No bunkers but Hill Country hazards galore at Crystal Falls Golf Club near Austin
LEANDER, Texas -- Central Texas Hill Country terrain is spectacular enough, so who needs sand bunkers?
That's the argument at Crystal Falls Golf Club, northwest of Austin, set on dramatic Hill Country terrain. Chances are, you won't even notice the lack of bunkers until after the round, because there's plenty of other pitfalls surrounding greens and fairways to keep your mind busy soaking in all the hazards.
"The golf course is tough enough as it is," noted Grant Collyns, general manager at Crystal Falls, on the course's lack of sand bunkering. "And bunkers can be a money pit [for the course]; golfers may as well drop $5 into them when they see 'em. But we've considered adding a few just to help the ball stop in certain areas."
Crystal Falls Golf Club: Cool but tough
Operated by the city of Leander, Crystal Falls Golf Club opened in 1990 and was designed by Jack Miller, seemingly a no-name in the area that these days no one seems to know much about. At the time the golf course opened, there wasn't much real estate in the area, but that's changed, as the suburbs north of Austin continue to sprawl.
Thankfully, there's virtually no housing presence on the golf course, which remains mostly natural and receives its share of wildlife throughout the round.
Crystal Falls Golf Club plays just 6,654 yards from the championship tees, which is plenty, considering the narrow doglegs. Mid-handicappers shouldn't even think about the back set if the Texas winds are up, and stick with the 6,154-yard white tees, which will alleviate stress levels a bit from the tee.
"It's a cool course, but it's tough," said Matt Hole, an 18-handicapper who lives north of Austin. "It's frustrating if you're not straight as an arrow."
Players will use plenty of restraint off the tee on most holes. Hole yardages appear appealing on the card (from the white tees, only one par 4 is more than 400 yards, and three par 5s are less than 500), but once you stand on some tee boxes, you're just thinking about what club will give you the best shot at finding your golf ball. Thirteen holes have water hazards, and just about all of them have the opportunity to lose a ball in the woods.
Rest assured, there are a few fairways that offer some room off the tee. No. 5 is a gentle, uphill dogleg right with a good deal of room off the tee, and the sixth hole, depending on what tees you play from, is practically drivable with some bailout room left.
Crystal Falls Golf Club's par 5s are all worth playing conservatively, as trouble lurks everywhere. Whoever this Miller design guy was, his best work was saved for the par 3s. Two play steeply downhill, especially the 164-yard 2nd, guarded by water short and right. No. 11 plays even further downhill, and demands a 192-yard shot that plays more like 160.
Crystal Falls Golf Club: The verdict
Crystal Falls Golf Club offers scenic and affordable Hill Country golf on a budget. Golf courses west of Austin in the Hill Country are usually either upscale private clubs or high-end daily fees, so it's refreshing to get a crack at Hill Country golf for municipal-golf prices.
Compared to area play, consider it a poor man's Barton Creek Resort, with rates that are usually $25-$40 including cart. Walking is allowed at certain times during the week -- and tees are usually near other greens -- but it's just a very hilly walk.
Thankfully, golf carts here have basic GPS (no images, just distances to hazards and greens), because there are some tight spots and many forced carries, such as on the 18th or seventh; and while the unit doesn't have overhead pictures of holes, the yardages offered to layup spots and other landmarks seems pretty accurate.
Crystal Falls Golf Club is located pretty far away from downtown Austin, about 25 miles (40-minute drive in off-peak times), so if you're looking for a similar, affordable play closer to the city, check out a municipal course such as Lions Golf Course or Jimmy Clay Municipal.
If you're someone who blasts drives all over the yard, stay far away from Crystal Falls and go to Roy Kizer Golf Course.
On site is a small grill that serves breakfast tacos, lunch items and beer. There are also a couple practice greens and a driving range.
May 14, 2010