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Finding Great Golf in San Antonio is ‘Mission Possible’

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These three resorts help make the Alamo City one of the nation’s best places to tee it up and get away.

By Steve Habel

pg36-moregoldSan Antonio is known for many things, among those, its friendly people, its unmatched River Walk entertainment district, its great food and its importance as a cultural crossroads between the United States and Mexico. San Antonio is also famous for its missions (the Alamo, Texas’s greatest shrine, is the most renown), which were established in the early 1700s and have become a link to the region’s past.

Big Fun at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort

Resort golf is sometimes a bit blah, as the game’ s innate challenges are often muted by the need to pander to the high-handicap golfer and to get players around the course in a reasonable amount of time. To counter that movement, many resorts have gone to the 27-hole layout, and the three distinct nine-hole courses at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort & Spa have established the standard for that notion.

The three Arthur Hills-designed tracks (called Creeks, Lakes and Oaks) are set on more than 200 acres of wide-ranging terrain with stands of trees, rolling meadow, steep hillsides, ravines and tree-shaded plateaus. Interspersed is a series of lakes and ponds that add not only excitement and challenge to the round, but provide a tranquil beauty. Each nine plays to a par of 36 and to as much as 3,502 yards based on the four tee choices.

Opened as an 18-hole golf course in 1993 and expanded in 2005, the facility—unlike most courses with additions— didn’t just add another nine. It integrated the holes to give the entire golf course and resort a new feel. While it’s difficult to pick a favorite of the three nine-hole tracks, the toughest of the three is the Oaks layout, which plays to 3,438 yards from the black tees and offers a nice balance in length of holes.

As the name implies, golfers have towering oak trees to contend with, and there are definitely preferred sides to the fairways to help set up for the approach shots in to the par-4s. The Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa is located on what was once the Rogers-Wiseman Ranch just off Highway 151, directly across from Sea World of Texas.

A true resort course, none of the tracks is obscured by homes, there are just plenty of mesquite trees, native grasses, cacti, a few streams and ponds and plenty of rolling hills and vistas, as the Hill Country Golf Club meets all the standards of a truly great golf facility. Aside from the 27 holes of Arthur Hillsdesigned golf, there are two spectacular pools separated by a cascading waterfall, a 950-foot Ramblin’ River water feature, a fully equipped exercise center offering massage and outdoor whirlpool, a worldclass spa and five fine restaurants, to boot.

In 2013, the Hyatt Hill Country completed a $35 million enhancement project that modernized every room in the resort and added a wave machine and tower waterslide to the property’s ever-popular water playground, which was expanded from four to five acres. Hill Country is the first Texas hotel and only one of three hotels in the United States to have a FlowRider wave machine, which simulates a barrel-less wave, complete with a sloped wave surface with 40,000 gallons of water being driven up at a rate of about 18,000 gallons per minute. It is a great place to golf, a great place to stay and an excellent vacation destination for the entire range of traveler.


La Cantera is Twice the Fun and Double the Challenge

Any talk about golf in San Antonio must include the La Cantera Hill Country Resort, a 1,600-acre master-planned development that includes two championship 18-hole courses, a gorgeous hotel built in 1999 and modeled after the famous King Ranch’s “Big House,” two stunning clubhouses and an academy of golf to help hone the golfer’s game. La Cantera has consistently been ranked one of the best resorts in America by Golf Magazine.

The resort recently dropped its affiliation with the Starwood family of hotels and resorts and is now being managed by Englewood, Colo.-based Destination Hotels & Resort. But the bottom line is that the property across the street from Six Flags Fiesta Texas still rocks hard. The digs are nice at La Cantera, but it’s the golf courses that are the resort’s biggest draw, and they are supreme in every sense of the word.

La Cantera features two courses: the Resort Course, designed as the final work of the team of Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, and the Palmer Course, fashioned by—you guessed it—Arnold Palmer, with help from longtime collaborator Ed Seay. The Resort Course opened in 1995 and offers a handful of natural water features, 75 sand bunkers and an up-and-down ride that sports half a dozen holes with panoramic views of the city and the surrounding Hill Country.

Its beauty and challenge are created with rock outcroppings, running streams, mature trees and holes that work their way through and over land that was once a stone quarry. Players never forget the thrill of teeing it up at the Resort Course’s seventh hole, a severe downhill par-4 whose green seems to lie just beneath that main rollercoaster of the aforementioned theme park and is perhaps the city ’s most famous individual golf hole.

