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Rosy Trio Make the Grade in Golf-Rich Tyler

By: Steve Habel


Many people may know the city of Tyler in the northeast corner of Texas for two reasons - its claim as the "Rose Capital of the World" and as the hometown of NFL Hall of Famer Earl Campbell.

No. 3 at The Cascades GC

Tyler, situated nearly equidistant from Dallas, Shreveport and Texarkana on the Arkansas border, has had many incarnations, with stints when rail was king, then agriculture, and then oil. Nowadays, manufacturing, health care, education and retail drive the train for a population of about 210,000 people in the metropolitan area.

The city and environs are also the home to a handful of golf courses, some designed by benchmark golf architects and all buoyed by the continual stream of commerce into the region.

During a trip to Tyler last spring, I played five of the local courses - including three (The Cascades Golf Club, Hollytree Country Club and Willow Brook Country Club) that are in the city proper. I found them to be varied and testing, and also was smitten with the friendliness of the people and an overall sense of hospitality.

For this report, I'll focus on the trio listed above. Look for an additional Cybergolf feature about Tyler in January.

Stout Par-4s Highlight the Cascades

Located just outside the main loop on Tyler's southwest side, Cascades Golf Club winds through a 300-acre property along Lake Bellwood.

Now managed by Touchstone Golf, The Cascades was founded in 1956 as Briarwood Country Club, with its golf course fashioned and constructed by a group of World War II veterans, including James Broussard, one of the founders.

It didn't take long for the venue to be considered one of the best in East Texas. But the years and encroaching urban sprawl took a toll. In the late 1990s, a renovation and restoration began.

The Par-3 2nd at The Cascades GC

The multi-million-dollar facelift, marshaled by PGA Tour veteran Mark Hayes and Lee Singletary, was finished in 2002. The work uncovered a hidden gem but maintained the integrity, character and mystique of the original course. The track was renamed The Cascades in tribute to the numerous springs, waterfalls and streams that intersect the course and surround the club.

Par-71 Cascades stretches 6,944 yards from its back set of four tees, where it receives a 74.2 rating and 137 Slope. Thick stands of oak and pine frame these rolling fairways, while numerous water features and the towering trees create both tactical diversity and a demanding test for all levels of players.

With three of its par-4s extending over 444 yards from the tips and its three par-3s carded at 190 or more, Cascades' opening nine wakes you up in a hurry. The 410-yard opener, which rolls downhill to a green guarded by water on the approach, immediately sets the table for the round.

The Back Nine at The Cascades GC

Along the way you get tough back-to-back two-shotters at the 462-yard third and 444-yard fourth. But the real juggernaut is at Nos. 6 (a 544-yard par-5), 7 (a monstrous 516-yard par-4) and 8 (a 551-yard par-5). The side ends at a daunting 206-yard par-3 with a putting surface that seems suspended in air at the base of the clubhouse.

The home half is a bit more user-friendly, but it's still hearty and offers a 3-3-3 configuration of par-3s, -4s and -5s. Its best hole is likely the 466-yard par-4 12th, which plays over water to a landing area narrowed on both sides by bunkers before reaching a raised putting surface guarded front-left by sand. The green at the 421-yard par-4 17th is in the shadow of the mammoth Stetford condo building, an impressive sight on its own.

In the past few years the club has added a 40,000-square-foot European-inspired clubhouse, a golf shop and various banquet, meeting and dining rooms. The Cascades provides an exacting round of golf, and has hosted the Texas State Open six times. For more info, see www.cascadesoftexas.com.

Hollytree CC in Tyler, Texas

Hollytree Debunks von Hagge-Devlin Stereotype

There's a lot to like about the course at Hollytree, which is set about a mile south of the main Tyler loop and off Broadway, the city's busiest street. Opened in 1983 and renovated in 2005, the course was designed by Robert von Hagge and Bruce Devlin, who are known for their challenging routings that require great execution on nearly every golf shot.

And while Hollytree is tough in spots, thanks to a wonderful amalgamation of water, trees and tiered greens, I actually found the course to be less taxing than many I have played crafted by the team.

Tipped out at 6,805 yards, the par-72 layout carries a rating of 74.2 and a Slope of 140. Hollytree's design incorporates five par-3s and five par-5s and is considered a target course because of its ubiquitous water hazards; in fact, players must carry water off the tee on nine holes.

View from 4th Green at Hollytree Country Club

Hollytree also offers a handful of risk-reward options, including at the first tee where a lake on the starboard side of this 516-yard par-5 can be carried to allow for a go at the green in two.

The 399-yard par-4 third has five deep bunkers left of the preferred landing area and six more left of the elevated green. The 188-yard par-3 fourth is a real knee-knocker - all carry over a pond to a boomerang-shaped green, while the 522-yard fifth is a par-5 where players must carry water twice - off the tee and on the approach.

