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New municipal course is bright spot amid tough times for Laredo, Texas

Max A. Mandel Municipal Golf Course
Photography by Anthony Henslee
The ninth hole at the Max A. Mandel Municipal Golf Course in Laredo, Texas.

As even the most casual CNN viewer knows, in recent years the Texas-Mexico border has generated a seemingly endless stream of dismal news stories.

The Laredo, Texas, region has produced some of the worst. Laredo is one of America's poorest cities, and while its corridor to Mexico is a key point of entry for trade, it has also evolved into haven for crime and drug trafficking. Laredo's Mexican sister city, Nuevo Laredo, located right across the Rio Grande, is plagued by gangs and drug cartels, and is commonly cited as one of the most violent cities in the world. These are, to say the least, tough times at the border.

But this week there's positive news out of Laredo, especially for residents looking to play a little golf: The Max A. Mandel Municipal Golf Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., is ready to open for business. The "Max," as it's already come to be known, is the first city-owned course in Laredo, and will stage a dedication ceremony on Thursday and open for play Friday.

"We're really excited -- there are a lot of golfers in South Texas, and we know there aren't many courses being built right now," said Joel Vazquez, tourism sales manager for the city of Laredo. "We're lucky to have this project."

It's not easy to get a new course built in today's rigid economy, let alone in a region facing such trying times, but the city council and city manager pushed the course along, and a 390-acre land donation from the Max A. Mandel family (the late Mandel was a local bank executive, and his wife and family still reside in town) helped spur the $6.6 million project from concept to reality. The government issued $5.6 million in bonds to cover its share of the project cost, and the Mandel family also kicked in $1 million, according to The Laredo Times.

Course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. said that the sandy, sloping piece of land has several distinctly Southwestern features, and his team sought to preserve that vibe when building the course.

"There are a lot of trees native to that land, and we kept them. So, you wander through this very Texas land, and we still have that feel today as you play it," Jones said. "It's not intended to be a championship course, but it's intended to be a thought-provoking course."

The course has five sets of tees, and can play anywhere from a family-friendly 5,000 yards to a stern 7,297. Set hard against the Rio Grande, the course features four holes (two on each nine) that overlook the river below.

"If you hit a bad shot, you might want to bring a passport," Jones said with a laugh. "You could hit a driver right across the river."

The Max also offers several routing options, which enable busy Laredoans to play loops of three, six, nine or 18 holes. Eighteen-hole greens fees for locals run $33.50-$46, while non-residents will pay $46-$56. Junior rates start at $13.50.

Jones is confident the course will appeal to a wide range of players. "We have a great variety of holes and elevation changes. We have wide fairways. You have a lot of options," he said. "If anything, we're saying, 'Let's have fun here.'"

Great news for a city that needs it.

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