewels or diamonds in the rough. By whatever name you call them, these are courses that were heralded when they opened.

Today they might be under-appreciated, lost in the current golf boom, or just recently polished awaiting for someone to admire them again.

Every state has such stories. The 10 hidden gems listed below only scratch the surface. Texas has hundreds of these jewels just waiting to be rediscovered.

Brackenridge Park Golf Course, San Antonio

Legendary designer A.W. Tillinghast routed Brackenridge Park Golf Course in 1916 and in the Alamo City the choice is easy for a hidden gem. Yep, Tillinghast is the guy who authored Baltusrol, Winged Foot, Bethpage and San Francisco CC. It's the oldest course in Texas and was constructed with the help of jail inmates.

It's short, 6,490 yards, and flat, but it has majestic old pecan trees and even some palm trees lining the fairways where many of the greats of golf have walked.

Texans Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and Jimmy Demaret walked here. Hogan used it as a winter practice haven. Even Walter Hagen, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer struck drives here, where the PGA Winter Tour was born. Juggs McSpadden posted the course record of 59 in 1955.

2315 Avenue B, San Antonio
Telephone: 210-226-5612.
Green Fees: $16 to $19
Internet: www.sanantonio.gov/sapar/coursedescriptions.asp

Tenison Highlands in Dallas

In Dallas since 1926, Tenison Park opened with its West Course and added the more scenic East Course in the 1950s. Here Lee Trevino and Titanic Thompson became famous for wagering games and Babe Didrickson Zaharias tuned her game into world-class.

The original layout, routed through pecan, sycamore and oak trees, was done by Jack Burke, father of 1956 Masters champ Jack Burke Jr., and Syd Cooper, father of Harry Cooper, knicknamed Lighthouse Harry.

Ralph Plummer designed the East on the edges of White Rock Creek and later authored the ultra-exclusive Preston Trail Golf Club just up the same river northward.

The 1968 Public Links Championship was staged on the East Course, now called Tenison Glen, which was a final hurrah before folks started noticing this historic complex needed a facelift. Local resident and PGA Tour player D.A. Weibring was hired to spruce things up.

The clubhouse was replaced and in 2000 the new West layout opened as Tenison Highlands. Some holes were completely redone and some followed the old route, with bunkers and water features added.

If you grew up playing golf at Tenison Park and haven't been back. This is a must.

3501 Samuell, Dallas
Telephone: 214-670-1402
Green fees: $24 to $39
Internet: www.golfindallas.net

Memorial Park Golf Course, Houston

It's almost mind-boggling to imagine how many sweat-drenched Houston golfers have huffed and puffed through the stifling humidity and dragged into the Memorial Park Clubhouse grasping for an ice-cold Coca-Cola over the past eight decades.

It's a stretch to call a course a hidden gem when it hosts 65,000 rounds a year and that's with a day off for maintenance.

Memorial Park GC opened in 1936, designed by architect John Bredemus. The Houston Open was played here last in 1963, when Bob Charles won the prize. Since then the 7,164-yard, par-72 championship course, like many in inner cities, decayed.

That's why, in 1996, the City of Houston gave Memorial Park an extensive facelift totaling $4 million. The Hermann Park Golf Course, located next to the Houston Zoo, also was included in the price. The restoration was a collaboration among Dave Marr, the late television analyst, and architects Jay Riviere and Baxter Spann.

Memorial Park features some mature pine trees lining its generous fairways traversing rolling terrain and topping out at 7,164 yards.. Water hazards sprinkle the layout and the signature hole is No. 15, a 180-yard, scenic par 3, overlooking a stone-lined pond.

1001 East Memorial Loop Drive, Houston
Telephone: 713-862-4033
Green Fees: $22.50 to $32
Internet: www.ci.houston.tx.us/municipalgolf/memorial/

Rayner Ranch Golf Club in Spring Branch

Located just 30 minutes north of San Antonio on Highway 281, Rayner Ranch Golf Club is a serene spot in the Texas Hill Country. It features oak-lined fairways on gently rolling land and recently experienced a big-time renovation project.

Formerly known as Rebecca Creek, Rayner Ranch reaches 6,893 yards from the back tees at par 72. You will enjoy the views of the Hill Country with century-old oaks lining the fairways. The facelift included new cart paths, tee boxes and greens. And both the clubhouse and pro shop have been completely refurbished.

10101 Rebecca Creek, Spring Brach
Telephone: 830-885-7495
Green Fees: $20 to $25
Internet: www.raynerranchgolf.com

SugarTree Golf Course in Dennis

When the Lone Star club pros pick you as No. 18 in Texas, you know there's something special at SugarTree Golf Course. This 6,774-yard, par-71 layout skirts the banks of the Brazos River and is tight, scenic and challenging with lots of sand (55 bunkers) and water, which comes into play on 13 holes.

Given a "four-star" rating by Golf Digest, SugarTree is one of the best kept secrets in North Texas, just down the road from Weatherford and Granbury.

