AFTER YOU’VE pulled out the sticks and negotiated your way through the first few tentative rounds of spring, test your golfing mettle on the ultimate challenge in Dallas: the Dream 18, a collection of the area’s best golf holes. It will take more than pure ability to play this golf course (owning a block in the Central Business District might help), but with enough time and the right connections you should be able to complete the layout.
This par-72 course stretches from the Dallas Athletic Club bordering Mesquite on the east to Bear Creek Golf Center at D/FW airport on the west. More than 7,300 yards from the championship tees, the Dream 18 demands the strength of Dan Pohl (the Professional Golfer’s Association’s biggest belter) to reach some of the greens. But at a more tolerable 6,830 yards from the regular markers, the course provides an enjoyable challenge to the average player.
The Dream 18 includes real estate that is etched into the annals of golf. It takes you to Cedar Crest Golf Club in Oak Cliff, where Walter Hagen won a record fourth consecutive title in the 1927 PGA cham-pionship; to Northwood Country Club, where Julius Boros edged Ben Hogan in the 1952 U.S. Open; and to Dallas Athletic Club, where young Jack Nicklaus won the PGA 20 years ago. You get a firsthand look at Oak Cliff Country Club, where current SMU women’s coach Earl Stewart became the only host pro to win a PGA event (the 1961 Dallas Open), as well as Bent Tree, where Jan Stephenson rewrote the scoring records on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour two years ago.
But enough history. The challenge at hand is how to deal with the Dream 18. The course includes 12 water holes and enough trees to give Smokey the Bear high anxiety. From the back tees, a player needs to hit consistently accurate drives of more than 250 yards. The regular tees require a certain degree of driving accuracy, but the margin for error is greater, and long carries are not always needed.
The components of the course vary, but the basic premise is to provide the professional or low-handicap player with a challenge that requires expertise to record a birdie while allowing the average player the opportunity to make a bogey (or par with a good putt) without undue penalty. Aesthetics entered the equation as well. The opportunity to enjoy nature, rather than battle it, played a role in the picks.
Armed with the best in modern golf technology – metal woods, 100-compression golf balls and hand-ground sand wedges -and the empathy of the experts who helped devise the Dream 18, we tackled the course.
Dallas Athletic Club, blue course, eighth hole, par 4. The drive, into a steeply banked slope that resembles a race track turn, sets up this 424-yard dogleg left hole. A good drive leaves you with a low- to medium-iron hit to a large green that is bunkered on both sides. Some days, though, two woods won’t get you home. The average player must contend with a 180-yard carry over water that catches many topped or skied tee shots.
Oak Cliff Country Club, 15th hole, par 4. Oak Cliff is the site of the Methodist Hospital Pro-Am each May, and holes like Oak Cliffs 15th bring PGA players back for more. The tee shot must hug the left center of the tree-lined fairway to catch the down slope for a favorable bounce toward the green, which is 413 yards away. The second shot must carry an unusual cement water hazard (you can retrieve your ball with a thoughtfully provided water rake). The pond is no problem if you hit a perfect drive, but try to carry the pool from the left or right woods and see where you end up.
Brook Hollow Golf Club, fifth hole, par 5. A.W. Tillinghast was considered one of the greatest golf course architects, and he made his mark in the Southwest with this monument to the glories of golfs golden age. Though designed to be played with hickory-shaft clubs, Brook Hollow has stood the test of time and is the hidden jewel of Dallas golf courses. The par 5 fifth hole is the backbone of Brook Hollow’s front nine. At 602 yards from the back tees and 582 yards from the members’ tees, the hole is a true three-shot par 5, particularly playing into the prevailing south wind. A dogleg right, the hole requires a tee shot of at least 230 yards to reach the bend for a clear second shot. Sand bunkers on the left side of the fairway snare drives that are too long or hooked. The second shot must avoid a bunker on the right, and the approach must fly to a slightly elevated green.
Great Southwest Golf Club, third hole, par 3. There’s only one place to be on this long (235-yard) one-shotter: the green. Anything less and you’re reaching into your bag for a provisional ball. A rather nasty stream cuts diagonally across the hole, forcing the player to pull out his longest club and blast away. The tee shot must carry the water, and the only alternative is to hook the ball over the water, short of the green. The hole plays a more civilized 190 yards from the regular tees, allowing a much greater margin for error. From the back tees, this is the most difficult par 3 in Dallas.
Northwood Golf Club, 10th hole, par 4. The tee shot is the key to this tight little (382-yard) beauty. Low-handicap players usually use a 3-wood off the tee for placement on the sloping fairway. Hook the drive and you’ll find a ditch; a sliced drive or one hit too far will force the player to hit a tricky shot around trees to reach the green. The second shot is no bargain; a gully on the right definitely teaches you how to play recovery shots. This is possibly the best short par 4 in Dallas.
Brookhaven Country Club, masters course, 15th hole, par 3. Faced with water in front of the green and to the right, the player must do two things with the tee ball: be long enough (the hole is 215 yards from the back tees) and be accurate. Actually, there is a bail-out area to the left, but you’d better be handy with a wedge to save par. The hole offers a little more margin for error from the regular tees (193 yards), but it also requires a well-struck shot.
Preston Trail Golf Club, seventh hole, par 4. This 422-yard hole was one of the most overlooked during the Byron Nelson Classic (which is now held at Las Colinas). Tucked at the back of the course, it was a 20-minute trek for spectators to reach. But the walk was worth it to watch the world’s best players quiver on the tee. A slight dogleg to the right, the hole would be a natural for Dallasite Lee Trevino, except that he’d have trouble reaching the dogleg if the wind was in his face. A large sand trap on the left narrows the landing area to only 30 yards or so. The second shot is a long approach iron to an elevated green guarded by sand traps.
