Meadowbrook Farms Golf Club: through the trees and into lonesome prairie

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

HOUSTON, Texas - Some golf course architecture critics like their courses to hold together, to have an overall theme, with each hole still managing to retain its own identity.

The marketers will insist every hole is unique and the course itself is a "very unique and challenging experience." There is no such thing as "very unique," of course, just as there is virtually no such thing as a perfect golf course.

Greg Norman has designed a course in Katy, outside Houston, that is as different as night and day, as different as a bogey and birdie, that manages to capture the essence of this part of Texas.

That's because Norman was given a piece of lonesome Texas prairie with a line of trees running along on one side of a creek bed and told to go to work. With this piece of ground, Norman decided to hit you with a case of claustrophobia, enveloping you with trees, then cure you with views of wide Texas vistas - even if those vistas are largely of a burgeoning residential community and prairie scrubland.

Meadowbrook Farms Golf Club must have been something to behold when it opened in 1999. In fact, it was, to the golfers who have seen it evolve in its short life.

"First time I played out here, there weren't any houses in sight," said Tom Snell of Houston, a regular at the club. "It was great. Now, it's kind of depressing. That was the neat part of coming out here."

There aren't enough houses yet to mar the course, and in any case, the course itself is a fine work of Norman's imagination, particularly the par-5s designed by the long-hitting Aussie.

You start off with the first two holes weaving in and out of the tree line, then the next four take you through open ground with precious little vegetation, other than the deep rough that swallows balls like a cougar gobbling up a gopher. You go from tree-lined fairways to almost a links-like feel. Yet, other parts wind through lakes, creeks and wetlands.

"This course will teach you how to play - you get a little bit of everything," Snell said.

The course, which measures 7,100 from the tournament tees, about a hundred yards less for lesser mortals, gets positively wind-swept when you emerge from the foliage into the open. With nothing to dissuade it, the wind can howl here like a Texas tornado.

The course has the usual Norman marks, like deep, sod-walled bunkers, and its rich design and unusual layout have earned it accolades: Golf Digest ranked it among Texas' best courses in 2001 and it was voted Houston's best course by Houston Sports News in 2000.

The terrain changes, too: the maintenance can fill or drain the creek at its whim, making it easier or more difficult according to who's playing. Some of the greens are tucked back into the trees, making them seem part of the woods.

The verdict

This is one of the more imaginative courses in Houston, long-time players say, and they rarely tire of playing it.

The par-5s are probably the most interesting holes on the course, befitting the long-ball Norman. Like No. 4, a 540-yard par-5 from the back tees, with no tree around to hinder your view. Norman opened most of the greens in front, so you can roll it up if you like that kind of shot.

Green fees range from $62 to $85.

Stay and play

The Woodlands Resort and Conference Center is located north of Houston, where you can still see coyotes leaping across the Interstate. The resort makes a big deal of being environmentally sensitive, as do most modern resorts, but this one has miles of biking and hiking trails back in the woods to back it up. Hard to believe there's that much green space left in the Houston sprawl, but there it is.

The resort caters to the corporate crowd, with more than 60,000 square feet of conference space, business centers and the like, such as high-speed Internet access and handy modem connections at your room desk.

It has a fitness center and extensive spa services, where the ladies can get brow arches, eyebrow or eyelash tints and glycolic peels, along with the usual massages, saunas, steam baths, etc. for both men and women.

There's action for the young buckaroos, too: a "forest oasis waterscape" with water slides and underwater murals.

Dining out

The Woodlands has four restaurants and a lounge: The main dining room features an "exhibition kitchen," exotic breads with special dipping sauces and fresh-baked pastry.

Spartilo offers Mediterranean and the Glass Menagerie has American food and sits on the sores of Lake Harrison. The Cool Water Café is more casual, and the Watermark Bar and Lounge is where you go to drink.

Fast fact

The course has a frequent player passbook, as well as special rates for juniors and seniors.

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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