WOODLAKE COUNTRY CLUB
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|Facility Condition||3.0 (1)|
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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.