San Antonio already has a good reputation across the country as a great place to get away for vacations with theme parks, the Alamo, the River Walk, good golf courses and great weather, but the addition of the TPC San Antonio at the JW Marriott Resort in San Antonio will give visitors even more reasons to make the trip.
Departing from the PGA Tour’s modern tournament-style course with expansive grass areas and spectator mounding, the AT&T Oaks, designed by Greg Norman with an assist from Sergio Garcia, features a more natural look with tree-lined fairways, perched and undulating greens with run offs to closely mown chipping areas and massive bunkers with edges emulating the canopies of the native oak trees.
The course can be stretched to 7,435 yards from the Tiburon tees, where the touring pros for the Valero Texas Open played. The scores were higher than at the LaCantera Resort Course in the past. Even the pros found it challenging to get their approach shots to the right sections of the greens. They had be creative with their short games, trying to decide whether to use a putter or hybrid, a bump and run or to go with the usual flop shot with the wedge when they miss the greens—and they did more than usual because of the run offs around the green edges.
I especially liked the closing holes where the leader can not afford to coast at all. The 15th can be stretched to 464 yards and a par might make up a stroke. The 16th is a 183-yard par 3 from an elevated tee sitting on rocks and features a bunker in the middle of the green, like the 6th at Riveria Country Club. The 17th is a drivable par 4 for the long hitters, especially if you move the tees up, but avoiding a large bunker on the right side of the fairway may be difficult. Then the 18th is a risk-reward par 5 where a player might have to make a decision to go for it rather than laying up with his second shot. A stream comes into play about 150 yards out, narrowing the lay up area, and then cutting into the front and right side of the green where it will catch short or pushed approach shots.
The AT&T Canyons, designed by Pete Dye with an assist from Bruce Lietzke, just did not have the normal punitive characteristics of a Dye design and is probably going to be better for resort play as evident from the shorter yardages and lower slope and course ratings. The AT&T championship on the Champions Tour may re-locate here starting in 2011.
To play the golf courses, one option is to stay at the 1,002-room—yes that is correct–JW Marriott. Packages are available, but the prices might discourage some from staying there unless they are on their company’s expense account. Guests of members can also play.
The Alamo City already had two top-notch golf resorts—the 36-hole Westin LaCantera built on the site of an abandoned limestone quarry and the 27-hole Hyatt Hill Country Resort built on ranch land. They are located close to Six Flags Fiesta Texas and Sea World, respectively, so fathers can enjoy golf while their kids have fun at the same time.
The Resort Course at LaCantera, designed by Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf, features their trademark drivable par 4 with the tee on the 7th sitting 80 feet above the landing area with views of the nearby roller coaster.
The Palmer Course, designed by the man himself, is more challenging as evident from a higher course rating. There are dramatic elevation changes, especially on the closing hole that plays slightly uphill off the tee and then drops more than 80 feet to a green guarded by a water hazard with a cascading waterfall.
From the lobby of the Westin, you have a magnificent view of the city itself down below you, especially at night.
The Arthur Hills designs at the Hyatt include the tree-lined Oaks, the Lakes with three lakes as hazards and the Creeks named after a creek that meanders through it. The Oaks may be the toughest and all three put an emphasis on shot making rather than length.
The Tapatio Springs Golf Resort, a hidden gem about 45 minutes away in Boerne, offers 27 holes by Bill Johnston in a tranquil setting and is a lot more player friendly than most of the other courses.
In addition, there are numerous public courses like the Brackenridge Park Golf Course, originally designed by A.W. Tillinghast, that was renovated by Colligan Designs. It’s short by today’s standards, but a fun course to play at a fair price. The new Texas Golf Hall of Fame is located here, only a 15 to 20-minute walk from downtown.
Other public courses to consider if you have the time include the Quarry Golf Course, featuring a unique back nine in an old quarry, along with the Canyon Springs Golf Club, The Republic Golf Club and the Pecan Valley Golf Club.
Interested in relocating to this beautiful Hill Country? If so, there are plenty of private clubs in the city itself like the Tom Fazio-designed Briggs Ranch Golf Club, or within driving distance like the Jack Nicklaus-designed Cordillera Ranch, ranked among the top five courses in Texas. The 16th is one of the most beautiful par 3s in the state, requiring an approach over a canyon to a green sit right into the side of a cliff.Any trip to San Antonio should include the famed River Walk that is being expanded and trying the Mexican food at places like Mi Tierra, Aldaco’s, El Jurio or Rosario’s/