Courses and Travel

Golf's Past and Present Meet in the Dallas/Forth Worth Area

Here's a recipe for a great golf journey -- Texas-style. Tee it up at half a dozen new courses, prop up your boots in cushy four-star accommodations, season with grilled steaks and spicy Mexican food, and do it all for a reasonable price. As they say in Dallas: "Come on!"

Let's get situated. If you have arrived at Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport, you'll find Fort Worth just to your west, still reveling in its Old West heritage and steeped in the yin and yang of Texas golf traditions: historic Colonial Country Club and the infamous Goat Hills. To your east, Dallas has become a glitzy international center of finance and fine old country clubs.

And between Cow Town and Wow Town, a booming corridor of new courses and golf resorts is quickly turning the Dallas-Fort Worth area into one of the most enjoyable long weekends in golf. In the past three years, more than 30 new courses have opened in this area. Your choices range from the world's first NFL-themed golf experience, The Cowboys Golf Club, to an affectionate homage to great Scottish golf holes called The Tribute at the Colony.

Best of all, the intense competition for players among the new and existing layouts is keeping green fees low and tee times available, even at the last minute. Before you go though, make sure you get good driving directions either online or by calling the courses directly -- with all of the new development going on, there are even more new roads than there are new courses.

Just 10 minutes north of the airport, the Cowboys Club takes a new approach to daily-fee golf by offering an all-inclusive green fee that covers golf, cart, range balls, all your food and non-alcoholic beverages, and service worthy of a fat-cat oilman.

Reminiscent of the best Texas Hill Country tracks, the Jeff Brauer-designed course features dramatic elevation changes as it winds through dense woods and wetlands. The best holes are the par-four, 366-yard fourth, with a 100-foot vertical drop from tee to fairway, and the 594-yard, par-four 13th, with a sneaky creek crossing the fairway 100 yards in front of the green.

On the course, the Dallas Cowboys connection is surprisingly subtle, confined to spiffy blue and silver carts and plaques at each tee celebrating famous moments in Cowboy history. At the 441-yard, par-four 12th, a plaque commemorates the purchase of the team by Jerry Jones in 1989, and his replacing the legendary head coach Tom Landry with Jimmy Johnson. No word yet on whether we can expect a plaque celebrating the hiring of Bill Parcells.

Back at the clubhouse, you'll find a Cowboys Hall of Fame complete with five Super Bowl trophies and assorted team memorabilia. Your all-inclusive fee (and be sure to call ahead for details on special packages) includes a fine chicken-fried steak in the Sports Bar or Dining Room, plus hot dogs and burgers at the snack bar on the course -- which means you can play golf while packing on the pounds.

During the NFL season, the course also offers one of the greatest bargains in football or golf. This past December, "A Day with the Boys" included green fee, cart, lunch and dinner, transportation to and from Texas Stadium, and a ticket to the Cowboys-Eagles game -- all for a mere $150.

After your round, immerse yourself in the lap of Texas luxury at several top-notch golf resorts, including the Westin Stonebriar Resort in Frisco -- a rapidly growing North Dallas town boasting the world headquarters of companies like JC Penney, EDS and Pepsi/Frito Lay -- and the Westin Creeks at Beechwood, north of Fort Worth. Both hotels feature Westin's "Heavenly Bed" -- the premier choice for hotel sleeping comfort -- and those all-important high-speed modem connections so you can keep track of how many e-mails you're not responding to during your trip.

Built of Texas limestone, the Westin Stonebriar Hotel features large, comfy rooms and furniture made of native oak and pecanwood. The lagoon-style pool and 6,000-square-foot fitness center and spa are also big plusses, though many guests stay here just to be close to high-end shopping at the glitzy new Stonebriar Centre Mall.

As for the layout, The Fazio Course at Stonebriar -- where 600,000 cubic yards of dirt and 300 tons of boulders were moved to liven a flat site -- was built at a hefty pricetag of $10.5 million, making it the Rolls Royce of Texas golf. The fairways are lined with a succession of mounds, creating a nice feeling that you and your pals are the only golfers on the course.

Thanks to Tom Fazio's characteristically keen eye for bunkering, the course is a visual delight. The large bentgrass greens are snake pits of subtle ledges and undulations that will likely introduce a new shot to your game -- the fourth putt. Play is restricted to guests of the resort and members of the neighboring Stonebriar Country Club (with its own course designed by Joe Finger and Ken Dye).

The Creeks at Beechwood, one of Greg Norman's more natural designs, is tight, long, and tough, winding from tee to green through big oaks and mesquites to greens cut into natural hollows. If the creeks don't get you then you'll find more than enough frustration in the woods or even in the fairways, where your approach shot to the green may be blocked by a towering tree that Greg couldn't bear to part with.

The result is target golf that clearly rewards conservative play. When the rough is fully-grown out, you might as well leave the driver in your trunk. On the whole, Norman deserves special recognition for sculpting the course to fit the land, unlike Fazio's design at Stonebriar.

