Brackenridge Park: A Visit Back In Time, Texas' Most Historic

By David R. Holland, Contributor

SAN ANTONIO, TX -- There are times in today's world of glitzy, service-oriented $150 daily-fee courses, with GPS on the carts and rock music piped into the practice range, that one just longs for golf like it was played in the 1920s.

Do yourself a favor. Support your inner-city municipal. Find the most historic, old-style muny in your city and try it.

In the Alamo City, the choice is unmistakable -- Brackenridge Park Golf Course, designed by A.W. Tillinghast in 1916, it is the oldest public course in the State of Texas and was built by jailbird labor. Yep, Tillinghast is the guy who authored Baltusrol, Winged Foot, Bethpage and San Francisco CC.

It's short, 6,490 yards, and flat, but it has majestic old pecan trees and even some palm trees lining the fairways where many of the greats of golf have walked.

Texans Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and Jimmy Demaret walked here. Hogan used it as a winter practice haven. Even Walter Hagen, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer struck drives here, where the PGA Winter Tour was born. Juggs McSpadden posted the course record of 59 in 1955.

Recently inducted in to the Texas Golf Hall of Fame, Brackenridge is located near the heart of San Antonio in historic Brackenridge Park, and is the oldest of the six municipal golf courses.

"If you really want to experience the history of golf in Texas you must play this golf course once in your lifetime," said Bob Prentice of Corpus Christi. "From the time you step on the first tee, see old limestone starter's shack and read the commemorative plaque, you will feel the history. It's a hoot. There's even a smaller plaque on the starter's shack that talks about the new greens and tees and it's dated 1955."

The Texas Open began on this course in 1922 and was played here until 1959, a total of 21 times. Bob MacDonald won that first Texas open in 1922 with a 1-under-par 281. Wes Ellis won the final Texas Open by scoring 276.

Probably the most famous tournament played here came in 1955 when Mike Souchak set a PGA Tour record for 72 holes by shooting 257. It was a record that stood tall until just recently. Souchak's 60 shot in the first round stood until 1977 when Al Geiberger shot 59 at Colonial Country Club in Memphis.

Brackenridge has a reputation as an easy course for modern-day golfers, but a recent City Senior Amateur was won with a 2-over-par 218. It was another feather in the cap of Tillinghast for his design genius. The course was toughened up just by moving the tees back and placing the pins in the toughest locations. And, of course, low-hanging branches of the huge trees caused problems when the seniors strayed from the fairways.

Growth in the big city has also caused changes at Brackenridge. In 1968 Highway 281 and I-35 construction took away 10 acres from the course, leaving it with 75. The front nine is the same, very tight and straightforward, but the back nine lost a couple of long par-4s where the highway is visible today.

The back nine also plays in an opposite direction than in the old days. The par-3s at 16 and 18 are beauties and could be your favorites. No. 16 plays 156 yards to an elevated green with the creek running in front. If you don't carry to the green you can run down the embankment. The finishing 166-yarder is a forced-carry over a pond.

Speaking of water, the back nine forces you to contend with creeks or ponds on seven of the nine holes. The front nine only has one pond.

You might do a double take on the fourth and sixth, both par-4s under 400 yards when you see the palm trees. Most likely your approach on No. 4 will have to be over the towering palm in the center of the fairway. If you nail one in the very top it might not come out.

Brackenridge uses old-fashioned common Bermuda in the fairways, but they are overseeded with rye in the winter. The course uses gray water now, a switch from the original dependence on the Edwards Aquifer.

The huge limestone clubhouse is almost a museum. It was rebuilt in 1923 after a fire destroyed the first one. There are plans for renovation of the clubhouse.

Brackenridge is a golf course that should be experienced walking -- it's an easy walk and more than 60,000 rounds a year are played here.

Brackenridge Historical Notes

The Texas State Junior Championship was held here for many years and the City Junior Championship is still contested at Brackenridge every July.

There is a "Champions Boards" hanging on the high walls of the tudor-style limestone rock clubhouse.

Brackenridge was completely renovated and remodeled in 1968.

Interestingly, the land, donated by, George W. Brackenridge, was used by him for hunting. He said he even hunted bear on the property in the early days of Texas history.

Where to Eat

Tex-Mex is a must on a visit to San Antonio. Don't miss La Fogata Mexican Restaurant, 2427 Vance Jackson. Phone 210-342-5377 or visit Also try Tomatillos Cafe and Cantina at 3210 Broadway, not far from Brackenridge Park. Phone 210-824-3005 or visit

At the world-famous San Antonio River Walk try Zuni Grill at 511 River Walk, telephone 210-227-0864 or visit Also, you can scheduled a river cruise with Yanaguana Cruises, 210-244-5700 or log on to

Where to Stay

The Westin La Cantera Resort
16641 La Cantera Parkway
San Antonio, TX 78256
Telephone: 210-558-6500.
Guest Fax: 210-558-2400.

All guestrooms at The Westin La Cantera Resort feature: mini-refrigerators, safe, coffee maker (complimentary Starbucks), two direct-dial telephones with personal voice-mail and modem jacks, 25-inch color TV with cable and in-room movies, oversized well-lighted desk, two closets, iron and ironing board and electronic entry door lock. Standard bathroom amenities include hair dryer, generously sized natural stone countertop with dual sinks, Westin's own hair and bath products and two-sided magnifying mirror.

From Broadway Street going north, make a left onto Mill Race Street and this street leads directly to the course.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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