The seventh and ninth share a tee box and the latter is a 551-yard par-5 that turns hard left to right off the tee and again further down the fairway before reaching a bunker-guarded green.

The back nine begins with a downhill 367-yard par-4 that involves an approach played through trees and over a canal. The 173-yard 13th ends at a putting surface that slopes back toward the fronting pond and is further guarded on the right by two cavernous bunkers.

Hollytree CC's 14th hole

No. 15, a 448-yarder, is Hollytree's signature hole, with water off the tee and farther down along the left. Once the fairway is safely reached, the long second shot must find a multi-tiered green engirded by sand. The 483-yard 16th is a reachable par-5 that can help regain a stroke or two, but then there's the tough right-to-left turner at the 401-yard par-4 17th and the 450-yard closer, which has two deep bunkers along the right and a green ringed by mounds and drop-offs.

Hollytree CC has hosted collegiate events and top amateur tournaments over the years and was awarded "Best Golf Course" in the Best of East Texas Reader's Choice Awards in 2008. The course has also garnered "Best of Texas Golf" mentions by the Dallas Morning News. In April 2012, ClubCorp assumed management and operations of the club and course.

Hollytree is difficult as you must keep the ball in play. There is definitely a premium on hitting fairways; if that is accomplished, there are ways to score here. How much did I like Hollytree? I played 36 holes in one afternoon and wanted more. For more info, visit www.clubcorp.com/Clubs/Hollytree-Country-Club.

Willow Brook Country Club

Willow Brook Set the Standard

The granddaddy of great golf in Tyler is Willow Brook Country Club, which is located inside the main Tyler loop and just west of downtown. Founded in 1922 as The Country Club of East Texas, its first clubhouse was built in 1923 and served the membership until 1962 when the present Colonial-style building was erected.

Various local golf professionals designed Willow Brook's original course and tinkered with it over the decades. It was then modified in 1979 by Texas-based golf architect Joe Finger, who added what are now the fourth, fifth and sixth holes. In 2001, Hayes (see The Cascades, above) redesigned and rebuilt the greens and enhanced numerous sections of the course, adding length and difficulty while maintaining its traditional style.

The 6,819-yard par-72 Willow Brook covers 159 acres, with its fairways tunneling through oak, hickory, gum, willow, ash and pine over rolling hills and past quiet ponds. The easy-to-walk layout is rated 73.9 and has a 132 Slope from its back set of four tees.

There are more than 30 bunkers scattered about and water enters play on over half the holes. Though the course has mid-width fairways, I recommend taking an extra club on most approaches because of its elevated greens.

No. 11 at Willow Brook CC

Willow Brook does not overwhelm golfers with length (it only has four par-4s in excess of 400 yards, the longest of which is the 447-yard fifth), but it demands accuracy. I especially like the varied and difficult par-3s here; all play at least 198 yards from the tips and each has its own flair. The most demanding is likely the 199-yard 15th, which plays across a chocolate-colored pond to a green encircled by bunkers.

Locals consider the 500-yard par-5 16th as the course's most difficult hole as it forces the golfers to carry water hazards and hit a precise approach to a green guarded by sand. For my money, two par-4s on the home half (the 423-yard 13th and 414-yard uphill closer) will test the mettle of any player.

Willow Brook has hosted numerous tournaments, including the 1964 Texas State Amateur, the 1996 and 2006 Women's State Amateur Championship and the 1993 and 2003 State Senior Amateur Championship. The Eisenhower Classic was played here for 10 years from 1987 to 1997, with PGA Tour stalwarts such as Payne Stewart, Ben Crenshaw and Greg Norman (who was ranked No. 1 in the world at the time) participating.

This landmark club maintains a long tradition of providing members and guests top-flight recreational facilities, social activities, excellent cuisine and impeccable service.

For more information, visit www.wbcctyler.com.

A Rose is a Rose in Tyler

Tyler is prosperous and growing, offering big-city amenities while maintaining a pleasant and friendly small-town charm. It got into the rose-growing business by circumstance. At the turn of the 20th century, there were more than one million fruit trees, mainly peach, in Smith County (of which Tyler is the county seat). When a peach blight wiped out much of the fruit industry, many farmers turned to roses, which proved ideally suited to the climate and soil of the area.

By the 1920s the rose industry developed into a major business and, by the 1940s, more than half the U.S. supply of rose bushes was grown within 10 miles of Tyler. The city also is the home of the nation's largest rose garden.

Steve Habel is a freelance writer contributing Cybergolf news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He also works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, and is a contributing writer for Golfers' Guide and Golf Oklahoma magazine, Texas Links magazines and Golfers Guide. Habel's main blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com) features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com) chronicles his many travels, including playing more than 600 golf courses since 2008. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.