Tuesday, February 20, 2007

On a whim seven years ago, Dallas-based financial advisor Jodi Lutz bought a repossessed nine-hole goat ranch 90 miles southeast of Big D in the dense piney woods outside tiny Frankston, population 1,104.

Pine DunesThe 204-yard 12th is the hardest par three on the course. Carlton Wade/Golf Quest Texas

"It was the prettiest land I had ever seen in Texas," recalls Lutz, a transplanted Minnesotan who hoped she could turn the chicken fried pitch-and-putt into a golf sanctuary on the order of Pine Valley. Trouble was, the vivacious investment guru didn't know Pine Valley from pork bellies. "I was just an ice skater from Stillwater, Minnesota," she says. "I didn't know a thing about golf."

But she had a serious vision -- natural golf, with no fairway housing, fountains, marble slabs, or pretense -- and four family members to help her, plus Tour veteran and friendly acquaintance David Frost, who she persuaded into viewing her ragged tract. Frost was immediately smitten with the site. He volunteered to help Lutz and told her he knew a world-class architect who'd be perfect for the job, Dallas-area resident Jay Morrish. Morrish knew on first glance that Lutz had stumbled onto something special.

"I'm as proud of this course as anything I've ever done," says Morrish. "I've never considered myself a minimalist, but this land allowed me to do that." Along with his partner and son, Carter, Morrish created in Pine Dunes a brilliant but unadorned course that reminds almost everyone of somewhere else. Many see southern New Jersey. Or Pinehurst and the coastal Carolinas. It's not that East Texas doesn't have pine forests, but few, if any, have acres of exposed sand and waist-high grasses.

Despite the corridors of pines, the Morrishes crafted holes that feel open and inviting to the wayward hacker, though better players will appreciate the tighter prime landing areas. The younger Morrish's judicious use of elevated, contoured bunkers gives a crisp definition to many holes, while the father's love of variety -- two short par fours, a reachable par five, a 254-yard one-shotter, and a 605-yard beast -- always keeps you mentally engaged.

True to Lutz's wishes, Pine Dunes is walkable and free of frou-frou. Giant sandy waste areas between some fairways give a decidedly raw and unmanicured look to some holes, which may unsettle those accustomed to air-brushed nature. "I love it when guys come up to me and say, 'This is gonna be a great course when it gets finished,'" says Lutz's brother, Tom, who manages the course. "I just smile and say, 'It is.'"

Green fee is $45 weekdays, $60 weekends. Rate includes cart and range balls. Walking is allowed, same price. Golf Shop: 903-876-4336. Web site: www.pinedunes.com.

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