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TRAVEL GOLF GETAWAYS

Mark Twain once derided golf as "a good walk spoiled." These Texas resorts can provide both a good walk and a lot of spoiling.
By Dave Sorter |

CONTRARY TO STEREOTYPE, MOST GOLFERS’ IDEA OF THE perfect weekend does not consist of a cabin on the first tee and the chance to play six rounds over two days- while the wife and kids stay home, so as not to interfere with the delicate bonding process between a man and his 5-iron.

So resorts catering to the every whim of golfers- and their families-are sprouting like the bluebonnets in spring. Along with a multitude of golf courses designed by some of the biggest names in the business, many resorts sport deluxe accommodations, highly rated restaurants, European-style spas and fitness facilities that serve as the off-season workout “homes” of pro athletes.

And a flight to Palm Desert or Amelia Island is not required to experience that kind of golf resort. They are in abundance in Texas, many so close that one could leave Friday morning, play three rounds of golf and be home by dinnertime Sunday.

The golfer who likes variety in surroundings can choose between suburban luxury in Las Colinas, The Woodlands and Austin, or off-the-beaten-path beauty in Salado, Marble Falls, Lufkin and Pottsboro, among others. Visitors can play on courses that the Tiger Woodses and Tom Kites of the world walk during PGA TOUR events and on other courses that have won superlatives from publications ranging from Golf Digest to Great Texas Golf.

Depending on the package and accommodations, a weekend will cost between $200 and $600, including greens fees and carts, and could even include meals.



THE FOUR SEASONS RESORT AND CLUB, LAS COLINAS

Dallas, aresorttown? You bet. You can cut your golf week-end’s travel cost to almost nil if you decide to spend it at the Four Seasons Resort and Club in Las Colinas, and playing the Tournament Players Course at the Four Seasons can make you think you’re playing with Byron Nelson himself. There’s also a sports club with a lap pool, indoor jogging track, aerobics room, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, and full-service spa. You’d expect to find this type of resort in San Diego or Florida; its existence is one of the area’s best-kept secrets.

Four Seasons spokesman John Blanton says two-thirds of the resort’s leisure business comes from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, with peak time and quick sell-outs during the spring season, just before and after the PGA TOUR’s GTE Byron Nelson Classic, held each year in mid-May on the Four Seasons’ Tournament Players Course.

Nelson, the golfing legend who won a record 11 consecutive Tour events in 1945, helped design the course, and Mike Abbott, director of golf, says Nelson still has input on how it plays. A 9-foot statue of Nelson stands in Byron Nelson Plaza, adjacent to the first tee. “Byron’s Tree,” a famous landmark for Nelson Classic viewers, towers over the 18th fairway. And out there on the putting green you could well find Byron Nelson himself, nearly 85 years old, still searching for the secret of the short game.

The 6,899-yard, par-70 TPC was designed by Jay Morrish in consultation with Nelson and Austin-based Tour star Ben Crenshaw to challenge the stiff winds that are one of the course’s hallmarks. “Because of the changing winds, the holes don’t play the same way twice,” says Abbott. “It’s a difficult course because of the shot-making that has to happen. But when we redesigned the bunkers [in 1992 and 1993], we did it to make the golf course fair for both pros and amateurs.”

The course’s difficulty is confirmed by the average score at the Nelson Classic, which is above the Tour average. The fairness, Abbott says, is evidenced by the lack of “forced carries,” meaning that there’s always a way for anybody to reach the green from the fairway. “A40-handicapper can hit grounders onto the green,” Abbott says, while a better player can lift the ball over the bunkers and water hazards.

The course’s two signature holes demonstrate the big role that water has in the TPC’s playing and visual experience. The 14th, a long par-4 dogleg, features a canal in front of the green and trees lining both sides of the fairway, A lake guards the right side of the green on the 190-yard, par-3 17th hole-a cousin of the famous “island holes” at other TPC sites across the country. Also at The Four Seasons is the Cottonwood Valley Course, which is used for the Nelson Classic but otherwise is only for full-time members of the Sports Club; it is open to resort guests only if the TPC is closed.