Keeton Park, third hole, par 5. The key to one of the tightest stretches of holes in Dallas County, this 538-yard par 5 teaches the value of the 1-iron. If you can string together two accurate shots that avoid the woods on the left and water on the right, you’re rewarded with the opportunity of hitting a short iron to a sloping green surrounded by more trees. As head pro Kim Brown says, this is a good hole to practice hitting low recovery shots out of the woods – whether you want to or not.
Preston Trail Golf Club, 16th hole, par 4. This is probably the best-known, most popular hole in Dallas. At the Byron Nel- son each year, thousands of spectators used to line the fairway and surround the green to watch the touring pros deal with its water-and trap-laden mysteries. But the |428-yard hole is not that difficult for the straight driver. A short-iron pitch to the green can open the door for a birdie. But i an errant tee shot leaves a tricky shot over water, as the Nelson crowds can attest. The hole plays somewhat easier since Pete |Dye redesigned the green, which once sloped so severely to the front that it seemed impossible to putt. Dye’s trademark pot bunkers and railroad ties now guard the green, which is the most interest-ing in the area.
Bear Creek, east course, fifth hole, par 4. The shortest hole (359 yards) of the Dream 18, this recognizable real estate is no pushover. It’s the most photographed golf hole in Dallas, and millions of travelers have seen Don January attack it with his wedge. From where January is pictured, the shot is not too difficult – the trick is getting to that spot. Most players hit long irons or short woods to reach the top of a hill between two trees that form an opening to the green. But anything less than a perfect tee shot makes for an exciting approach shot around, over or through trees to a smallish green. Miss the green to the right and you’ll discover just how much fun a blind pitch shot can be. Cedar Crest Golf Course, first hole, par 5. Deceptively wide from the tee, this monstrous 635-yard hole narrows into a funnel by the time you get to the green, which lies in the bottom of a valley. The hole is crescent-shaped, with trees and a gully down the right side of the fairway. Hit it over there and pray you can get away with a 7. The second shot is especially tricky, as trees start to loom on the left and a small ditch in the middle of the grove makes for difficult recoveries. Two perfect shots leave a short- or mid-iron to a slightly elevated green. This is possibly the most difficult par 5 in Dallas.
Las Colinas Country Club, fourth hole, par 3. An uncommonly scenic hole, this 196-yard one-shotter can be reached with a well-hit mid- to long-iron. A pond guards the front of the green, and if the wind is in your face and the pin is cut on the right side of the green, either hit the ball well or hope it sprouts fins.
Royal Oaks Country Club, 14th hole, par 4. This hole is so hard that host pro Randy Smith changed the nines so it wouldn’t be the unlucky 13th hole for members. Probably the most difficult hole in Dallas, this monster is a dogleg right that requires a tee shot of about 270 yards if you want to be able to clear a huge, snake-infested ditch guarding the green on your second shot. As if the distance and water weren’t enough, the fairway is typical Royal Oaks, lined with dense trees on both sides. Card a bogey here and you have reason to celebrate.
Tenison Park, west course, sixth hole, par 4. This 444-yard hole is the dark shadow of any round at Tenison West. Bending slightly left to an uphill green, the fairway slopes from right to left so that any hook, draw or straight ball bounces into the trees on the left. If the slope doesn’t get you, a dropoff to the left of the plateau green will help teach the fine art of a run-up shot under tree limbs. This is the hardest public course hole in Dallas.Bent Tree Country Club, 14th hole, par 3. When the ladies’ pro tour called BentTree its Dallas home, the 14th hole wasvoted one of the LPGA’s hardest par 3severy year. From an elevated tee perchedon the edge of an old quarry, the playermust fight a prevailing crosswind and landthe 191-yard shot on a green fronted by ahorseshoe-shaped lake. Sand traps guardthe front and right sides of the green, serving more for keeping balls in play than ashazards. The green is no gimme. It has aswale in the middle that resembles an elephant’s grave.
Las Colinas Sports Club, sixth hole, par 4. This 428-yard hole earned its battlestripes in this year’s Byron Nelson Classic.An uphill dogleg left, this hole requires atee shot in the 275-yard range for a clear shot to the green. The approach shot, which requires anywhere from a 2-iron to a 6-iron, will be a blind shot to a green surrounded by a natural amphitheater.
Dallas Country Club, eighth hole, par 4. Ben Hogan called the DCC the hardest short course he’s ever played, and the eighth hole is typical of the challenges that await players at this midtown club. The tendency is to drive to the right side of the fairway in order to avoid going out of bounds along the left. But stray too far right and the only recourse is a pitch back to the fairway from a shallow ravine. This 439-yard hole was recently redesigned by Jack Nicklaus’ design firm and now plays fairer. (The Golden Bear’s associates added a few mounds that kick some errant shots back into the fairway.) A creek crosses the fairway about 275 yards off the tee, forcing big hitters to lay up for a second shot to a well-trapped green. When the pin is tucked on the back right, you either have to be an excellent golfer or lucky to have a birdie try.
Bear Creek, west course, sixth hole, par 5. The mark of a good par 5 and, in the case of the Dream 18, a good finishing hole, is to combine challenge and drama. This 525-yard par 5 has a healthy dose of both. A narrow opening from an elevated tee drops down to a level fairway. A creek cuts across the front of the green, challenging longer hitters to cross it in two. Like all fair water par 5s, you can lay up, but half the fun is getting home in two shots -unless, of course, you can’t.
THERE IT IS, the Dream 18 – the bestof the 630 holes in Dallas and the surrounding area. Play this course in anything close to par and, brother, you’veprobably missed your calling.