Texas spans 267,000 square miles, a vast zone of geological contrasts. Its seven major regions encompass stately desert mountain ranges, amphibious swamps, lakes, sublime hill country, and much more. No surprise, then, that Texans brag of more than 800 golf courses, each as unique as the land from which it was carved.
The state’s resorts and semi-private courses draw thousands with world-class play, stunning design, and nearby pleasures appealing to diverse tastes. We’ve selected three destinations, with accompanying excursions, that might just satisfy the whole family.
Girls’ Trip: Lajitas Golf Resort
Near the Rio Grande, nestled in Texas’s most famous natural expanse, lies an incongruous slip of green, promising comfort, sport, and striking views.
Lajitas Golf Resort, a 27,000-acre getaway about 20 miles from Big Bend National Park, is a high-desert mirage made real. Built in the late 1970s, the remote spot’s Old West quirkiness, lavish amenities, and site-specific fun make it ideal for a girls’ excursion.
The resort’s linchpin is Black Jack’s Crossing, an 18-hole golf course that ought to be on the bucket list of any golfer worth her salt. Designed by Lanny Wadkins, winner of the 1977 PGA Championship and inductee of the World Golf Hall of Fame, the Crossing has won accolades from Golfweek, the Dallas Morning News, and TexasOutside.com since opening in 2012.
Beyond the course’s recreational challenge, patrons rave about its sheer beauty, with lush fairways, fast greens, and ample spacing between groups. With its vibrant green hues popping out from a desert backdrop of gray and brown, and the endless stretch of blue sky, the Crossing is utterly enchanting.
Golfers can pick up supplies at the pro shop, located in the Lajitas Trading Post, an Old West holdover dating to 1899. U.S. Army General Blackjack Pershing came hunting for Pancho Villa in Lajitas in 1916, and the resort never shies away from its roots. You’ll find it in the architectural stylings of the lobby, bakery, and saloon, as well as in the names given to hotel buildings: Officers’ Quarters, Badlands Hotel, La Cuesta, and Cavalry Post.
History also pulses at the Candelilla Cafe, an on-site Tex-Mex restaurant whose menu reflects the region’s blend of cultures; the prime-cut steak and the fajitas are equally sumptuous, and the rajas con queso are not to be missed.
But the Cafe isn’t the only delight for the senses. Agave Spa, located near the Officers’ Quarters, promises recovery from—or an alternative to—an arduous day of golf. The spa’s luxurious regimen includes massages, body treatments, and facials, as well as combination packages and resort-themed treatments. One massage involves the application of heated stones native to the region, along with essential oils; meanwhile, the golfer’s massage targets calves, glutes, and other muscle groups that may be tense after a day on the course. Expectant mothers can take advantage of a prenatal massage catering to their specific needs, while one body treatment evokes the smell of desert rain with applications of chaparral-infused jojoba oil and shea butter before a warm cocoon wrap.
For something completely different, Lajitas offers on-site zip lining for thrill seekers in the group. Guides drive guests to nearby Quiet Canyon, where three different tours await. Beginner lines range from 300 to 500 feet, with a top speed of 30 miles per hour; five intermediate lines total 3,482 feet, topping at 50 miles per hour; and advanced lines total 4,855 feet, sending guests zooming down to the canyon floor at high velocities.
Birding, Jeep rentals, mountain biking, horse riding, skeet shooting, a fitness center, and the off-site delights of the Big Bend national and state parks round out Lajitas’s comprehensive activities list.
LakeFork, about a 90-minute drive east of Dallas, is part of the interlocking web of rivers and lakes that make the Piney Woods region so gorgeous.
Plunging 70 feet deep at some points, the 27,264-acre lake annually draws thousands of visitors eager to fish for bass in moderately clear waters. Its shores are also home to The Links at Land’s End, a picturesque resort and hotel seemingly lifted from a Bob Ross painting, where golfers try for birdies instead of fish.