Once the round is over-or if golfers are shut in by the type of rainstorm that, until the past couple years, was a pathetically funny tradition of the Nelson Classic-players can choose from a variety of amenities. Even the standard room-at 550 square feet, larger than most hotels ’-features a working desk, honor bar, balcony or patio, and complimentary snack tray. The newest accommodations are the villas, from which you can walk right out onto the course.

At the Sports Club’s state-of-the-art fitness facility, you may well find Dallas Cowboys such as Tony Casillas doing off-season routines. The spa offers massages, facials, salt scrubs and aromatherapy and a hair salon.

Weekend packages start at $455 for one player and two hotel guests, $610 for two players. Prices include two rounds of golf, range balls, club cleaning, bag storage and cart fee. Other packages that include spa services also are available.

Four Seasons Resort and Club, 4150 N. MacArthur Blvd., Irving; 972-717-0700



TAKING A DRIVE

Sometimes, you want to leave the stresses of home and office a lot more than 20 minutes behind you in the rearview mirror. Several golf resorts within a four-hour drive of Dallas offer great courses and topnotch accommodations along with a change of scenery. Some don’t have luxurious amenities, but make up for it with fresh, country air and natural beauty.

THE WOODLANDS EXECUTIVE CONFERENCE CENTER AND RESORT, HOUSTON

In many ways. The Woodlands is the Houston-area version of Las Colinas’ Four Seasons-except instead of the Byron Nelson, its TPC course is the home of the Shell Houston Open. Designed by Bob Van Hagge and Bruce Devlin, The Woodlands’ TPC features narrow fairways, lots of bunkers, tree-lined holes and several lakes.

The TPCs at Las Colinas and The Woodlands are two of the very few Tour courses that are accessible to the public; most others are private country clubs. The two courses play much the same, though The Woodlands’ version seems to be a bit easier for resort players and the Houston Open’s scores are generally lower than those at the Nelson Classic.

While Las Colinas is a shrine to Byron Nelson, The Woodlands honors golf across the entire state as the site of the Texas Golf Hall of Fame. Memorabilia from such legends as Nelson, Ben Hogan and Kathy Whitworth are featured, as is a historical tour of the state’s golfing influences.

The Woodlands also offers guests the use of the North Course, which hosts the Texas State Open and is generally considered an easier course than the TPC.

The resort just opened 92 new hotel rooms that overlook the North Course’s 18th fairway and green and the surrounding lakes. Tennis, fitness facilities and a spa also are available, and very close by is the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, an open-air concert hall that attracts top touring musical artists and is the summer home of the Houston Symphony Orchestra.

The resort’s Texas Tee Golf Getaway for $159 per person per night includes unlimited greens fees, cart, clinic and deluxe accommodations.

The Woodlands Executive Conference Center and Resort, 2301 N. Millbend Dr., The Woodlands; 800-533-3052



HORSESHOE BAY, MARBLE FALLS

Another three-course facility, Horseshoe Bay, located 10 miles east of Marble Falls, is unique in that all three courses were designed by the renowned Robert Trent Jones Sr.-and all three have been rated in the top 15 of the state at one time or another.

The Ram Rock Course is one of the longest in Texas-7,100 yards from the championship tees. It has an overabundance of sand traps and undulating hills that could make the careless golfer believe he’s on a roller coaster.

A $1 million waterfall on the 14th hole is the hallmark of the Slick Rock course, me oldest layout at Horseshoe Bay. Slick Rock is “shorter and fatter,” according to assistant golf pro Jim Spencer, and is “the most playable for the higher-handicap golfer.”

The third and newest layout, Apple Rock, was built to emphasize beauty. Golfers can gaze out at Lake LBJ from several elevated views and can look at the custom homes being built around the course.

Horseshoe Bay just opened a full fitness center and spa and has a beach area on the lake. Resort management doesn’t like to package rooms with greens fees, and the rooms average $ 160 per night.

Horseshoe Bay Resort, Marble Falls; 210-598-6386

BARTON CREEK, AUSTIN

If you are looking for variety in a golfing weekend, Barton Creek, with its three very different courses, may be the answer. The resort’s signature layout, the 6,956-yard, par-72 Fazio Course, designed by Tom Fazio, has cliff-lined fairways, natural limestone caves, waterfalls, small greens, grass bunkers and constant elevation changes. Both Golf Digest and Golfweek have rated this course the second best in Texas. The 9th, 10th, 16th and 18th holes have been rated among the state’s most beautiful by The Dallas Morning News.

