Stephen R. Smith admits he had plenty of doubters when he purchased the small town of Lajitas, Texas, a place he had never seen before, for more than $4 million in late 2000, but says those same doubters are now amazed at what his remote West Texas playground has become.
|Backdrop for a Hollywood western? Try the 13th hole at the Ambush. John & Jeannine Henebry|
"A couple of what my wife likes to call my 'no-good friends' asked what I was going to do with a town once I bought it, so I decided I had to come up with a plan," Smith says. The result is what is dubbed The Ultimate Hideout, a complex that includes lodging, restaurants, an 18-hole golf course, conference center, hunting club, and a 7,500-foot airstrip large enough to land a 737. A huge clubhouse, world-class spa, and a second course are slated to begin construction this year.
Smith has committed $100 million so far and proudly points out, "All without a nickel of debt pledged. It's all cash."
The 23,000 acres he owns sit between the Texas-Mexico border adjacent to the Rio Grande and Big Bend National Park. The tiny town is located in Brewster, the state's largest and least populated county. It's as big as New Jersey and Rhode Island put together and has been around since the late-1800s, when the U.S. Army built a cavalry post here.
Smith is intent on turning his project into one of the most unique golf facilities in the Southwest. Texas golf architects Roy Bechtol and Randy Russell crafted the Ambush at Lajitas course, which opened last summer and includes an unusual international golf hole. Hole 11A (there is a real No. 11) is a 110-yarder over the Rio Grande into Mexico. The lack of a proper border crossing within 100 miles makes it impossible to putt out without a major "delay of play" penalty, but you can try for a hole-in-one.
Of the two nines, the back is more scenic, as natural creeks bisect several of the holes and the huge Chisos Mountains offer a stunning natural backdrop for your shots. Course conditions are outstanding, with fewer than two dozen rounds being played on any single day, as the Ambush is only open to landholders and hotel guests.
Smith, who made a fortune in various multi-level marketing companies, says Lajitas is not for everyone. There is not a cell tower for 100 miles and the barren desert location -- five hours from the nearest major city -- eliminates the drive-by traffic.
Room rates range from $155 to $295 per person, double occupancy. Green fee is $150. Mandatory caddie is extra. Reservations: 915-424-5000; www.lajitas.com.