Located just down the street from the hotel, the Palmer Course was built and added to the La Cantera family in 2001 and features a variety of holes touched with dramatic waterfalls, beautiful views and mind-blowing landscape. Playing to a par of 71 at 6,926 yards from the tips, the Palmer Course is full of blind-tee shots, carries over canyons and up-and-down and sideways-sloped shots. No. 18 at the Palmer Course is a spectacular par-4 finale that plays 490 yards and slightly up and then down an 80-foot slope, providing incredible views of the clubhouse and waterfallfed lake.

The main difference between Resort Course and the Palmer Course at La Cantera is that the Resort Course has many more open fairways and not as many blind shots. Even though the Resort Course is the one that formally hos ted the PGA Tour’s Valero Texas Open, it is much more playable for the average golfer than the Palmer Course. There are times on the Palmer Course that you will feel like you are standing at the highest point in San Antonio as you look down at the city in the distance, the holes from the adjacent Resort Course below your feet and jets flying into the nearby international airport whizzing by you on a seemingly equal plane. Fun and fair, the golf courses at the La Canter a Hill Country Resort pull in players with thrillpacked golf, first-class service and amenities. That’s a great mix for all involved.


Tapatio Springs Moving Strait Up the Charts

Country music legend George Strait and his partner and Hill Country entrepreneur Tom Cusick bought Tapatio Springs Hill Country Resort in Boerne (about 30 minutes west of San Antonio) in April 2011, and set upon a schedule to stake the three-decades-old resort to the top of the list of area golf destinations. In the nearly three years since Strait and Cusick took charge, they’ve made huge strides at Tapatio Springs.

The first step in the resort’s renovation included renewing its 112 rooms, updating the lodging and clubhouse exteriors (done with more than 1,000 tons of rock and columns) and modernizing its 20,000-square feet of meeting facilities and its expansive golf pro shop. The resort also opened the fabulous La Cascada restaurant to bring complete resort amenities to Tapatio Springs. Other dining amenities include Five Points Grill in the center of the golf course.

The biggest part of reviving Tapatio Springs was to make the golf offerings the best they could be after years of neglect because of the lack of water. The water issues have been solved and parts of the Bill Johnson-designed course, which, in May 2013 was reduced from 27 to 18 holes, have been resodded and brought closer to the pristine conditions Strait and Cusick (and resort golfers) expect and crave.

The resort’s original Lakes and Valley nines, opened for play in 1981, were once ranked among the Top 10 Golf Courses in Texas by the Dallas Morning News. Water comes in to play in some shape or form on 12 of the resort’s 28 holes, and more than 60 sand bunkers are placed around the routing. The Lakes nine features memorable back-to-back par-4s. The 371-yard fifth hole plays through a chute of trees off the tee down to a fairway at least 40 feet below, with ever-present Frederick Creek looming on the left.

No. 6 is longer, at 396 yards, and features another downhill tee shot that must be lengthy in order to give the player a reasonable approach uphill over the trees and creek to the slightly elevated putting surface. The Valley nine brings water in to play on virtually every hole, including the fine stretch that begins at its 158-yard par-3, uphill third. No. 4 is also uphill and short (293 yards) but the tee shot is blind and the fairway tends to move shots not hit to the perfect spot either left or right in to trouble. The 559-yard par-5 fifth is downhill and doglegs left to the creek then turns back uphill through a chute of trees and bunkers to a narrow green.

This fall, Tapatio Springs unveiled its new PureSol Salt Cave Spa. The resort shipped in 22 tons of salt for the cave; it is the only true salt cave spa in the region. If you love golf and want to stay outside the hustle and bustle of the big city, this is a great place for you. And like a great song that becomes more recognizable and robust with age, the experience at Tapatio Springs Hill Country Resort is one that will grow on those that venture inside its canyon walls.

Charity Rules at the Valero Texas Open

Another top Alamo City resort, the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort (whew, that’s a real mouthful) will host the 92nd Valero Texas Open March 27 through 30. The Valero Texas Open is the sixth oldest professional tournament in golf worldwide, the third oldest on the PGA Tour and the longest held in the same city, making San Antonio the oldest host city on tour. Eight different golf courses in San Antonio have hosted the Texas Open, including the A.W. Tillinghast-designed track at Fort Sam Houston, the only military base golf course to host a PGA Tour event.

Since 2010, the event has been contested at the AT&T Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio on the grounds of the massive JW Marriott San Antonio. The tournament’s list of champions include some of the greatest names in golf history: Walter Hagen, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Ben Crenshaw, Lee Trevino, Justin Leonard, Zach Johnson and Adam Scott, to name a few.

Since Valero became title sponsor in 2002, the tournament has become the annual leader in charitable fundraising among all PGA Tour events, with more than $81.5 million donated to charity in those 12 years. The 2013 Valero Texas Open—won by Martin Laird—together with the Benefit for Children Golf Classic, contributed $10 million to local and regional charities.


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