The 6,678-yard, par-71 Crenshaw and Coore Course was designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore as a traditional facility that takes advantage of the natural terrain. “We let the land dictate the routing rather than imposing ourselves on the landscape,” Crenshaw says. This course features broad, rolling fairways, various green sizes and, its hallmark, hilly putting surfaces. The signature 18th hole plays slightly uphill and features a running creek in front of the low-lying green.

The 6,657-yard, par-71 Lakeside Course, about 25 miles west of the resort, is known for its scenery. Not only is Lake Travis in full view, but golfers playing on the Arnold Palmer-designed course often can spot white-tailed deer bounding at twilight. This course is built for the John Daly in everyone who cherishes the long drive. The 11th hole, a par-3, features a cascading waterfall and ample vegetation along with a wooded creek.

Each room in the hotel features one and a half baths, an honor bar and individual study desks. The fitness center rivals the facilities of good health clubs, and the spa offers the usual pamperings. The restaurants sport Southwestern cuisine and emphasize heart-healthy items.

The Barton Creek Drive package, which includes a round of golf per day, breakfast, dinner, a room and use of the fitness facilities, costs $233 per person per night March to November, $204 December to February. Play on the Fazio Course incurs a $40 surcharge.

Barton Creek, 8212 Barton Club Dr., Austin; 512-329-4000



LAKEWAY INN, AUSTIN

The Austin area is not limited to one top-notch golf resort. Lakeway Inn, located on Lake Travis, 18 miles west of the city, features two 18-hole courses and the Jack Nicklaus-designed Academy of Golf. A third course, also designed by Nicklaus, is a private club, so you need to know the right people to play it.

The two courses open to resort guests-the Live Oak and Yaupon courses-were designed by Texas Leon Howard and both feature some breathtaking lake views. But that’s where the similarities end.

The Live Oak course, built in the mid-1960s, is the older and the harder of the two layouts, according to director of golf Larry Bishop. The 6,643-yard, par-72 course features a traditional layout, with holes on the front nine doglegging to the right and most of those on the back nine veering left.

Not only is the tree-lined Live Oak course longer that the Yaupon course, it’s also tighter, Bishop said. And it has one hazard you don’t normally find: deer, which find the course a perfect dining room and its grass an epicurean delight.

The Yaupon course was built in the late 1970s as the scenic course. Thoughts of a little white ball could be lost to the sights of the Texas Hill Country on the horizon, bordered by the view of Lake Travis. As Bishop said, the 6,565-yard layout is “not a long course but a fun course.”

It’s fun. however, only for golfers who can hit the ball straight. Every hole is bordered by houses, and a drive that’s even slightly errant could wind up in someone’s back yard.

Lakeway’s accommodations are similar to those at Four Seasons and The Woodlands. The 137 rooms are complemented by the several villas sprinkled throughout the resort. It has the usual tennis courts and spa, plus stables that feature horseback riding and hay rides, but Lakeway is unique in the way it takes advantage of its lakeside setting: It has a complete marina, with rental boats ranging from fishing boats to sailboats to pontoons. Guides and equipment can be provided for fishermen and women, and slips are available for those who wish to BYOB (bring your own boat).

Greens fees are separate from accommodations, but can run as low as $36 for nine holes. Expect to pay between $160 and $250 per day for a room and a round of golf.

Lakeway Inn, Lake Travis, I01 Lakeway Drive, Austin; 800-LAKEWAY



HYATT REGENCY HILL COUNTRY, SAN ANTONIO

This property, which Hyatt claims is San Antonio’s first destination resort, combines a location at the gateway to the Hill Country with close access to the city’s myriad attractions, such as Sea World and Fiesta Texas. And it’s only 20 minutes from the Riverwalk and the Alamo.