The finest lodgings in the Metroplex are still found at Four Seasons Resort & Club at Las Colinas in Irving, which offers impeccable Four Seasons-style service and comfort at a relative bargain rate. The only problem is you may never want to leave, especially if you're in one of the cushy villas overlooking the 18th green of the Tournament Players Course.

Home to the PGA's EDS Byron Nelson Championship, one of the most popular events on the Tour, the 20-year-old TPC recently underwent a multimillion dollar renovation under the direction of original course architect, Jay Morrish.

Enhancements include the addition of 1,500 trees, several new tee boxes, and a reshaping of every bunker on the course. While the course once had a stark and urban look, trees now shape or frame your shots as they do at traditional local clubs like Colonial or Preston Trails.

With these additions, the TPC has become a true championship track. Make a par on the 490-yard, par-four third and you'll feel like a champion yourself.

When you're finished with golf, soak up the Texas sun by the Four Season's giant free-form pool, or build up some golf muscles in the hotel's three-story Sports Club. This facility has five pools of its own, indoor and outdoor running tracks, and an indoor basketball court where you can always find a pick-up game. One restaurant not to be missed here is the new CafE on the Green at the Four Seasons. Recently rebuilt from the ground up, the sleek and elegant design is a great fit for the New American cuisine of Executive Chef Christof SyrE, who was wooed from the Regent Hotel in Hong Kong.

At dinner, the braised lobster will make you forget those four-putts at Beechwood, but the one meal you simply have to experience is the delectable breakfast buffet. Allow enough time to fuel up properly before heading out to the course.

If you're aching from playing 36 holes a day, the Four Seasons spa is just what the doctor ordered. Try a hot rocks massage followed by a dip in the ice cold plunge pool.

Cocktails and great food are found at almost every turn of this sprawling complex, but what really makes the resort special is the presence of one of the great champions and true gentlemen of golf, Byron Nelson. Now the grand old man of Texas golf, under Byron's guidance -- and yes, he'll ask you to call him Byron -- the tournament that bears his name donates more money to charity than any other PGA event.

He is also a regular presence at the Four Seasons, especially at the Byron Nelson Golf Academy, where he has lunch with nearly every group of students, patiently answering questions about the swing and telling some pretty fantastic stories. Let's face it, how many guys have won 11 straight PGA tour events? Just one.

Catering primarily to corporate groups, Byron's philosophy for the school is to help you enjoy the game, to understand your tendencies and build from there. "Most players can get the ball near the green in regulation," Byron told me over lunch, "which means you really have to spend time working on your short game."

Thus inspired, you can head to the Academy's putting green where you don't have to be a registered student to try Byron's "Little Hole Drill." There's even a small sign to direct you: Make two putts in a row from one foot, then two in a row from two feet, three feet, four and five feet. Did I mention that the hole is only slightly larger than the ball? Work through the whole cycle and a regulation cup looks like a five gallon bucket.

The EDS Byron Nelson Championship (slated for May 12-18) takes great advantage of a very spectator-friendly course, and the Bank of America Colonial event at Colonial Country Club, scheduled for the following week, offers a rare chance to walk the corners of Hogan's Alley. At both events, the prime activity -- other than enjoying some great golf -- is people watching and a full-bore party atmosphere.

In addition to the Colonial and the Byron Nelson, the PGA makes three other stops in the Lone Star state this year, two in Houston and one in San Antonio. At the Shell Houston Open (April 21-27), Vijay Singh will be defending his title at the first of two Houston Opens to be played at Redstone Golf Club, a 7,500-yard track recently redesigned by Jim Hardy and Peter Jacobsen.

In San Antonio, the Texas Open (September 23-29) will once again be held on the Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morris Resort Course at La Cantera. The Texas Open is the oldest professional tournament in America to have been played in the same city for its entire history, and the third oldest tourney on the PGA Tour (behind the U.S. Open, the Western Open and the PGA Championship). Finally, the PGA Tour officially wraps up with the 2003 Tour Championship (November 3-9) at Champions Country Club in Houston. With the thirty top money winners competing for one of the largest purses of the year, galleries get a star-studded field and lots of excitement.

The traditions of golf in this part of Texas run deep, and you'll be missing out on some if you don't play one of the two Tenison Highland courses just east of downtown Dallas.

The original West Course is now called Tenison Highlands. Built in 1926, it was designed by Jack Burke, father of Texas golf legend Jackie Burke Jr. (winner of the 1956 Masters), and by Syd Cooper, father of another Texas legend, "Lighthouse Harry" Cooper.

The East Course, now known as Tenison Glen, was added in the early 1950s. It was designed by Ralph Plummer, who would go on to build the famed Preston Trail Golf Club -- still one of the most exclusive private tracks in the country -- located east of downtown Dallas.

