The most memorable golf holes have a way of touching your soul the second you lay eyes on them. They are not only beautiful and make the most of the natural landscapes, but they are also fun and designed to reward good shots as much as they punish the bad. It is difficult to imagine what the signature hole must have been like on Texas’s original 6-hole course, which was laid out by two Englishmen on a farm at the corner of Haskell and Cole streets in Dallas back in 1895. Fast forward 120-plus years and 800-some-odd golf courses, and Texas is now blessed with 1,300 or so golf holes, literally hundreds of them worthy of being any golfer’s favorite. Yes, it is a fool’s errand to try to pick 18, but the following Texas gems seem to come up time and again as some of the state’s most special.
Black Jack’s Crossing, Lajitas | 8th Hole, Par 5
The elevated tee from the long par-5 No. 8 will take your breath away with spectacular panoramic views of Big Bend and the Chisos Mountains. Soak it in. All you see is a sliver of green engulfed by the rugged Chihuahuan Desert, and Mexico is just a stone’s throw away across the Rio Grande.
Nestled in the middle of the Piney Woods and built atop a series of natural sand dunes, Pine Dunes will make you question whether you’re still in Texas, especially when you step up to face the intimidating par 3 sixth. Pine Dunes is known for its par 3s and this one is the best—long and mean, with water looming left and a massive, sloping green that has been carved from the hillside.
The Retreat, Cleburne | 18th Hole, Par 3
This is about as beautiful of a par 3 as you can find. The elevation change from the back tee to the front of the green is 80 feet, and a waterfall flows below the tee box. Good for the soul, but bad if the visual distraction makes you lose focus on the hole. A long iron from the longer tees, you’ll need to carry a creek and a bunker into the prevailing wind.
Preston Trail Golf Club, Dallas | 16th Hole, Par 4
The original home of the Byron Nelson Classic has always been known for its ultra-exclusive membership. Think Mickey Mantle on the classic No. 16, needing a good drive down a tight fairway lined by ancient oaks and an approach to a green guarded by water in the front and bunkers in the back.
South Padre Island Golf Club, Port Isabel | 5th Hole, Par 4
Scenic with native vegetation all around, South Padre’s 5th is a great little coastal hole. You could lay it up short, but you’ll be in vacation mode and ready to let the prevailing left-right wind blow your drive across the sharp dogleg-right fairway all the way to the green. Note that the hole plays along the beach, and that breeze will take your fades and slices right into the Laguna Madre.
Midland Country Club, Midland | 15th Hole, Par 5
Lined on either side by mature trees and the famous rattlesnake-infested mesquite “jungles” that suck balls out of the West Texas wind, the long 15th snakes its way right off the tee, then left for the second shot, and finally back to the right again into a massive, bowl-shaped, elevated green. The locals like to claim that Dustin Johnson could not reach this green in two.
Some have compared the famous stretch of holes 13-16 on the back nine at North Shore to a resort course in Hawaii. The signature 13th hole plays from a spectacular tee over an inlet of the bay, down to a massive green, cuddled up against the sand and surf. Watch out for the wind and the ocean spray while you’re putting.
Brackenridge Park Golf Course, San Antonio | 18th Hole, Par 3
Texas’s oldest public course was designed in 1916 by the venerable A.W. Tillinghast (Bethpage, Baltusrol, Winged Foot, and San Francisco Golf Club) and every aspect of the golf experience here is special. Laid out along the San Antonio River, Tillinghast inserted some old school charm with his finishing stretch, treating you to nifty little par 3s on holes 16 and 18, the latter being a great ender playing long over a peaceful pond and making the day’s final bets just a little more dicey.
Picture Austin in the 1950s. Ben Hogan and Harvey Penick in an exhibition match. They reach the No. 16 signature hole (No. 7 back then), and the great Hogan is apparently intimidated. “Where’s the fairway?” he asks. All he could see was a line of giant oaks squeezing a narrow chute to seemingly nowhere. Now add 60 years of growth to those trees, and if you survive the tee shot, you’ll face a nasty approach uphill over the water to a diabolical, rolling green.
Palmilla Beach Golf Club, Port Aransas | 13th Hole, Par 3
The 13th at Palmilla Beach is widely recognized as one of the most outstanding holes in South Texas. It is visually stunning, with lush green fairways contrasted against the native flora, sand dunes, and coastal views. It is not long, but you need to consider the stiff ocean breeze carefully. With the Gulf of Mexico as the backdrop, it is truly a golf hole to appreciate.
Barton Creek is the Golf Capital of Texas with perhaps the greatest number of acclaimed golf holes of any facility, spread across four truly breathtaking courses. It’s hard to choose, but there’s something special about the ender at Fazio Canyons, a long downhill par 5 with water looming large. The course was one of the nation’s first Certified Audubon Sanctuary Systems, and nothing highlights the pristine beauty of the facility more than No. 18.
Colonial Country Club, Fort Worth | 9th Hole, Par 4
Famed Colonial was designed by the legendary John Bredemus and is an all-time Texas classic. Considered his finest work, nowhere does his artistry manifest itself more than in the famed 5th. This par 4 is an extremely long dogleg that routes around the Trinity River. It is beautiful and difficult and long considered one of America’s greatest golfing holes.
The Rawls Course at Texas Tech, Lubbock | 10th Hole, Par 3
Patterned after the 11th hole at St. Andrews, this long par 3 is the perfect way to experience golf on the High Plains. Although the strong winds can wreak havoc, deep bunkers and a lake guard all sides of the green. You can easily imagine yourself in Scotland with rolling berms covered in wispy grama grasses waving in the West Texas wind.
Designed by Hal Sutton and the backdrop for the fictional Texas Open in the movie Seven Days in Utopia, this former wild-game ranch sliced by the Palo Alto and Tribes creeks is as gorgeous as it gets in the Texas Hill Country. Nothing highlights the pristine nature of the course more than No. 10 and its beautiful approach over the creek to a green surrounded by bunkers and waterfalls.
Cordillera Ranch Golf Club, San Antonio | 16th Hole, Par 3
This hole has everything. Jaw-dropping hill country scenery and pristine conditions highlight zoysia fairways so perfect they feel like artificial turf. It’s just a short iron over a deep ravine and pond up to a tour-quality green carved into the cliffs and framed by several cascading waterfalls and bunkers.
Whispering Pines Golf Club, Trinity | 15th & 16th Holes, Par 3
Many holes at the scenic Whispering Pines are considered among Texas’s best as the course design makes the most of its location along Lake Livingston. But the Augusta-like feel of the course is most pronounced in the middle of the back nine with a sensational pair of back-to-back par 3s amid tall, stately pines.
Sugar Tree rolls along the lush Brazos River with magnificent old oak trees and many memorable holes, but No. 12 best highlights the beauty of the course. The hole plays downhill over a creek to a gorgeous little green tucked between two bunkers with a tumbling waterfall and a traditional water wheel that adds some country charm.
Horseshoe Bay – Apple Rock Course, Horseshoe Bay Resort | 10th Hole, Par 5
The opener to the Apple Rock back nine will definitely get your attention as the most talked-about of many spectacular holes spread across Horseshoe Bay’s four bucket-list-worthy courses. The elevated box that overlooks the long downhill tee shot on No. 10 highlights Lake LBJ and the beauty of the Texas Hill Country, as well as the impressive homes around the resort.
-Words by Jason Stone, photos courtesy of Lajitas Golf Resort, Pine Dunes, Carlton Wade, Omni Barton Creek, Boot Ranch, and Sugar Tree Golf Club