Ask folks to name the best golf course in Texas available for public play and you’re certain to hear a steady diet of the phrase Barton Creek as well as mentions of Texas Tech’s Rawls Course and TPCs San Antonio and Four Seasons Las Colinas. Of course, there are many, many others that always find their way into the conversation as civic pride and familiarity often figure into the equation.
But only those who have taken time to go off the beaten path can say (almost certainly) that Black Jack’s Crossing at Lajitas Resort, located on the border with Mexico, is perhaps the most spectacular public venue in the Lone State State. It’s currently ranked No. 1 in Golfweek’s Best Course You Can Play in Texas list and makes a mockery of others referring to themselves as “destination courses.” To be at Lajitas means you left your house with the specific intention of going to Lajitas.
Lanny Wadkins, a Virginia native who has maintained a residence in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for decades, designed the course that sits between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park and said he fell in love with the region.
“If you’ve never been to this part of Texas, you’re not gonna believe it,” Wadkins said. “Huge peaks all around you. I mean, it’s a little bit of everything. It’s a great place. Probably one of the saddest days of my life was when I was finished doing it because I was loving being down there. I made like, maybe 20 trips down there when I was doing the golf course. Any reason I could find to go, I would.”
A 21-time PGA Tour champ, Wadkins finished the project in 2011. Tinkering continues as construction is set to begin on a new driving range and plans are in the works for new sand in all the bunkers. The course, which winds through the mountains on the Rio Grande, offers spectacular vistas and truly unique experiences. From the elevated 14th tee box, you can even hit one over the river into Mexico.
But don’t expect to hit the ball up to elevated greens. Wadkins insisted that he’s always frowned on uphill shots and eliminated them — for the most part — from the design.
Those in Dallas and Houston can access the course a bit easier as the resort offers a shuttle via private plane that cuts travel time down considerably. The airstrip is adjacent to the Lajitas property and those onboard are quickly whisked from the tarmac to the course.
Could such a service come to Austin eventually?
Perhaps. Although a handful of flights are being booked now from Austin for the year. Terry Olson, the director of sales and marketing for Lajitas, said there’s nothing consistent in the immediate plans, but he believes demand will eventually grow to a point where both Austin and San Antonio have weekly flights to the resort.
Wadkins thinks that will happen, especially if more players become familiar with the resort. Interestingly, one of his fondest memories of the remote spot had nothing to do with the breathtaking golf course.
“I’m sitting there one night working on this thing, it must’ve been ’08 or ’09,” he said. “I’m out by the fire pit and I’ve got a drink and a cigar and my phone rings. It’s Tim Finchem, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, to tell me I had just been elected to the Hall of Fame. So, that’s where I found out.”
Jordan Spieth finishes second as beverages flow
Although crowds were limited at Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth last week, organizers made tickets all-inclusive this year, meaning patrons had access to unlimited beverages.
Jordan Spieth, who held the lead after 54 holes before falling to Jason Kokrak, sounded like a measured politician when addressing the topic. The former Texas Longhorn hinted that while this was a fun idea, maybe it was best as a one-off.
“Yeah, this all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink out here is certainly … maybe it’s a trial run, let’s put it that way. People seem to be taking advantage,” Spieth said. “But it’s nice to be feeling a lot of the hometown support when that’s the case.
“It was a really good atmosphere out here. It’s crazy to think we were here one year ago with not a person following. What a difference a year makes and hopefully we can continue to progress that way across the world.”
Can Kristen Gillman make noise at U.S. Women’s Open?
It’s been an interesting year for Kristen Gillman, the Austin native who will tee it up at this week’s U.S. Women’s Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Gillman has missed two of her last three cuts, but she still has the game to contend, if she can put all the pieces together.
The former Lake Travis High star, who calls Spanish Oaks her home course, has a pair of top-30 finishes on the LPGA Tour this season.
Olympic is a beast, though, especially for majors. In five U.S. Open championships, only four players have finished under par. The course played to a par 70 for the men and Webb Simpson was 1 over when he won in 2012. Lee Janzen finished even in 1998. Scott Simpson (1987, -3) and Billy Casper (1966, -2) were under par for their victories as well as those who finished runner-up, Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer, respectively. Jack Fleck and Ben Hogan went into a playoff in 1955 after finishing 7 over. Fleck won the title and a $6,000 paycheck.
Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said the length and thickness of the rough was the worst he’d ever seen when he played the U.S. Open at Olympic. There are no water hazards on the Lake Course and only one greenside bunker.
“The greens were ridiculously slick, thick rough, lots of different, awkward lies,” Chamblee said. “The ball above your feet, below your feet. It plays a little bit in terms of the awkward lies like Augusta National, except it’s chilly and the air is heavy and the ball just doesn’t go very far.”
Tim Schmitt is the managing editor for Golfweek, golf coordinator for the USA Today Network, and lives in Round Rock within a driver and subsequent wedge from Dell Diamond.