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TPC San Antonio Will Test Golf's Best

By: Steve Habel


The PGA Tour loves San Antonio and having the Alamo City - and its huge charitable contributions - as a tour stop each year. But the players never really hankered much for the previous site of the tournament, the Valero Texas Open, the layout at Westin La Cantera's Resort Course. The track's taxing up-and-down trek through hills and canyons and old quarries, long and exhausting loops were a bit gimmicky for their tastes.

The 11th hole at AT&T Oaks

The Valero Texas Open - or one of its other names - has been a San Antonio staple since 1922 and is the Tour's third-oldest event. When the Valero Texas Open is contested next week after the Players Championship for the 80th time, the tournament will be played at the AT&T Oaks Course at the fabulous new TPC San Antonio and JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa in northeast San Antonio.

The change of venue will have a significant impact on the event and those playing it. Expect par to be the norm at the course, and the winner to be in the 10-under-par range, rather then the 15-under produced by two-time defending champion Zack Johnson last year at Westin La Cantera's Resort Course.

The AT&T Oaks Course is one of two tracks (along with the AT&T Canyons Course, which will be profiled at a later date) at the sprawling resort. Located just 20 minutes from the San Antonio International Airport, the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa offers the beauty of the Texas Hill Country combined with nearby city and luxury-resort conveniences.

TPC San Antonio was built to be a model of environmentally sound methods and practices, beginning with the AT&T Canyons Course, one of the best-planned eco-friendly layouts ever conceived. A closed-loop irrigation system ensures the protection of the Edwards Aquifer, the main water supply for the City of San Antonio and points south and west. The abundant natural resources neighboring the two courses and resort comprise 900 acres of open space (including a sanctuary that protects the golden-cheeked warbler) and meandering creeks.

Construction called for more than 60,000 tractor-trailer loads of sand, clay and soil to shape the two courses.

Tour Golf was at Heart of AT&T Oaks

The AT&T Oaks Course is tough, and that was part of the plan. Designed by Greg Norman with assistance from Sergio Garcia, the course was blasted out of the rock that defines the site then built up with mounding, gnarly bunkering, water features and demanding greens complexes. The result is a layout that looks like it's always been on the spot as it blends seamlessly with the surrounding topography and native vegetation.

Norman's design philosophy is underscored by environmental sensitivity. Great care was taken to incorporate the distinct nuances and indigenous flora of the site into the course to create a compelling, strategically diverse and strikingly beautiful venue for golfers. "The subtleties of the rolling Texas Hill Country terrain and the magnificent stands of mature live oaks helped me create a pristine natural setting that is as playable as it is beautiful," Norman said.

The AT&T Oaks Course will likely be criticized for being too tough for the average golfer, but that was not the focus prior to construction: it was designed for the PGA Tour player, specifically those in the Valero Texas Open.

The track has a variety of different grasses, including Champion Bermuda on the greens, Tifsport on the fairways, Bandera Bermuda roughs and Emerald Bermuda on the collars, approaches and tees, which provide function and depth.

The 16th hole at AT&T Oaks

The par-72 course plays at 7,435 yards from its back (Tiburon) tees, where it merits a rating of 76.5 and a 148 slope. Noteworthy is its healthy set of par-4s, including five of at least 447 yards. Three of the par-3s stretch at least 207 yards, and two of the four par-5s are longer than 600 yards.

But there is so much more to discuss about the AT&T Oaks Course than mere length. Start with the sometimes-sheer-faced limestone walls that frame some holes, and continue by talking about the need to hit long, high, precise iron shots into just about every green. Those targets are almost always perched above the fairway, with one of them a shared green (for holes 2 and 7), and another with a bunker in the middle - a la the one 1,200 miles away at Riviera Country Club.

The challenge starts off with a 454-yard par-4 that sweeps lightly left to a raised green ringed by closely mowed banks and the first limestone sighting. The 213-yard par-3 third involves a carry over a pond - with no bailout area - to a shallow green bunkered on the right. The limestone emerges at the 481-yard par-4 fourth, which moves a little left off the tee then rises to the right and the green. Left of the putting surface is a huge bunker bordered by rock.

The 474-yard par-4 ninth is the only hole on AT&T Oaks without a bunker, but the need for two great shots to reach the 47-yard-deep green is ample enough. The par-4 No. 10 asks for a left-to-right shot downhill to a wide and banking fairway. The 42-yard-deep putting surface is raised with bunkers on three sides.

A deep bunker splits the approach on the 405-yard par-4 11th; choose a side and swing with confidence. Then, on No. 12, the limestone returns via a craggy wall that guards the fairway's right side and another is left of the green.

At 241 yards, the 13th is the longest par-3, playing first over an environmental area and then a jagged little bunker next to the green.

The two-tiered green at the 192-yard par-3 16th features a ragged-edged, Rivieresque bunker in its midsection. If the groundskeeper is in a really bad mood, he can put the tee far to the left, which makes - half the distance anyway - the play over one of resort's 14 water-capture ponds.

The closer is a 591-yard, question-mark-shaped par-5 that moves right off the tee, then back uphill and left on the layup. The green approach must arc over a creek and miss bunkers short-left and long-left and right.

The TPC San Antonio has exceptional practice facilities: a 20-acre complex with six tee decks and numerous target greens. A short-game area has two large stations that replicate course conditions on and around the greens and in the bunkers. And for those needing further help, the facility's new PGA Tour Academy of Golf is as good as found anywhere.

Resort offers Much more than Golf

The benefits of TPC San Antonio extend beyond the club and into the community, adding more than 2,000 jobs to the local economy and a unique place to enjoy the beauty of Texas Hill Country.

The resort contains a hotel with 1,002 rooms, including 85 suites; more than 140,000-square feet of customizable indoor meeting areas and the most expansive event and convention space in the region; a 26,000-square-foot spa with 30 treatment rooms, fitness center and studio, and a private, lagoon-like pool.

There are also exhilarating water features for the family, highlighted by a 650-foot rapid-river ride, slides and a 1,100-foot long lazy river with children's pools. For the more sedate there is an adult pool, hot and cold plunge pools, whirlpools and an expansive activity pool.

Resort guests will find culinary outlets and boutique shopping at nearly every corner. The resort's three-meals-a-day restaurant serves authentic Texas cuisine, while the sports bar puts patrons right in the middle of the action of myriad games with wall-to-wall multi-media screens featuring all the sports channels.

For more information, visit www.tpcsanantonio.com.

This story originally appeared in Cybergolf on May 5, 2010.

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 Texas CEO Magazine 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, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com) on his many travels, which took him across the nation and to 105 different golf course in 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.