The 18-hole, par-71 course appears to be painted on a sinuous peninsula in the middle of the lake. Fittingly, 12 holes have water in play, with lovely views and brushes with wildlife in steady supply. The club’s new owners recently made renovations totaling $250,000, including a Better Billy Bunker system; now up to tour standards, the sand bunkers are more durable and resistant to erosion after rains.
The course’s high quality has earned industry praise, including placement on lists by the Dallas Morning News and TexasOutside.com, as well as a recent No. 7 national rank for staff friendliness by GolfAdvisor.com.
The quaint lodges comprise six bedrooms holding four guests each, making a solid home base for trips out on the lake. To say this is trophy-bass country would be an understatement: more than 65 percent of the state’s largest bass ever caught, including the current No. 1, were all at Lake Fork.
The best fishing, in roughly descending order, is for largemouth bass; catfish (including channel catfish, flatheads, and large blue cats); black and white crappie; sunfish (primarily bluegill); and white bass. Yellow bass, or barfish, are also prevalent and make tasty table food.
Spring, fall, and winter are peak seasons for largemouth bass. In the summer, night fishing is recommended to beat the Texas heat. Common lures in those months are plastic worms, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, and topwaters. Look for largemouth in areas with hydrilla, docks, boathouses, and lake houses, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, while crappie are best found under bridges and among standing timber.
Pick up a free map from the Sabine River Authority, stock up on supplies from any number of docks and businesses around the lake, heed bag and size limits, and you’ll be all set for a tranquil, prosperous fishing excursion.
The Texas Hill Country poses special challenges to golfers, for reasons evident in its name. The founders of the Bandit Golf Club in New Braunfels, about halfway between Austin and San Antonio, evidently knew what they were doing.
The club’s course, an 18-hole creation by architect Keith Foster, stretches nearly 7,000 yards over hilly terrain and incorporates two bodies of water, Lake McQueeney and Long Creek. The result is a public course with tough challenges, scenic views, and natural water hazards—not to mention a “Top 10 Public Course in Texas” nod from Golfweek magazine.
The club especially appeals to families traveling to the Hill Country for its proximity—about a 15-minute drive on Farm-to-Market Road 725—to another playland in the region. Schlitterbahn New Braunfels Waterpark, the original park in a group of five that attracts two million visitors annually, was founded in 1979 by the Henry family. What began as four waterslides sloping from a single tower—a replica of a guard tower at Solms Castle in Braunfels, Germany—has vastly expanded. Today, visitors find a 70-acre wonderland featuring 40 attractions in four main park areas.
In the original park area, where the castle still looms, families frolic in seven kids’ play zones, zoom down tube chutes, and ride the surf in a wave pool. The Comal River’s spring-fed waters flow in this area, where parents can sip drinks at a swim-up bar in the Biergarten Heated Pool while their kids dry out in the adjacent arcade.
Adrenaline levels spike in other parts of the park, as thrill seekers climb to the peaks of monstrous attractions. The Master Blaster, a marquee ride for more than 20 years, is a 65-foot-tall uphill water coaster in the Blastenhoff park area that promises pure exhilaration.
For a ride fit for kids and adults, you can’t go wrong with the Wolfpack Raft Slide; your three-seat inflatable raft ascends a suspense-building conveyor belt straight to the top of Blastenhoff Tower before a whooshing release, five stories down. In the Surfenburg area, Dragon’s Revenge, the granddaddy of all uphill water coasters, boasts thrilling drops, high speeds, and special effects. The ride, which comes with a 42-inch height requirement, retains its edge after more than 25 years.
Park rides operate from spring to early fall, but the park remains open year-round as a resort destination. Guests can choose lodging in various units sprinkled throughout the park—cabins, vacation homes, condos, lofts, and even luxury treehouse suites—while taking advantage of park perks.
And, if you choose, you can stay an extra day to float the river for real. Tubing spots dot the region, outside of park bounds, where the Comal and Guadalupe rivers flow freely.
-Words by Ryan B. Martinez, photos courtesy of Lajitas Golf Resort, The Links at Land’s End, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Bandit Golf Club, and Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts