Featured Golf News
Austin's Lakeway Resort Provides Getaway Close to the Action
Of all the suburbs surrounding the Texas capital city of Austin, none has grown bigger and, amazingly, better than Lakeway, which is about 25 minutes due west of downtown on the south side of massive Lake Travis.
Lakeway Resort & Spa
The community has grown around the Lakeway Resort, which was developed in 1963 as a "watering hole" for local residents. Fashioned as a Hill Country retirement community, the resort (which, at that time included the Lakeway Yacht Club and the Lakeway Inn) put the area on the map.
The following year, the resort's first golf course, Live Oak, was put into play. It was designed by prolific architect Leon Howard, who also laid out the entire community. Howard returned to Lakeway in 1969 to build a second 18, the Yaupon Course, which opened in 1971.
That same year Dallas developer and entrepreneur Bob Alpert bought the entire Lakeway project with a vision to expand and develop the area into a prestigious resort community. His master-planned neighborhood called for additional tracts of land, more golf courses, an expanded marina, shops and businesses, houses of worship, and more.
In 1972 Alpert partnered with the Hunt family of Dallas and the World Championship Tennis organization to develop the World of Tennis Resort, a complex with a clubhouse, indoor and outdoor courts and 106 townhouses. For years the community (and the resort) was best known for tennis and boating, rather than golf.
That thinking began to change in 1981, when The Hills Country Club opened with its Signature Jack Nicklaus design that is consistently ranked as one of the finest tracks in the state. The course is the site of the Champion Tour's Triton Financial Classic.
By the time Flintrock Falls Golf Course (a Nicklaus/Nicklaus II design) opened in 2002, demographics and attitudes were much different at Lakeway. A metamorphosis gradually overtook the community, as young couples and families began purchasing many of the homes. Behringer Harvard Funds of Dallas acquired Lakeway Inn and brought Dolce International in to manage the resort. The inn (now named Lakeway Resort & Spa) underwent an extensive redevelopment that included a new spa, ballroom, meeting space, swimming pools, room renovations and the addition of luxury villas.
With the upgrades now complete, Lakeway Resort and Spa continues its legacy as the preferred destination for an unparalleled lakeside experience. Spectacular views only enhance the 166 guestrooms, 24,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space, dining outlets and the San Saba Spa.
Guests of Lakeway Resort and Spa also enjoy privileges at four nearby private golf courses. Each layout is unique, and all added to our enjoyment of a recent trip to the resort.
No.3 at Lakeway's Live Oak Course.
Leave the Driver in the Bag at Live Oak
The Live Oak Course derives its name from the thousands of trees that tightly frame its meandering fairways and shade its tees and ample greens. Members and guests often feel as though they are playing a secluded course hidden in the hills, away from the demands of everyday life, and it is not uncommon for better players to leave their drivers in the bag for the entire round because of the course's tight confines.
Howard developed Live Oak in two stages - the first phase was the construction of the front nine, which started in July 1964 and was completed a year later. The second nine opened in 1967, and the course now plays to a par of 72 and is 6,847 yards from the tips where it sports a rating of 71.6 and a 119 slope.
"At Live Oak we followed the elevation all the way around," Howard said. Live Oak is considered, by most that have played it, the easier of the two Howard-designed Lakeway courses.
Live Oak features the par-3 third hole that is commonly referred to as "Jaws." The hole plays 204 yards from the back tees over a deep ravine that gobbles up a shot short of the green. Take an extra club here to avoid trouble.
While most of Live Oak is relatively flat, be prepared on the holes that have a change in elevation. It's almost as if Howard attempted to make up for the relative flatness of the course by making these holes doubly difficult with the inclusion of water on each one.
The ninth, a par-4 of 456 yards, features a tee shot over a former creek that was dammed to create a small man-made lake. Clearing the water is just the first task on the hole, which is the No. 1 handicap at Live Oak. The fairway, like on many holes, has trees on both sides. What makes it different from the others is that it goes straight uphill to the green. Regardless of where the flag is placed, the pin is blind because the green is so much higher, making it a nice, challenging finishing hole on the front.
No. 10 is almost equal to its predecessor. This 410-yard par-4 requires a tee shot over a valley that runs diagonally to the fairway. The second shot is straight uphill over a small pond on the right to a green that is by far the most difficult on the course. The green slopes steeply back-to-front and often results in three-putts, or worse.
Following a pair of left-turning holes that are lined by trees and a par-3 over a small pond is the most spectacular hole at Live Oak. No. 14 is a 391-yard par-4 where you tee off between a cluster of trees to a landing area that is approximately 100 feet below and guarded by a small lake along the entire left side. The lake is veiled by the trees, so don't go left. Don't go right either as over there are out-of-bounds and a creek. If you hit the fairway, your approach is across the lake to another raised green.
No. 18 is a 360-yard par-4 that features another elevated tee shot to a fairway with a small pond to the right. Grip it and rip it here as you are able to see the entire hole and can finish with flair.
Management has softened Live Oak a bit by placing 18 Blue Diamond tees on the course to challenge juniors and beginners. A family course setup simply involves establishing teeing areas forward of the "red" tees to make the course friendlier for kids and beginners.
Up & Down on the Rollercoaster Yaupon Course
Yaupon Course's rolling fairways take the game past limestone outcroppings, water features and picturesque vistas. The front nine is characterized by elevated tees that create an impression that your shot will carry forever. The back side is slightly lower in elevation and more secluded, with strategic water features and arching fairways. The par-72, 6,814-yard track has ratings of 71.1 and 131.
Yaupon features a great deal more undulation than Live Oak because the the land allowed it. "The terrain at Yaupon was much more severe," Howard said. "I tried following the ledges around the hilltops (for the course layout) and at the same time tried to leave as much of the hilltops as possible for good lots."
This is apparent off the first tee, which is the most difficult hole on the course and an absolute bear if the wind is in your face. This zigzag par-5 of 582 yards includes an elevated tee shot to a valley below. The second shot is straight uphill and the garden spot is hidden around a corner. You must avoid a slope on the left to land on the upper tier of the fairway to have any chance of going at the flag in three.
No. 2, like the first, features an elevated tee box and a downhill fairway. It differs in that it is much shorter at just 348 yards and features Howard's trademark - a water hazard. It sports a dogleg-right fairway that makes almost a 90-degree turn toward the green and over a small pond.
The remainder of Yaupon is much the same as there are numerous ups and downs as well as abundant trees that Howard used to form doglegs. Yaupon's finisher, a 503-yard par 5, is unique to say the least. With trees right and left, you look at yet from another elevated tee down to a sloped fairway. The green is visible in the distance. What lies between you and the green are four tiers and a creek.
The stair-step fairway causes a great dilemma in the club choice off the tee. Most woods, if struck well, can clear all the tiers and find the water. Any iron will land short of the creek but could potentially end up on one of the severe down-slopes. The green is then uphill and canted to the left, making for a thrilling finish.
Although the landing areas at Yaupon are generous, its 42 bunkers demand solid course management and several blind shots will leave you guessing.
No. 7 at The Nicklaus Signature Course at The Hills Country Club
The Signature Course at The Hills Gets Better with Age
When the Hills Country Club opened in 1981, it was the region's first Nicklaus signature golf course. Since its debut, the track has improved as it's matured. The original Hills Signature Course offers stunning views of the area, and a round here is punctuated by the famous 7th hole, which is played as the 16th during the Champions Tour event, which switches the nines to allow more fans and corporate tents around the 18th (the ninth) hole.
The Hills Signature Course carries a par of 72 and plays at 7,035 yards, where it offers ratings of 73.8 and 141.
The front nine has a little bit of everything, beginning at the first, a 537-yard par-5 split twice by creeks and with a baffling green. The third (the longest par-4 on the course at 463 yards) takes two great shots into a prevailing wind to reach the huge green in regulation.
From the No. 5 green you will go around a patch of cactus and Texas Mesquite to reach the elevated tee at the 418-yard sixth. This par-4 takes you back across Hurst Creek. Even the fearless players will lay-up short of the creek for a go at the tilted green just across the water. If crossing the creek wasn't enough of a challenge, sticking to the sloping green on the other side will be.
The aforementioned seventh plays as long as 184 yards from the tips, with the tee shot played over a pond with a natural waterfall before the green. This hole is on the short list of the most beautiful offerings in Texas, so stop for a photo or two.
No. 8 at the Hills is the top-rated hole and plays like it. The 410-yard par-4 may feel like a par-5 because of the numerous hazards along its route. You must navigate shots over Hurst Creek and around live oaks to reach the green, guarded by four bunkers.
You can pick up a few strokes on the back nine, especially on the two par-5s - the 520-yard 11th and 505-yard 17th - and there are two short par-4s that can also be had if you're on your game.