In the 1960s, Tenison Park was the home of famed hustlers Wahoo McDaniel and Titanic Thompson. The latter's left- and right-handed golf skills were exceeded only by his ability to further fleece you with his impossible sounding stunts, like wagering he could jump out of his golf shoes, pass his feet over his putter, which was held horizontal in both hands, then land his feet back in his shoes. The big money games at Tenison later proved fruitful ground for another great gentleman of Texas golf, Lee Trevino, who sometimes enticed the suckers by offering to hit his tee shots with a Dr. Pepper bottle.

In 2000, PGA Tour pro D.A. Weibring redesigned the original West course. At 7,078 yards, it's a handful of traditional Texas golf, with big trees, lots of water and excellent greens.

The routing of many of the original holes was preserved, but the weaker holes were completely redesigned, making Tenison Highlands not only the better of the two Tenison courses, but a true public golf treasure.

In the western part of Fort Worth, the traditions of the Goat Hills gang made infamous by noted writer Dan Jenkins are carried on at Z-Boaz golf course, sometimes called the "worst golf course in America." That's an exaggeration though -- it's actually a fine vintage track whose edges have been marred by a ring of seedy commercial development.

This par-70 layout was named for William Zachary Boaz, who donated the land to the city of Fort Worth, and designed by pioneering Texas golf architect John Bredamus -- a Princeton University grad who travelled across Texas in the 1920s and 1930s with little more than a bag of checkers in tow, stopping in various towns and cities just long enough to build some of the finest courses in the state, Colonial Country Club included. A fascinating view of Bredamus' life (and after-life) is found in Fort Worth native Bud Shrake's evocative golf novel, Billy Boy.

For more Fort Worth funk, check out the Mexican food at Joe T. Garcia's or have a beverage in the historic Fort Worth Stockyards at the White Elephant Saloon (where proprietor Luke Short gunned down Long Hair Jim Courtright in 1887). And if Willie Nelson is in town, don't miss the show of your life at Billy Bob's, the world's largest honkytonk. "Willie is the King," a taxi-driver once told me on the way from the airport to a Willie concert at Billy Bob's. "I thought Elvis was the King," I replied. "Not even close!" he insisted. Catch his show and you'll become a true believer yourself.

On the Dallas side of town, you can stop for barbecue at Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse; at Chuy's for the state's best Tex-Mex green-chile enchiladas; or at local upscale favorite, Bob's Steak and Chop. With locations in Dallas or nearer the new north-side courses in Plano, Bob's often has crowds of beautiful people standing four deep at the bar for big steaks, big drinks, and a big bill to match.

Just past Plano is the new Heritage Ranch Golf Course, an Arthur Hills design that plays every inch of its 7,040 yards from the back tees. The waterfall-festooned, 208-yard 16th is considered the signature hole, but the front nine -- which dances creekside through a forest of towering pecan trees -- is a series of great holes.

"It's a special track," says head pro Tony Trevino. "I especially like the par threes, which all require you to hit it long and straight." The son of Dallas favorite Lee Trevino, Tony is a dead-ringer for his dad circa 1971, the year Lee won the U.S. Open, the Canadian Open, and the British Open in succession. And if you see a guy here who looks just like the still sweet-swinging Lee Trevino, it means Dad has shown up for a lesson from his son.

There are so many good new courses in the Dallas area that it's just about impossible to play them all on one trip, but here are a few more worth checking out.

Try Jay and Carter Morrish's Lantana in Argyle, just north of the still excellent Tour 18 course in Flower Mound. At 7,147 yards from the back tees, Lantana plays through both wide-open meadows and dense woods.

Further visual delights are found in the form of numerous elevation changes and steep-faced bunkers. The tee of the 165-yard, par-three 15th has a nice elevated view overlooking an island green.

Whether you have ever been fortunate enough to play in Scotland, or if you have just seen the true links via a television screen, you'll still be impressed by the attempts to recreate famous Scottish holes at the Tribute Golf Club at the Colony. In fact, drive up to the stone clubhouse on a gray and foggy day, and you may just feel like you're on the other side of the Atlantic. With its stark, lakeside setting covered in low brush and grasses, the Tribute has a nearly perfect location and even better execution in saluting the spirit of Scottish golf.

Course designer Tripp Davis wisely chose to recreate famous and not-so-famous golf holes, including the "Postage Stamp" par three from Troon and Hogan's Alley from Carnoustie. And in wet weather, the par-five ninth will play every bit as long as its counterpart at Muirfield.

One trait Texas golf shares with Scottish golf is an ever-present wind, and in both these formerly independent countries, the preferred trajectory is low. Learn to keep the ball down and you'll do well at both links golf and pasture pool. There's a certain magic in the air at the Tribute -- the magic of a designer and his employers who really seem to understand the spirit of Scottish golf. Appropriately enough, the best three holes are a full-blown recreation of the first, 17th, and 18th at the Old Course.

There's both a barn to hit over and a road to chip from on this version of the Road Hole. And standing on the 18th tee, you may find yourself squinting as you look through the mist, trying your best to picture the stone walls of St. Andrews beyond the course.

And if you see nothing but prairie? No problem. In the clubhouse, the pub is open and the beer is cold. After all, this is Texas. Come on!

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