Everybody was wearing burnt orange and speaking a strange language of “hookers and whores,” or so it sounded to my West Coast ears until it dawned on me: Hook ‘em Horns. (And heavens, are they ever polite folks.) Every pickup, SUV and Mercedes had at least two stickers and one window pennant. Neighborhoods sprouted Longhorns flags like Rancho Mirage does palms. University of Texas football.
We Pac-10ers know big-time game-day football, as well. We do. Or so I thought we did. Football Saturday in Austin caused the second largest state in the land to shut down. I think the electrical grid may have gone dark. Crime ceased. This stuff is big here.
On the flip side, I had the entire course to myself, and on a 36-hole day that’s a good side to flip.
The Texas Hill Country starts right about the edge of Austin, and ambles westerly and south-southwesterly toward Fredericksburg and San Antonio. Not far into the crumple of dell, stream and oak-cloaked hill sits Barton Creek Resort & Spa, a downtempo chateau-esque edifice of immense charm and huge comfort overlooking the green-black mantle that is this corner of the world. On-site golf comes courtesy of Tom Fazio and the dynamic duo of local hero Ben Crenshaw and his design cohort, Bill Coore. A quick shuttle away is a second Fazio offering and the 72 holes are rounded out with an Arnold Palmer track farther afield at Lake Travis (about 30 miles to the west, and also served by resort-provided shuttle).
Fazio’s Foothills and Canyons courses are knockouts. Fazio has had some big ticket clients over the years, and with all due respect to Barton’s ownership, and certain casino moguls, the boss on this job was Mother Nature, and it’s certainly some of his finest work I’ve ever experienced. While you eventually “see” Fazio—short par 4s where go-for-it is not necessarily the design intent, bifurcated fairways, options on par 5s, visually stunning par 3s, an uncanny ability to use the horizon or a monochromatic backdrop to bring the gray matter into what should simply be a function of 175 yards equals X iron—what you experience is the hill country.
Foothills is laced through a dense oak woodland of rise and fall, while the more heaving Canyons is aptly named. It is golf in three dimensions that excels because it’s a great big piece of wonderful Texas dirt. If “three dimensions” sounds like a duh moment, think again. All golf is played forward, laterally and up and down. Yet at Barton there’s far more at play than downrange yardage. Fairway corridors aren’t simply defined by bulldozer blades, mower cuts and properly placed hazards. The action is as much defined by tree trunks and overarching canopies crafted of centuries of freeform growth and the pitch, roll and yaw of the land.
Players accustomed to Fazio’s broad flowing “rivers” of golf set within a meticulously crafted garden might not easily realize who was in charge, which in this case shows as a sign of respect to one of “higher authority.”