1189 FM Road Dennis
Telephone: 817-596-0020
Green Fees: $29 to $39
Internet: www.sugartreegolf.com

Oak Hurst Golf Course, Bullard

Sculpted through groves of tall East Texas pines and hardwoods, Oak Hurst Golf Course, measures 6,813 yards at par 72, and was designed by Carlton Gipson in 1993. It features large, contoured greens with water testing you on 11 holes and a diverse fun layout that is part of a 36-hole complex named Peach Tree.

Many folks come to the area to play the more publicized Garden Valley in nearby Lindale and enjoy Oak Hurst just as much. No two holes are alike says pro Darrell Chase, who also says No. 16 was selected as the most difficult par 4 in East Texas by the area golf pros.

Oak Hurst and Peach Tree Golf Courses are right next to each other off Highway 69 between Tyler and Jacksonville. Peach Tree is an executive course, just right for juniors, seniors and beginners. Oak Hurst has also hosted Mini-Tour events and PGA Club Professional championships.

6212 County Rd 152 W, Bullard
Telephone: 903-894-7079
Green Fees: $24-$34
Internet: www.easttexasgolf.com

River Ridge Golf Club in Sealy

Visit River Ridge Golf Club, just 35 minutes west of Houston's Loop 610 at I-10, and you might think you are experiencing an exclusive country club.

Designer Jay Riviere said he dreamed of such a location, on the historic Brazos River, amongst old-growth pecans, oaks and hardwoods, when he first visited the site in 1972. Today his vision is complete.

River Ridge opened in 1998, with a 60-foot drop in elevation from the clubhouse on the river ridge to the bank of the Brazos. Every direction golfers find spectacular vistas, raised tees and greens and undulating fairways.

Each 9-hole layout, named Parkland, Ridge and River, is built on more than 120 acres, resulting in a Texas-sized landscape with 35 acres of lakes and creeks separating fairways and greens. Nine fieldstone bridges over the creeks complete an Old World personality.

3133 Brazos Oak Lane, Sealy
Telephone: 979-885-3333 or 800-553-7517
Green Fees: $60 to $72
Internet: www.riverridgegolfclub.com

Pine Forest Golf Club in Bastrop

Pine Forest Golf Club is another beauty discovered by many travel golfers when they come to the area to play ColoVista Country Club, which gets more attention and spends more cash on advertising.

But again, you might like this course better than ColoVista. It is an adventure through red cliffs, elevation changes, three sensational downhill par-three holes and holes played right on the banks of the Colorado River. Other holes bend blindly around red-dirt bluffs and through pines, pecans, oaks draped in Spanish moss, cedars, wild grapevines and pampas grass.

Designed by tall Texan Don January and Billy Martindale in 1979, this course received Golf Digest's 3-star rating. It measures 6,569 yards at par 72.

2509 Riverside Drive, Bastrop
Telephone: 512-303-6777
Green Fees: $25 to $40
Internet: www.pineforestgolfclub.com

Roy Kizer Golf Course in Austin

Randy Russell of Austin's Bechtol & Russell Design turned a former water and wasterwater treatment facility into a 6,749-yard, par-71 track with grassy mounds, 51 sand traps and 200 acres lined with cedars, oaks and elms.

Roy Kizer has become Austin's premier "muny" with Russell masterfully taking a design philosophy that is fun without punishing the average golfer. It also shares a parking lot with another of Austin's munys - Jimmy Clay, and both courses are lush from using reclaimed water.

The Roy Kizer links-style layout also has 35 acres of lakes and 22 acres of wetlands that were created for resident and migratory waterfowl. Egrets, blue herons and ducks love the setting as much as the local golfers.

5400 Jimmy Clay Drive, Austin
Telephone: 512-444-0999
Green Fees: $24 to $28.
Internet: www.ci.austin.tx.us/parks/kizer.htm

The Falls Golf Club & Resort in New Ulm

Just 60 miles west of Houston, and 15 miles north of Columbus, The Falls Golf Club is a gateway to the Hill Country, and a tranquil escape from the big city in a rolling, wooded landscape. Clearwater lakes abound, following the natural terrain, forming a series of cascading waterfalls the course is named for.

Jay Riviere and Dave Marr routed this 6,765-yard, par-72 treasure in 1984 with water features on 10 holes, groves of cedar and pine and a relaxed atmosphere.

1750 N. Falls Drive, New Ulm
Telephone: 979-992-3123 or 800-992-3930
Green Fees: $50 to $65
Internet: www.thefallsresort.com

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • 10 Hidden Jewels

    Texas Traveler wrote on: May 23, 2009

    I would agree with all of these except for Rayner Ranch. That is a terrible golf course. Boring for average players, good for beginners and seniors.
    Two better ones- Concan southwest of San Antonio and Maverick Golf Club, southeast of San Antonio. Two great designs with laid back atmospheres and great staff.
    May 2009


  • I agree

    Rick wrote on: Jan 9, 2006

    These are excellent selections and I enjoyed the story very much. Going to play the ones I haven't. Thanks.


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