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Review of The Houstonian Golf Club

By: Steve Habel


Maybe it's the 50 acres of lakes or the 43 bunkers, some of which are so large they could be seen from a satellite in outer space. Or perhaps it's the need for precise drives involving lengthy carries and approaches to greens ringed by danger.

The par-5 16th at The Houstonian

Whatever the case, the LPGA Tour players who test the demanding course at The Houstonian Golf & Country Club this week for the LPGA Tour Championship will have their hands full.

Designed by Rees Jones, The Houstonian Golf & Country Club is set in Richmond, some 30 miles west of its namesake city of Houston. From the tips, where the course stretches 7,110 yards, it boasts a 74.3 rating and a 133 slope.

The LPGA Tour Championship will be played at about 6,650 yards - from between the second and third set of tees, but those teeing grounds would still carry a rating in the 72 range and a slope of 129, plenty tough for any golfer, male or female.

The Houstonian was Jones's first Lone Star State design. It was such a hit that the Redstone Companies, the Houston-based firm that owns course as well as the famed Houstonian Hotel & Spa and Redstone Golf Club in Humble, brought the "Open Doctor" back to design the Redstone Tournament course, which hosts the Shell Houston Open.

The Houstonian represent the architect's philosophy: it features holes that are fair, continually interesting and visually enticing. Opened in 1999, the club also hosted the 2006 Nationwide Tour Championship.

The layout winds around, over and through two massive lakes and is devoid of any encroachment by homes or other distractions, affording one to focus on the beauty of the course and the execution needed to be successful. The course is meticulously maintained year-round, with smooth and subtly-breaking Tifeagle greens, mature pecan trees lining 419 Tifway Bermuda fairways, and 12 holes festooned with water hazards.

The water isn't unduly penalizing; if you hit the ball down the middle, you won't have any problems. The real challenge here is gauging the wind, which always seems to be blowing and never seems to be helping.

The challenge begins immediately with the straightaway 440-yard, par-4 opener and continues at the par-5 525-yard second, which is reachable in two shots but with a green guarded left and rear by water and along the right by deep sand.

The 17th at The Houstonian

The top-ranked handicap hole is the 569-yard par-5 fifth. Requiring a tee shot that must be threaded between a hill left and water right, it plays much harder than it looks because the wind is always into your face and the water will gobble up any shots to the right of the sloping fairway.

Playing the back tees at the 602-yard 12th may be one of the toughest three-shotters you'll ever face. Your tee shot needs to be played along the right and must carry 250 yards over wetlands to find the fairway. From here, the wetlands line the entire left side of the hole while mounds on the right run all the way up to a small and slightly elevated green.

The holes that will make or break your round here are Nos. 16, 17 and 18. The 16th is a relatively short (508-yard) par-5 with water left from tee to green. The narrow fairway is bordered on the right by mounds and slopes left toward the lake. A brave attempt to reach the green in two must successfully cross the water to land on a tiny, trapped-right green that juts into the lake. Even a lay-up here is dicey because of a huge bunker short of the greens complex.

No. 17 is an uphill, into-the-wind par-3 where a 180-yard drive will carry water 180 yards to reach the green. The edges of the green slope outward, while a series of bunkers along the left will punish the timid.

The finisher is a 464-yard par-4 that plays up the hill and into the wind; along the right is a deep, 140-yard-long bunker. The longer hitter will enjoy an advantage here, but even two great shots might not get you to the green - which is defended on both sides by sand.

The Houstonian's practice facilities are second to none. The club's Golf Academy was originally designed by the late Dick Harmon, one of America's top teaching professionals, and its teaching facility features indoor practice bays with the latest computerized swing-diagnostic equipment. Also on hand are an expansive range, two practice greens and a one-acre dedicated short game practice area.

The club's golf academy is the home of Charlie Epps, who has spent more than 25 years as a highly regarded PGA professional in the Houston area. Epps is the putting instructor and long-time friend of Angel Cabrera, winner of the 2007 U.S. Open and 2009 Masters.

Staying & Playing The Houstonian

If you want to play golf here you'll need to stay at the Houstonian Hotel, Spa & Club as the course is open only to hotel guests and members.

Located on an 18-acre wooded oasis in the heart of Houston, just minutes from Memorial Park and the Galleria, the Houstonian Hotel has been a center for luxury in the Bayou City for years. The lobby welcomes with a Great Room that resembles a Rocky Mountain hunting lodge. A huge rock fireplace is the centerpiece, alit even when it's 95 degrees outside. Also on hand are the Houstonian Fitness Club and Trellis Spa.

For more information, visit www.houstoniangolf.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 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.