Austin and San Antonio
Flip a coin and let destiny decide. Heads you start in San Antonio, tails in Austin. It doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of a golf adventure, because even though it’s no longer a secret, the Texas Hill Country region around these two cities has become the hub of Texas golf, blessed with sprawling oak–covered hills, clear springs, and back roads dotted with barbecue shacks, dance halls, wineries, beer joints, and a renowned list of charming golf towns.
The capital city of Austin is ranked as Golf.com’s best golf city in America, a rating supported by its remarkable combination of great weather, live music, authentic Mexican food, fabulous resorts, and big-name designs, as well as a fantastic array of accessible and affordable courses.
In Austin, quality munis like the historic Lions Municipal and Grey Rock abound, and the exclusive courses such as Austin Golf Club, Spanish Oaks, and Austin Country Club provide countless golf possibilities. But don’t let that keep you from scheduling a stay-and-play weekend at one of the three world-class resorts located within a short drive from town.
The Horseshoe Bay Resort boasts four incredible courses and the prospect of playing some of the most beautiful golf holes in Texas. Barton Creek Resort and Spa’s four championship courses feature the architectural work of Tom Fazio, Ben Crenshaw, and Arnold Palmer. Finally, Wolfdancer Golf Club at Hyatt Lost Pines Resort and Spa features such diverse terrain you may feel like you’re playing three different courses at once.
When the call of the open road grows too strong, you can explore backcountry destinations such as Burnet, Llano, Kerrville, San Saba, and Brady—all of which have wonderful, small-town courses.
In this same area, just a short ways west of Austin and San Antonio, the historic German town of Fredericksburg is one of the most popular stops in the Hill Country, with wide streets lined with hundreds of shops and restaurants. Plan time in your schedule for the outstanding National Museum of the Pacific War, an institution of the caliber you would expect to see in Washington, D.C., but which was fortunately established here in connection with hometown hero Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. Next, play 18 holes at the city’s newly renovated Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Golf Course. High-end Boot Ranch Golf Club is also nearby, as is the rustic town of Luckenbach, the ideal 19th hole, complete with Lone Star beer and guitar picking under the shade of ancient Texas oaks.
Deeper in the heart of God’s Country is Concan, perhaps the best place to enjoy 24 hours in the Texas Hill Country. Start with golf in the morning at The Golf Club of Texas – Concan, followed by tubing the Frio River in the afternoon, steaks and Texas country music at the House Pasture Cattle Company at night, then off to bed in a cabin on the river.
Next up, Alamo City. San Antonio’s year-round golf weather and lifetime supply of stellar courses have put this city on the map as a world-class golf getaway. With numerous high-end country clubs, three world-class resorts (Westin La Cantera, JW Marriott, Hyatt Regency Hill Country), historic old munis, a fascinating multicultural history, and PGA Tour-quality courses seemingly everywhere, the lure of an extended golf binge is difficult to resist.
The City of San Antonio’s municipal golf system, affectionately known as the Alamo City Golf Trail, is regarded as one of the best in the country. Loaded with a lineup of eight diverse courses, such as A.W. Tilinghast’s 100-year-old Brackenridge Park, the trail is a tribute to this historic golf town that has hosted the PGA Tour’s Texas Open since 1922. After a day on one of San Antonio’s 50-plus acclaimed courses, wander downtown to one of the hundreds of restaurants and bars on the bustling River Walk and raise a glass to your exceptional Texas golf adventure.
Houston and Gulf Coast
Smack dab in the middle of Texas’s roughly 350 miles of coastline lies a chain of relatively unknown but highly regarded golf destinations. Consider taking a leisurely week to play the Texas Gulf Coast Golf Trail, starting in Corpus Christi, the “Sparkling City by the Sea,” and working your way north through Galveston and Houston, enjoying unbelievable seaside golf during the day and relishing fresh seafood each night.
The golf in Corpus is plentiful with numerous longtime municipal favorites, such as the Gabe Lozano and Oso Beach courses, or historic Corpus Christi Country Club and the scenic Padre Isles Country Club.
Hugging the shore above Corpus is North Shore Country Club in Portland, known for its stretch of back-nine holes set against the backdrop of the bay. In laid-back Port Aransas, Texas’s best beach town, Palmilla Beach Resort and Golf Club is carved from the Mustang Island sand dunes and as close as you can get to playing Ireland in Texas. Continuing north, you’ll find the immaculate Rockport Country Club with its windswept, century-old oak trees and PGA-Tour-quality conditions.
Galveston is one of Texas’s most colorful and storied towns, a Victorian gingerbread city accentuated by its casual demeanor, eclectic shopping, and plentiful cultural and historic attractions. The 1898 Galveston Country Club is one of the state’s oldest, and Moody Gardens Golf Course is first-class, a great value, and wildly popular with locals and visiting golfers alike due to its great conditions and well-designed renovations.
Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, has year-round golf weather and an astounding golf arsenal among its many suburbs. More than 100 public courses are spread across the city’s footprint, and nearby stay-and-play options such as The Woodlands Resort, as well as easily accessible courses such as Blackhorse Golf Club, Meadowbrook Farms Golf Club, and Redstone Golf Club of Houston (home of the Shell Houston Open), make long weekends in the Bayou City fantastic golf vacations as well.
