In a quandary about where to golf in Houston? Try the quarry at Blackhorse

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

HOUSTON, Texas - The Houston Chronicle named the south course at the Blackhorse Golf Club the "Ultimate Public Golf Course" in 2003.

Strong words. "Ultimate" may be a little too strong, but the course, a daily fee facility about 25 minutes from downtown, is definitely one of the better public courses in the area, especially for the price.

Dramatic, natural elements always make for a more interesting golf course. In this case, it's an "authentic" sand quarry that provides that touch. Of course, a sand quarry isn't exactly natural and, in fact, the sand has been replaced by water.

Still, it's a dynamic feature that gives architectural contrast to the sand, rolling fairways and oak trees that are scattered around the course.

The quarry doesn't really make its presence known until you get into the back nine, on No. 13, but at that point it starts to tease and taunt you: Do I risk it here or do I really want to get sucked into the quagmire?

The last four holes are particularly a quarry quandary.

On the 560-yard, par-5 fifth hole, for example, a creek meanders through the center of the fairway, and the quarry runs the length of the left side and sneaks up behind the green. It's a risk/reward hole, but architects Peter Jacobsen and Jim Hardy obligingly lent a bail-out area to the right.

The next hole is another hole where you can take your chances with the quarry, minus the bail-out. It's a 348-yard par-4 that can be carried over the water with a strong tee shot.

No. 17 is a long, par-3 with an island green with a wooden bridge built out into the water that makes you feel almost like you're going for a boat ride. Beware the hidden bunker complex to the left behind the green. The closing 515-yard par-5 can be reached in two if you can carry the ditch in front of the green.

"There's not a whole lot of trouble on the front nine and you can swing away at it," said head pro Russell Roten. "The back nine, you have to make the right club selection on every tee. You have to play for position."

The south course is one of two courses on the property, the other being, obviously, the north course.

"The front nine on this (south) course is pretty traditional, with tree-lined fairways," Roten said. "The north is pretty much like that on every hole. You play around the quarry on this one, and it plays a little harder. But, no one really favors one over the other. People do say they love the front nine on the north and the back nine on the south."

According to Roten, the south is up for consideration in Golf Digest's "top 100" list.

The verdict

This is a scenic course, especially when the wildflowers bloom, that is very playable at 7,128 yards from the back tees. You just need to make sure you pick the right club.

It has a semi-rural feel with only a few houses at this point, though there are construction plans down the road for the neighborhood. The oaks give it a forested feel, but most holes are open and only rarely can you lose your ball.

The course has hosted its share of prestigious tournaments, including the PGA Qualifying School, a U.S. Amateur sectional qualifier and a Shell Houston Open qualifier. It was also rated in the top 10 of "Americas Best 100 Courses for $100 or less" by Travel and Leisure Golf.

The south has Tif Eagle Bermuda greens and Tiff Sport Bermuda fairways and was in good shape in mid-November.

With rates ranging from $25 for super twilight to $65 weekdays and $85 on weekends during the prime season, this is one of Houston's better deals.

Stay and play

The Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa is a centrally located hotel for golf in the Houston area, sitting on an 18-acre tract of land smack in the bustling heart of the city, adjacent to the Galleria and Memorial Park

It looks like something an old, oil baron might have built to impress his missus. There are floor to ceiling wooded views, wood parquet floors, dark wood paneling and a roaring, gas fireplace in the big, comfortable lobby.

You can get a workout other than golf - the Houstonian Fitness Club and Trellis Spa is a massive thing - a 125,000 square-foot facility that has more than 30 certified personal trainers.

There are three pools, a rock-climbing wall, boxing ring, eight tennis courts and a full-court gym for basketball and volleyball. The hotel is also affiliated with the Redstone Golf Club, home of the Shell Houston Open. The hotel concierge can arrange tee times and transportation.

The hotel has 288 guest rooms, 32,000 square-feet of meeting space and all the up-to-date technology business types could want.

Dining out

Jakes' Bar and Grill at Blackhorse has memorabilia from Jacobsen's career, 12 televisions and a veranda overlooking the lake at No. 18.

Olivette is the Houstonian's main restaurant, serving American food - definitely try the Southwest salad with shrimp, but stay away from the mini-burgers - they are mini and few.

The Manor House is adjacent to the hotel, open daily for lunch and the Center Court Café is at the Houstonian Club.

Fast fact

These were the first two courses designed in Texas by Jacobsen and Hardy.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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