The 6,481-yard, par-72 Hill Country Golf Club, designed by Arthur Hills, throws in everything but the kitchen sink. Rolling meadows, steep hillsides, wooded ravines, lakes and ponds all come into play during a round on this course. From the large trees towering over the first three holes to the lake in front of the 18th green, nature becomes part of the foursome. Perhaps the most challenging hazard is the cluster of oaks in the center of the 13th fairway.

The signature series of holes, Nos. 8 through 10, could be described as Hill Country’s version of Augusta National’s Amen Comer. Start with the par-5 No. 8, where a deep, natural dry creek meanders down the left side of the fairway then bisects the hole. A narrow landing area has sand on the right and water on the left, and the elevated green is carved into a hillside. The ninth hole, another par-5, features a tee box on a high plateau and a wide swale in front of the green-which, by the way, is an enormous double green serving both the ninth and 18th holes. Finally, the par-4 10th requires golfers to drive over a natural swale bordering the fairway’s left side and to hit the second shot over a natural hollow to the green.

The course covers more than 170 of the resort’s 200 acres, but those other 30 acres aren’t wasted. The hotel itself has 500 rooms, tennis courts, a full spa, walking and jogging paths, and the 950-foot Ramblin’ River, which travels through a four-acre water-recreation area patterned after area rivers.

Hyatt Hill Country features two seasonal golf-oriented packages. The Hill Country Golf Package, available through Nov. 20, includes a room, one round of golf per person, breakfast for two and valet parking. Cost for two people is $ 159 per person Sunday through Thursday, $209 per person on weekends; for one, the price is $ 129 weekdays, $ 169 weekends. The Lone Star Getaway, available Nov. 21 to Feb. 28. offers a room, unlimited golf, breakfast and a golf clinic for $85 per person. In addition, the Sunday Bed and Breakfast Escape features discounted golf-S55 per round.

Hyatt Regency Hill Country, 9800 Hyatt Resort Drive, San Antonio; 210-647-1234

MILL CREEK RESORT AND COUNTRY CLUB, SALADO

If you like the work of the father, try the work of the son. Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed Mill Creek, which Great Texas Golf author Pat Seelig called “the most beautiful golf course in Texas.” Forty-five miles north of Austin, Mill Creek features a 6,500-yard, par-71 course layout with many bunkers and more than its share of water hazards (Salado Creek runs straight down the middle and affects play on nine holes). When water isn’t a factor, trees are: Giant oak and elm trees line several of the fairways, making for a challenging round.

The resort facilities include one-bedroom condominiums, suites and three-bedroom townhouses, all of which have patios, kitchens and fireplaces. Swimming and tennis are available. Shopaholics in the family will enjoy the town of Salado itself, which has a collection of antique stores, gift shops and galleries.

Packages that include accommodations, golf with cart and in-room continental breakfast start at $61 per golfer per night.

Mill Creek Resort and Country Club. 400 Southridge Rd., Salado; 817-947-514 J

CROWN COLONY, LUFKIN

Although not a resort per se, Crown Colony has 13 vil-las, each with a dinette and kitchen, which weekend visitors can rent and in the process obtain a temporary membership card for the club. Room and greens fees will average about $200 a day.

Bob Van Hagge and Bruce Devlin designed the course, which was recently ranked by The Dallas Morning News as the best in a list of the top 50 courses in Texas. Head golf pro Bob Diamond says Crown Colony’s course “has a lot of diversity, imagination and beauty.” Fairways are bordered by hardwood trees and pine trees, some taller than 100 feet. Azaleas dot the course, giving one the feel of the Augusta National in April. The many slopes force golfers to play uphill, downhill and sidehill. Water affects play on 13 holes, and 73 sand traps force accurate shooting. The greens vary in size from 8,000 square feet to 4,300.

“There are no bailouts over sand or water; the course makes you hit shots,” Diamond says.

A lot of Dallas and Houston golfers make the drive to East Texas to play the course, something Diamond attributes to the unspoiled nature of rural courses.

“There’s not a bunch of buildings all around them,” he says, “There’s more room to do something with the golf courses. [Urban course designers] can’t get as innovative and stretched out as we can, plus most of our houses are on the outer perimeter of the golf course,” unlike many suburban complexes where the houses practically create a hazard on every hole.

Crown Colony Country Club, 900 Crown Colony Dr.. Lufkin; 409-634-4927