Review: Austin's Onion Creek Club is Legendary
Onion Creek Club is the stuff made of legends - literally.
Founded by the legendary golfer and late Masters champion Jimmy Demaret, and Texas amateur golf legend Jimmie Connolly in 1974, Onion Creek has quite a storied history for its relatively short time in existence.
After just four years, the course played host to a tournament called the Legends of Golf that featured tournament professionals 50 years of age and older like Demaret, Sam Snead, Billy Casper, and others. Little did anyone know, this tournament, which would be held at Onion Creek for the next 11 years, would later become known as the "Birthplace of the Senior PGA Tour."
Because of its relative flatness and overall beauty, Demaret had little trouble convincing some of golf's most legendary hitters to come to Austin and play the course he once described as - "Nature put it here. All I did was manicure it."
And, what a manicure he did.
However, in 1996, Onion Creek expanded on Demaret's fine work when it opened a new nine holes, not surprisingly, designed by another Masters champion, Ben Crenshaw along with Bill Coore. With the new addition, Demaret's back nine today can be mixed and matched with the new nine to create a full 18.
The new nine is referred to as the North Course. However, when playing a full 18 using the North Course, Nos. 10 through 13 of Demaret's original back nine design act as Nos. 1 through 4 for its design. After finishing on No. 13 (Original), aka No. 4 (North), you can go straight and continue playing the newer North course, or go left and continue playing on the Original Nos. 14 through 18. The clubhouse determines which 18 you play. Crenshaw and Coore managed to design the North Course so that it returns back to the clubhouse using Nos. 14 through 18 of the original design.
With the new holes included, 13 holes on the 27-hole championship layout feature the course's namesake. No place is this more prominently displayed than on a stretch of holes - Nos. 2 through 7 on the Original Course.
Beginning on No. 2, a picturesque par-3, 131-yard hole from an elevated tee box, Onion Creek sits just behind the green for anyone who misjudges the 60-foot drop and airmails the green. Unfortunately, this is probably the kindest location of the creek during the stretch of holes. On Nos. 3 through 7, the creek is much more of a concern. Any errant tee shot to the right can be wet - that is, if your ball manages to make it through the wall of trees also located on the same side.
In addition to the creek, water comes into play on Nos. 5, 9, and 10. On No. 5, water is in the form of a pond that protects the front of the green and runs down the entire left side. Think you'll just leave it out to the right, right? Think again. Three large bunkers present problems.
Although water can make for many tough decisions throughout the 27 holes, so can the bunkers, which are placed quite liberally throughout the course. The location of the traps, both in the fairway and greenside, as well as their design can add a few numbers to your final tally. On several of the greenside bunkers, the front walls are at least four-feet tall.
Length can also be a factor on the Original Course, which measures 6,527 yards and is a par 70, especially on the 601-yard, par-5, No. 7. All 601 yards have water in play with Onion Creek running along the right. The presence of the creek is magnified as the hole is a dogleg left that takes the entire yardage to complete the dogleg. Tall oak trees to the right and left force you to keep it in the fairway if you are to have any chance of par.
According to head professional Eric Lusk, the water, bunkers, and length as well as all the other design features at Onion Creek are in place to provide a challenge, but to also keep it interesting for the members. "It's a golf course that is a members' course. It's not the hardest of golf courses but you have to be on your toes. It's a member-friendly course meaning members don't get tired of playing it."
On the back nine of the Original Course, Onion Creek factors into shot-making decisions on several holes, but not nearly as much as the preceding nine. On the par-4, No. 12 - the signature hole - looking out over the narrow fairway some 50-plus feet below, water can be seen to the right. It also appears on No. 16 as it runs the length of the hole down the right side.
For the new nine of the North Course, the design is relatively flat, with a few elevations and water on a select few holes. Like the Original Course, bunkers are prevalent and deep. On both the Original and North, the Tifdwarf greens are relatively fast and the 419 Fairways give you a nice roll on solidly struck tee shots. Anything in the rough, is just that, rough. In U.S. Open-like fashion, balls that fall into the rough along the fairway, or near the green have a tendency to disappear.
Unfortunately, something else that has disappeared in recent years has been several of the holes. The beauty that is Onion Creek has turned into a swollen river on several occasions in the past decade as heavy rains have resulted in water from the creek rising out over its banks. Floods, including the most recent in 1998, have left holes under water and caused severe damage to the course. However, after each flood, the holes are repaired and returned back to their original form and kept in top condition. Just like Demaret would have wanted.
Demaret, who died in 1983, never saw the tournament he co-founded with Fred Raphael turn into the tour that today awards millions of dollars each year to the top senior players. He also never saw the Legends of Golf Tournament, which he cherished, leave Onion Creek for Barton Creek Country Club across town in 1990, only to leave the state altogether in 1994.
He would, however, be proud today to know that LPGA Tour officials saw in Onion Creek what the Legends saw in the late 70s and early 80s. Recently, Onion Creek held its second Philips Invitational Tournament Honoring Harvey Penick. The first LPGA event on a Texas course since 1986. And like the Legends, it draws the big names from the LPGA Tour. The 2000 Philips Invitational winner was Laura Davies.
Onion Creek Club
2510 Onion Creek Parkway
Austin, Texas 78747-1612
Facts: Onion Creek is a private course so you have to be a member or guest of a member to play.
Head Professional: Eric Lusk
Additions/redesigns: North Course (nine holes) - Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, 1996
Tournaments: Former host of Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, 1979-1990. Current host of LPGA's Philips Invitational Honoring Harvey Penick.