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Remembering Glory at Woodlake
It’s sad to see an old friend battle an illness so bravely, and even show signs of pulling out of it and getting back to the road to recovery, before taking that long, final turn to the inevitable end. Every setback is excruciating, and the memories of the good days gone by are bittersweet.
This is a little bit of how I feel when I visit Woodlake Golf Club on the northeast side of San Antonio. The person who runs this almost 40-year-old course, and who heads the small-business investment team that owns the land, couldn’t be more dedicated to golf. His staff couldn’t more accommodating. No telling how much money he and his investors have put into the place, nor how many inventive ideas generated to get business back.
Fighting, they are, to keep the canvas where some special pictures have been painted. Woodlake does have a small space, maybe just a sentence, in the history of golf. It’s here that Ben Crenshaw, with oh-so-much promise, finished his eligibility at University of Texas (he and a fellow named Tom Kite took the Longhorns to two-straight NCAA championships) and drove on down to San Antonio and became the second player in history to win the first tournament he entered on the PGA Tour at the Texas Open in 1973.
Crenshaw, who already had won the PGA Tour Q-School, had a three-shot lead with five holes to go at Woodlake before he fell into a tie with 1969 U.S. Open champion Orville Moody with three left. But he outdrove “Sarge” by 75 yards on the 16th and stuck his sand-wedge approach four feet from the hole and made the birdie. He was four feet away again after a 9-iron into the final hole and sunk that for another birdie, giving him the two-shot victory and a $25,000 check. It was a sign of Crenshaw to come, because those two birdies were two of his 11 one-putt greens on the day, including seven in a row at one point.
“He is going to be a lot like Arnold Palmer, and not just because he is a winner,” Moody said at the time. “He has the same appeal that Arnie has always had, and he has the game and the competitive drive to keep playing well.”
As you can tell from the Crenshaw celebration here, no one is trying otherwise to write an obituary. Woodlake, the patient, is still on the table. But, in my view, it’s getting grimmer. Despite the hard work from the management and patience from the investors, the way the place is looking these days makes the end look inevitable.
Unlike Crenshaw and his one-putting, it looks like Woodlake will lose it on the greens. The place has a persistent problem with a stretch of greens on the backside. They’ve had temporaries on at least two of them, and even a new superintendent probably won’t save them from going to temps again. Bad thing for the super that he was hired right as the drought worsened here.
There are other glitches. They’ve filled in some of the bunkers (because they couldn’t maintain them) and have not been able to get sod on what they covered up. There are plenty of ant hills in the fairways and rocks in the rough.
It was designed by Desmond Muirhead, who designed Muirfield Village with Jack Nicklaus about the same time in 1972. It measures almost 6,700 yards from the back tees and gets in at a slope of 130 with a rating of 72.3
It’s usually in places where you can see the beautiful swans gliding along where the place gets tough. The sixth hole, 199 yards and most of it carry over the swans’ main swimming hole, is a challenging, fair par-3. The par-3s, in fact, are the test of the place. No. 3 (186 yards) goes to an elevated green with a bunker tight in front, and that’s the case with No. 17 (170 yards). But Muirhead designed a narrow green behind that front bunker at 17, and the wind usually pushes the tee shot at the back.
It’s an opposite wind from the 16th fairway, yet I know how Crenshaw outdrove Moody that day by 75 yards coming up that hole and left himself with a sand wedge in on the 410-yarder. The south wind usually doesn’t blow in your face in November, when the tournament now known as the Valero Texas Open was played at Woodlake.
There’s plenty of OB here (comes into play on eight holes) and enough other tricky trouble to usually give me fits. But I tend to forgive Muirhead, plus the sagging condition of the place, when I think of the history there and the fact that this is probably the place that kindled the idea of seeking value from a golf course.
But value must factor in the idea of course condition, and that’s the thing I’ll be looking for as I keep my eye on Woodlake in the coming months. If the place can’t improve, I wonder what will stop the encroaching retail and residential development from tripping over onto the course from next door.
I’ll keep my hopes up. This is a place worth saving.
Pecan Valley G.C.
D.A. Weibring re-design that opened November 1, 2011. Very challenging course from the championship tees. You need to hit all the shots due to various pin locations. Greens rolled outstanding considering how new they are and the fact that North Texas has been in a severe drought this year. Much better routing of the holes, & the back nine can provide you a stern test, especially when the wind is blowing. Staff is very courteous. New driving range & practice chipping green w/sand traps adds to the quality of this facility.
