Gleannloch Farms Golf Club putts out as Golf Digest's big Houston mistake

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

SPRING, Texas — Any experienced golfer knows that Golf Digest's "Best Places to Play" is not some sacrosanct religious text. Treat it as The Ten Commandments — take it too literally and you'll end up with some wacky choices you're sure to disagree with.

Gleannloch Farms Golf Club scorched green - Houston, Texas course
Most of the greens at Gleannloch were scorched, with either sickly gray or black chunks that putted as ugly as they look.
Gleannloch Farms Golf Club scorched green - Houston, Texas courseGleannloch Farms Golf Club - Paddock green - Houston, Texas golf courseGleannloch Farms Golf Club - Gleann No. 9 water - Houston, Texas golf courseGleannloch Farms Golf Club - fairway - Houston, Texas golf course
If you go

Golf Digest's guide book should be dependable as an arbitrator of a bare minimum of certain standards, though. You may not agree that resort course is worthy of four and a half stars, but you can be sure it's not going to be a rundown dump.

Well, make that sure most of the time.

For North Houston delivers the exception. Gleannloch Farms Golf Club is a 27-hole facility that rates three and a half stars from Golf Digest. That's the equivalent of Vin Diesel winning an Oscar and a Grammy in the same night. Something's just not right.

It will take you about 12 minutes on Gleannloch to start wondering what exactly they spiked the clubhouse punch with that review rating day. Twelve minutes. That's about how long it took to check in at the golf shop, get set up with a cart and land on the first scorched Gleannloch green.

Of course calling Gleannloch greens scorched is like saying the red-headed Irishman who fell asleep in the sun for 14 hours straight is a little pink. A number of Gleannloch's greens were black on this early spring visit. Black. As in the color of night, death and things so burnt they go straight from your toaster oven to the trash bag.

There are asphalt parking lots with healthier growing grass than you could find at this supposed three-and-a-half-star golf course.

Gleannloch Farms? If they grew things like this at an actual farm, it would be one long winter indeed. Heck, reality TV farm girls Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie would bust up laughing at this horticultural attempt.

The clubhouse attendant said that the greens didn't look pretty but they putted fine.

One truth out of two ain't bad, I guess. For Bobby Jones couldn't have putted these Gleannloch greens effectively with Jack Nicklaus serving as his second read. Everyone's heard of reading the tea leaves. How about reading the singed leaves?

It's all fun and games until you consider that Gleannloch was still charging its regular full $55 greens fee with these conditions.

What really perplexed however is how no other course in the Houston area played on during this trip had anything close to a similar greens problem. And that includes a municipal course operated by the city.

The only consolation could be found in the fact that on this late Texas afternoon, Gleannloch's business seemed to consist of a high school golf team working out on the range, a guy who dragged his wife out to sit in the cart and watch him play by himself and a twosome letting out curdling screams after every good shot.

Maybe, word of mouth was getting around despite the Golf Digest nonsense.

Even if the greens weren't black in some parts and torn up gray in others, the design at Gleannloch would be no great draw. Local architect Jay Riviere didn't have a whole lot to work with mostly flat land around houses — and in parts major suburban arteries.

On No. 6 of the Gleann nine, the first thing that catches your eye from the tee is the huge multi-colored fake passenger balloon up ahead past the green that's touting a store. Rushing traffic runs alongside this par 3, very visible through the thin trees.

The "picturesque" water clear from the tees on Gleann No. 9 turns out to be some dirty, muddy muck.

Amongst all this squalor of gray-black greens and worn fairways, there are some of the most well-tended bunkers you will see anywhere. A lot of care's gone into raking Gleannloch's bunkers. It's like seeing a great wax job on a broken down Pinto.

A search for holes with character at Gleannloch Farms could last longer than the Jimmy Hoffa investigation. It throws a few shooting fountains at golfers here and there, including one visible from the parking lot, but there's little to captivate your game.

The coolest thing about Gleannloch is the stables across the road from the Paddock nine No. 1. On this day, a young woman practiced her jumps for a riding competition. Glancing over, you couldn't help but wish you could join her.

If you were trying to leap over wood gates on a big beast, at least you'd have no experience with or attempting to enjoy your Gleannloch round? One definitely looms easier than the other.

Gleannloch makes a big deal about its distinct nines. But the biggest difference turns out to be that the houses on the Paddock nine are nicer than the houses on the Gleann nine.

You'd rather live here than play here. Maybe, Golf Digest thought it was rating houses instead.

The verdict

If there's nothing better than discovering that great hidden find on a golf trip, there's nothing worse than ending up on that grandly advertised dud. Gleannloch Farms is that dud.

Gleannloch doesn't just botch the big things (the greens). It manages to miss the little things too.

This place advertises itself as high end, going as far as putting a "The Legend Continues ... " slogan on its Web site, and doesn't even provide extra tees in its carts.

Gleannloch Farms can befuddle in so many ways. Paddock No. 4 — a par 5 with water clear in the middle of the fairway — has big grass bunkers along the right side of the hole. Only you're not sure if they're actually supposed to be grass bunkers. They look like they were filled in and there are no grass bunkers on the rest of the nine.

That's Gleannloch Farms masterfully disguising its three-and-a-half-star power. Yeah, that's the story.

Dining out

Take the drive toward the Galleria shopping area. Some of Texas' best restaurants can be found in this spread out strip mall zone. Including Bistro Moderne (713-297-4383).

This French bistro with a simple menu in the slick Hotel Derek was named one of Esquire Magazine's Top 10 New Restaurants of 2005, and it doesn't disappoint. The crab salad appetizer and bouillabaisse main courses were particularly tasty.

Do not get the rabbit unless you really like rabbit, though. It's not one of their better dishes.

For a simpler meal and even surer option, Goode Company Barbecue (713-522-2530) is the way to go. This place with picnic tables to eat on under an awning and its own barbecue museum next door is liable to be the best barbecue you ever had. Especially if you're not only obsessed with ribs. The brisket is the tastiest meat on the menu. The potato salad is a not-to-be-missed side. Yes, this is a place where potato salad wows.

Stay and play

If you love shopping, the Westin Galleria puts you right in the sprawling Galleria mall that only plays second fiddle to Minnesota's famed Mall of America. That's right in. Literally. The Westin's actually connected to the mall. You'll be paying big for that shoe or Jimmy Choo addiction convenience, though. We're talking $299 standard room rates in the wintertime.

If you want to catch an Astros game, there's the Inn at the Ballpark. Yes, it's name is Inn at the Ballpark. This is no little motor lodge though. It's a new four-star hotel. Unlike Westin Galleria, it's not actually connected to its attraction though. Inn at the Ballpark is right across the street from Minute Maid Field.

Fast fact

Golf Digest isn't the only publication that seems to rating an earlier (or perhaps parallel universe) version of Gleannloch. Course literature also touts the Houston Chronicle rating it as one of the "top public golf courses."

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • It's OK

    catchyhead wrote on: Jun 18, 2009

    Biggest problem with the course is that there isn't an exciting hole on the property. And the prices aren't commensurate, for sure. The staff ranges from friendly to surly (pro Jerry Hooper). Hooper accosted me on the driving range recently and told me to move 150 yards down the line to hit balls. This even though I had just 3 balls left. Maybe he had just read your review.