The round concludes with the par-4 18th, a 442-yard tester offering water, out-of-bounds, sand and trees. The hole is characteristic of the great beach-side courses of the southeast U.S., with marsh-like grasses sprouting up from a lake the left of the fairway. Another tiered waterfall marks the approach to the green with a sloping bank in front and a bunker.
The Triton Financial Classic (formerly the FedEx Kinkos) always attracts top Champions Tour field, mainly because of the Nicklaus Signature Course. You may have to work your connections to play here, but it's worth the effort.
No. 18 at Flintrock Falls
Flintrock Falls puts Premium on Approach Shots
The Nicklaus/Nicklaus II design at Flintrock Falls opened in September 2002, giving members of the Hills Country Club and Lakeway Resort guests another great 18 holes to navigate.
Before playing Flintrock Falls all the talk I had heard about the track was of its punitively large and undulating greens. One twitch or miscalculation that sent your ball past the hole, the stories said, doomed any chance at birdie, or even par, and into the land of the dreaded double-bogey. After playing the track I could see where someone who really attacked the pins - and missed in the wrong places - could get in real trouble.
Flintrock Falls, a par-72 layout stretching 7,051 yards from the tips, is one of the most challenging tracks in the region. With a rating of 74.1 and a slope of 140 from the back tees, it's the first Texas course designed by both Nicklaus and his son, Jack Nicklaus II, and emphasizes the second shot, a signature of Nicklaus Design (because, after all, the Golden Bear's hallmark in his prime was his long-iron play.)
The course is lined with mature live oak and cedar trees, native grasses and Hill Country limestone, and deep, steep-sloped bunkers. It winds around and across Hurst Creek, which provides a natural water hazard and houses a waterfall on the signature hole, No. 2 (originally designed as the course's 11th hole.)
"We had a great piece of property to work with that has great land changes and wonderful trees," Nicklaus II said. "There were some great features to start with. Dad and I worked together on the job and, in order to make the best use of his time, we'd bring him in at key points with the job. I'm very happy with the way it turned out here."
Flintrock Falls features some of the same characteristics of its older sibling, but has its own distinctive personality. It's a course built for the 21st century's ball and golf club technology. The landing areas are wider, there are more bunkers and tougher to get out of, there are more ups and downs and forced carries, and the putting surfaces are larger - and loaded with appreciably more undulations.
The showpiece is No. 2, an exquisite par-3 measuring 173 yards from the gold (back) tees. The green, which angles away from the tee left to right, is guarded on the right by a gaping bunker. Back-right pin placements are, appropriately, a real bear - unless a right-handed golfer's arsenal includes a soaring, soft-landing fade.
No. 2 is one of the outstanding par-3s at Flintrock Falls. On the front nine, the par-3 sixth, which calls for a mid-iron tee shot to a large green sitting atop a rock shelf, is another serious contender for best short hole. The 232-yard 12th hole is a beast, and its back-left pin placement requires drives of PGA Tour caliber to end up anywhere close to the pin.
Because of the elevation changes, the wind is certainly a bigger factor on Flintrock Falls than at The Hills. The front nine at Flintrock Falls is more like the Hills, as trees frame the holes more distinctly and come into play more often.
The front ends with two tough holes: No. 8 is a 527-yard par-5 that plays longer than its listed yardage because the hole heads directly into the prevailing southerly wind. The ninth is a demanding dogleg-left par-4 measuring 459 yards highlighted by an island fairway surrounded by Hurst Creek. Players will have to hit long irons, or perhaps even fairway metals, into a green shaped like an upside-down saucer. Only precise approach shots will stay on the green or balls will find collection areas around the putting surface.
The difficulty found on Flintrock Falls' greens is especially noticeable on the back nine, which has three par-3s, three par-4s and three par-5s. The downhill 195-yard 15th, where the tee shot must clear a fickle finger of water at the front, is a gem. So is the stout 215-yard 17th, whose elevated tee represents the highest point on the course and, not surprisingly, provides wonderful views of the surrounding countryside.
Don't be surprised if you walk off the back side cursing your putter or, at the very least, thinking you could have scored better if armed with a little more accuracy with your irons and local knowledge. Such is the case at the par-5 16th hole, without question the most severe putting surface on the course, where many players putt their ball off the green simply by being too aggressive or not knowing where on the green to place their approach.
Flintrock Falls can be a bear (pun intended). But you can have a great time if up to the task.
For more information about Lakeway Resort, visit www.dolce-lakeway-hotel.com.
Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's national correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also the media coordinator for Bechtol Golf Design, the managing editor for Business District magazine in Austin and works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports. He also writes a blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com), which features news on golf and the Longhorns.