Mill Creek Golf and Country Club: Deep in the Heart of Texas

By Kyle Dalton, Contributor

SALADO, Texas - Many cities in Central Texas claim the moniker - "The Heart of Texas" - as their own due to their central location in the Lone Star State. However, only one golf course - Mill Creek Golf and Country Club in Salado - actually has physical evidence to support its city's claim.

On the 340-yard, par-4 No. 3 - the signature hole - the green is creatively shaped like a heart, proudly staking its claim as "The Heart of Texas." If the green wasn't enough to convince you, the entire tee box is shaped like an arrow and points toward the green, as if showing anyone in question, where the "Heart of Texas" is located.

According to Director of Golf Mike Cameron, it is just one of the signature marks Robert Trent Jones Jr. made when he designed the course in 1979. "He also designed Las Colinas near Dallas where the first green is shaped like the state of Texas and a sand trap is shaped liked Oklahoma."

Another signature of Robert Trent Jones Jr. courses - bunkers - are also quite prevalent on the course. On 17 holes of Mill Creek, which is located just 45 minutes north of the capital city of Austin, bunkers can be found strategically placed to challenge you off the tee in the fairway and on most approaches to the green. On the first three holes alone, 11 traps await an errant shot with more than 50 interspersed throughout the entire Mill Creek layout.

No better example of the bunkers, as well as all the other dangers present on the Par 71, 6486-yard layout, can be found than right out of the gate on the par-5, 512-yard first hole. Off an elevated tee, approximately 50 feet above the fairway, you have an unobstructed view to the green.

Looking over the Salado Creek, which crisscrosses at various junctures throughout this course, the first shot must be straight as a reachable trap lies on the right, and a tributary runs down most of No. 1 on the left. The second shot offers more water with a small creek running in front of a green that is surrounded by four bunkers.

On five of the next six holes on the course, which consists of Tifdwarf Bermuda greens and 419 Bermuda fairways, you get a reprieve from the water hazards. But don't be deceived, trees, traps, and hole designs will keep you honest. No. 2 is a par-3, 183-yard shot from the back tees and is guarded by a bunker left and right.

Because of a valley, it appears much longer. On the No. 4, par-4, 413-yard, the toughest hole on the course, there is a hard dogleg to the right and water comes back into play. If you are fortunate enough to carve your tee shot around the corner, you have a delicate shot over the Salado Creek and its expanse of almost 50 yards to a green that has a large bunker back and to the right.

Nos. 7 through 9, there is plenty of the wet stuff, which is a factor on a dozen holes total. On the seventh and eight, both par-4s, the Salado Creek runs down the entire right side of each hole. No. 8, a dogleg right, provides a Kodak moment off the tee with a shot at an angle over the large creek to a narrow landing area. The hole is behind the trees to the

To finish up the front nine, you close with the second of the three par 5s on the course. The 517-yard hole is Z-shaped and requires a lofted wood or low iron off the tee, followed by a mid-range iron across the creek to the right. Unless you have a major draw, playing it safe across the creek is your best bet. After a solid shot, the green, which is narrow and long, awaits in between a group of trees on both sides.

The back nine starts off very similar to the front. In fact, No. 10 and No. 1 run parallel to each other. Nos. 11 and 12 are relatively short and harmless holes if you keep it in the fairway. If your tee shot goes wayward, oak trees along both fairways are almost certain to force a pitch out and assuredly, a bogey or worse.

No. 13 is the last of the par 5s and longest hole on the course, measuring in at 556 yards. Another Z-shaped hole, the tee shot must stay in the fairway for any chance of reaching the hole in regulation.

Off the tee, trees line the entire right side of the hole, with a grouping of trees and a bunker down on the left at the dogleg. If you are fortunate enough to hit a draw around the trees on the left, you are left with a decision - try a fade over the creek, which is more like a small pond on this hole, and around and over the tall trees to the right. Or, lay up and leave yourself with a shot over the trees and the creek. Either way, it's not for the faint-hearted.

The par-4, 411-yard No. 14, and second most difficult hole, is a dogleg left with a pond to the right and bunker at the corner of the turn. A 250-yard-plus drive can carry the bunker to leave a 7- or 8-iron to a green surrounded by bunkers.

Heading down the stretch, 15, 16 and 17 provide three very different hole designs including one downhill, one uphill, and one 132-yarder across a small creek.

Finally, the finishing No. 18 hole is another picture in waiting. This short, 369-yard, par-4 from an elevated tee box, offers all the elements one final time. Sand to the left is in play and a pond to the right. Once your ball has safely landed, you face a high iron over water to a green, which to no one's surprise, is surrounded by bunkers back left and right.

As enjoyable as the Mill Creek course is, there's more to come in the future. Cameron said a new 18, also designed by Trent Jones Jr., is under construction. The first nine holes are scheduled to open in the Fall 2000. This new course, when completed, will provide golf enthusiasts just another excuse to visit the historic town of Salado, which features numerous antique stores, art galleries, gift shops, and fine restaurants.

Cameron, who has been at Mill Creek since 1974, said the current course plays host to 50,000 rounds a year, and essentially acts as a trade-off between male golfers and their spouses. "The wives drop their husbands off and tell them they'll see them in five hours while they go shopping."

Pretty good trade-off - until the credit card bill arrives.

Special Packages and Accommodations: Golf/lodging packages start at $65. For those interested in combining business with pleasure, several special golf/meeting packages are also available. The Creekside Banquet and Meeting Center offers facilities to accommodate groups of various sizes.

Awards: 1998-99, 1999-2000 - 3 ½ Star Award Winner from Golf Digest as Top Places to Play.

Directions: Located in Salado, near Interstate 35 about 12 miles south of Temple. From Austin (40 minutes) or San Antonio (1.5 hours), travel north on I-35 to Exit 285. Follow signs on the right to the club.

Mill Creek Golf and Country Club
Salado, TX
Telephone: (254)-947-5141 or 800-736-3441

Kyle Dalton, Contributor

Since graduating from the University of Texas in 1992 with a degree in journalism, Kyle Dalton has been a writer and editor for a variety of national publications in various fields.

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