Down here the salty sea air is fresh and healthy, and aside from all of the great golf, visitors will find laid-back beach communities offering soul-soothing combinations of saltwater swims, fantastic fishing, sunset watching, and downtime on the sand with the waves lapping at their toes.
Dallas and Fort Worth
The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is truly a heaven on earth for the avid golfer—surrounded by the largest, most diverse region on the Texas golf map and blessed with an abundance of both upscale and average-guy golf.
From the greatness of Fort Worth’s Colonial Country Club to Dallas’s historic, high-toned country clubs (Dallas Country Club, Preston Trails, Royal Oaks, Brook Hollow), to the wide selection of five-star golf resorts and impressive municipal courses, you have a staggering list of options when planning your next golf vacation spree.
Known for its historic Stockyards district, Fort Worth is the perfect springtime golf destination with the annual PGA tournament held at Colonial. Get a round in early at the nearby Golf Club at Fossil Creek or Waterchase Golf Club, two of Cowtown’s finest, before spending the afternoon at the venue famous for hosting the longest-running non-major PGA Tour event held at the same site (currently called the Dean & DeLuca Invitational).
On the way to Dallas, try local favorite Sky Creek Ranch in Keller, perched atop the highest point in Tarrant County and always in pristine condition. Iron Horse Golf Club and Texas Star Golf Course are also nearby and considered two of Texas’s top municipals. With sculpted fairways framed by towering oak and pecan trees, Garland’s Firewheel Golf Park provides a memorable experience for all levels of golfers.
In Dallas, no matter what your tastes are, you’ll find superior lodging, a smorgasbord of fabulous shopping, world-class restaurants, and professional sports franchises. The Westin Stonebriar Resort or the Four Seasons Dallas at Las Colinas are the perfect spots to hole up for a big-city golf weekend, where non-golfers can relax at the spa and everyone can reunite for cocktails and an elegant meal at any of several restaurant choices.
Away from the resorts, the options are unlimited. Tenison Park Golf Club and Stevens Park Golf Course are as authentic as it gets, built after World War I and infamous as the proving ground of hustlers and greats like Lee Trevino. Cowboys Golf Club in Grapevine feels truly remote, despite being right in the middle of the Metroplex, and you may catch a glimpse of a famous Dallas Cowboy testing himself on the challenging layout.
The latest addition to Dallas’s phenomenal golf résumé is the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw Trinity Forest Golf Club. Located just south of downtown, the classic links-style course is truly a work of art and will become the future home of the PGA Tour’s AT&T Byron Nelson Championship, as well as the home course for the Southern Methodist University golf team and other high-profile professional and amateur events.
Wandering west and south of the Metroplex in a 100-mile radius, restless golfers will find an array of off-the-beaten-path diversions in quaint little towns such as Meridian (Bosque Valley Golf Club) and Dennis (Sugar Tree Golf Club). Glen Rose is also a great weekend destination, where the Squaw Valley Golf Course offers two notable courses, B&B accommodations in historic buildings, and a vibrant downtown area. And the highlight of the region might be The Cliff s Resort in Graford, which sits on an imposing bluff 200 feet above Possum Kingdom Lake and is considered one of the most challenging courses in Texas.
Away from the big city, farm roads splashed with wildflowers lead to quaint towns and the niftiest little rural golf courses you’ve ever seen. There’s no doubt, the region is truly a golfer’s nirvana.
Deep South and Laredo
For golfers studying a map of the tropical southern tip of Texas, images of sun, surf, and palm trees inevitably converge with visions of perfectly manicured seaside fairways. The good news is you can have it all in the historic border towns of the Rio Grande Valley.
In Brownsville and nearby South Padre Island, the traveling golfer can take advantage of a long list of excellent golf options, proximity to Mexico, and the subtropical climate you’d expect from a spot on the map that is due west of the Florida Keys. The fantastic South Padre Island Golf Club is just a short drive from the white beaches and green waters of the Gulf, and the unparalleled golf experience is complemented by vacation packages in condominiums with views of the Laguna Madre.
Plan on holing up at Rancho Viejo Resort, a 1,400-acre tropical paradise set in the citrus groves and resacas (channels) of the Rio Grande Delta with two great courses and plenty of other resort activities.
Up the road in Laredo, tucked into the rugged mesquite and prickly pear plains, you’ll find The MAX Golf Course. Since its recent opening, this Robert Trent Jones II design has received kudos for its impressive layout above the Rio Grande, with several scenic holes playing alongside the border river. Another affordable option is the newly renovated longtime local favorite Casa Blanca Golf Course.
Meandering the back roads through South Texas ranching communities, any town big enough to have a Dairy Queen will also typically have a golf course. The ranch town of Alice is the dividing line between the brush country and the coastal plains and a hub for outdoorsmen, many of whom also enjoy golf at one of South Texas’s best 9-holers, the fabulous Alice Country Club.
In McAllen and Pharr, known as the “Crossroads of the Rio Grande Valley,” revitalized downtown buildings and immaculate landscapes line the avenues where small shops sell typical border fare. Traveling golfers can enjoy the warm Gulf breezes at the highly rated Tierra Del Sol Golf Club, known as one of the better options for golf in the Valley.
Given the wide range of excellent, affordable facilities, a golf trip to the South Texas Plains promises an unforgettable experience that will keep you coming back time and again.
-Words by Jason Stone, photos courtesy of Omni Barton Creek, Blackhorse Golf Club, Firewheel Golf Park, Cristina Meade, The MAX Golf Course