Exclusive or a Great Course? Great Course or Incredibly Wealthy Membership?
Having played this course many times (not a member), the best way to sum up the course is this: Best golf course views in the Hamptons. Not the best course. Generous fairways and overly penal green complexes. The holes clash (some Nickolas and some Doak. Even one green (14) has been re-designed by the owner (Pascucci) and that thing is an abomination.
The Course Super Garret has a vast number of crew keeping the place in great condition, though he is often handcuffed in the methods and chemicals he can use because of various environmental regulations placed upon him, under the original gov't agreement to allow them to build the course. So don't expect consistent rough throughout the course. Overall it is a special place, but I am not sure if it is so special because of the exclusiveness of the place or because of the golf course.
Gone, but not forgotten
This course has been closed and the land sold for another strip mall. It's a shame because the topography is identical to the famous Beverly Country Club(private) across the street to the north. With a little love, this could have been a real gem. The woman who owned it died last year at 103 yeas old. I will miss both of these lovely ladies.
Site of the Original Chicago Golf Club
What most golfer's do not appreciate is that Downers Grove Golf Club was once home to the Chicago Golf Club. This course was built in 1892 by no other than CB Macdonald. In 1893 on this very site the Chicago Golf Club expanded to 18 holes, then becoming the first 18 hole golf course in the United States.
To play Downers Grove with modern equipment is not a fair assessment of this historical treasure. Instead I would recommend that you try playing in the All American Hickory Open, which is a celebration of the rich history of golf in Chicago. The All American plays this course as it was designed to be played in 1892. What does that mean? All players hit long nose wooden drivers, smooth faced hickory shafted irons, and a gutta percha golf ball which I can assure you flies no where. The other catch...you must play by the Rules of Golf published in 1888 by the R&A because the USGA was not founded until 1894.
Play this course as it was designed to be played by CB Macdonald and you will see why the Chicago Golf Club has been called the springboard to golf in the West. My recommendation...take the plunge!
IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WILL COME...
One of the great unknown courses in the United States. I have played as many as 50 of the Top 100 golf course in the United States and some of the best in Scotland and Wildhorse can hold its own.
One golf magazine ranked Wildhorse the best golf course in American for under $50, and I have a hard time believing there is another course close. If this course was on the ocean it would be a Top 10 Course in the US.
This course is also one of the hardest golf courses to find in the United States. It is in the middle of no where Nebraska...3 hours from Omaha. Then when you get to Gothenburg you have to drive out in the country and take a gravel road which has a sign perhaps as big as a standard flag. The course is literally surrounded by cornfields and when you play you can go the whole round without seeing another player...and there is no noise...no cars...no airplanes flying over...just you and the course...it is beautiful...a hidden gem.
The only thing that keeps this from a perfect score is the building and the food...but if you are a golf diehard and you some how find yourself in the middle of no where Nebraska...this is the place.
Now to be fair I am ranking this course, based on the last time I played in two years ago. I imagine its low points for Amenities and Facility Condition either have been fixed or will be fixed in preparation for the US Open. Playing a future US Open site for under $100 is a deal!
Elmcrest Country Club
Elmcrest Country Club is a fine country club located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It has beautiful lush fairways and the best greens in the state of Iowa. Elmcrest is best known for its most famous member, Zach Johnson who is still a member at ECC and can be seen during the PGA Tour Season warming up for certain tournaments. The Zach Johnson Pro-Am began in 2011 with PGA Tour Pros; Davis Love III, Jonathan Byrd, Stuart Cink, Rickie Fowler, and others playing in the event.
TPC Sawgrass is one of the great letdowns of my golfing life. The score may not reflect my disappointment but none-the-less I walked off the course with a confused look on my face. Now going in I had an understanding that the course was pretty much built on an old swamp, and Dye made what some call his masterpiece.
To me a great golf course is just there, and the architect's job is to use the land to build the lay-out. Pete Dye took a swamp and made a jigsaw puzzle.
The 17th which is revered by some was completely lost on me. You walk down the 16th full of anticipation and off to your left is the 17th green. I realize that I am in the minority but it just doesn't belong on that course. It looks beautiful on tv when it is shot from above, but in person...ehhh. To set the record straight I parred the hole, so it was not animosity built on dropping 20 balls in the drink.
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