Houston National Golf Club winning back its fans -- and then some

By Mike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON -- The last couple years have been monumental for Houston National Golf Club. When Houston businessman Robert Steele and business partner Rene Rangel bought the distressed property in 2010, he and his management company, Sterling Golf, had a vision for it. That vision is coming to fruition.

Houston National Golf Club - 18th
Plenty of mounding and elevated greens are the key features of Houston National.
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Houston National Golf Club, located in the northwestern part of the city, definitely follows the old adage that "everything is bigger in Texas." This whopping course stretches to 7,337 yards from the back tees. It is a lengthy golf course no doubt, but it doesn't just favor those who can hit long. The layout has a unique links design, so long hitters will be pleased but they will have to be careful of the numerous pot bunkers and other strategically placed hazards.

18 Holes | Public golf course | Par: 72 | 7337 yards | Book online | ... details »

They elected to take it from 27 holes to 36 holes, making two distinctly different golf courses. One would be fully private; the other -- the original course -- would be open to the public as well as the members.

In the end, no doubt pushed by the new private course, the now 18-hole Houston National course is better than it has been in years. That comes despite the fact that it lost nine holes that were completely revamped to make the new Sterling Country Club Course. And now, after coming out of a drought, it's starting to thrive, and it shares many traits with its sister course.

Similar but different

What's similar is that both courses have terrific greens, tee boxes, improving conditions and a great clubhouse and grill. What are different are the designs.

Houston National was created by the team of Von Hagge, Smelek & Baril. Ironically, the new Sterling Country Club course was designed by Jeff Blume, a protégé of the late Robert von Hagge; however, Blume has since developed his own style. Sterling Country Club is much more traditional, providing a nice contrast between the two courses.

Von Hagge -- who with Bruce Devlin designed the former home of the Shell Houston Open, the Tournament Course at The Woodlands -- is known for his mounding, and Houston National is no exception. But this course has more than just mounds around the fairways. The greens are highly elevated, and the fairways have lots of movement, which gives it sort of a Scottish links feel at times.

"It a links style, which is something different in Houston," Club Manager Kevin Massey said.

Now, under the direction of Steven Chernosky, the course is thriving, especially the greens. For his work, Chernosky was named Superintendent of the Year of the South Texas Golf Course Superintendents Association.

As a result, play has picked up dramatically at the 7,317-yard par 72, located just northwest of Houston. With four sets of tees, it tests all levels. With its wide-open design, a few lakes and constant wind, it tests golfers' ability to flight the ball and hit accurate shots. Greens are often highly elevated, and the bunkers, which were also redone, can be deep and difficult.

Both nines have strong endings: The front, with a 401-yard par 4 that plays around a lake, and the back, where the 18th is a good risk-reward par 5 with plenty of water and bunkering.

The longest hole on the course is the 612-yard, par-5 second. It, too, ends with a tricky shot over water to a well-protected green. And this spring, it will temporarily be shortened to a par 3 as crews rework the fairway grass a bit.

Houston National Golf Club: The verdict

Although it's strange to say a golf course that's just more than a decade old has been resurrected, that's exactly what happened at Houston National.

Plain and simple, it's solid golf, and it's unlike anything else in the Houston area, for the most part. There's nothing easy about the course, especially from the tips, but generous fairways and terrific, fast greens make it an enjoyable experience.

As a bonus, though, even daily fee players get the country club treatment here. The clubhouse has a large, well stocked golf shop with a friendly staff. The large practice area includes a lighted range. And the Back Deck Bar & Grill, which features live music once a month, is as good as any golf course dining venue in the city among public courses.

Friendly service combined with some good menu items, including wood-fired organic pizza, make it a nice place to hang out even if you're not playing golf.

Mike BaileyMike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

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