Jimmy Clay Golf Course: Challenges at Every Turn

By Kyle Dalton, Contributor

Jimmy Clay Golf Course and Roy Kizer Golf Course have one common bond - the clubhouse. As a result of their close proximity to each other, the two share the same clubhouse and are part of a golf complex that is one of the finest in Austin and includes a lighted driving range and two putting greens. However, when you step off the range or the putting green, the courses couldn't be any more different.

AUSTIN, TX - Beginning with history, Jimmy Clay is 20 years older than Kizer. Clay, which is named after the late civic leader in Austin, opened for play in 1974. The course was designed by renowned architect Joe Finger, who also has the Tournament Players Course at the Four Seasons Resort-Las Colinas, as well as some redesign work on Augusta National to his credit.

When Clay was constructed, it was essentially in the country. However, with the population explosion in the past 20 years, the city has grown around the course. Fortunately, a large wall of trees surrounds both the Clay/Kizer layout and you still get the feeling that it's just you and the course.

According to Clay/Kizer's Director of Golf Kevin Gomillion who has been there since 1997, Finger, in his design, did not require a great deal of reconfiguration to the land. "He didn't move a lot of dirt. He really used what was there and didn't make any big changes to the landscape."

What Finger eventually created, despite minimal change to the land, is a layout that offers a variety of challenges including trees, hills, doglegs and water. The Austin American-Statesman described it as "a Hill Country, links-style, traditional tree-lined course all rolled into one."

This variety is no more apparent than when you're standing on the first tee and looking at the par 4 of 412 yards from the back tees. This hole offers three of the four design features. The dogleg-left includes a small lake to the left side of the fairway that begins approximately 150 yards out from the tee box and runs up to the green. Anything right is okay but trees line the right side of the fairway near the green.

From the back tees, Clay measures a total of 6,857 yards. Not an excessively long course by any standards but several of the par 4s eat up a great deal of the yardage. Six par-4s measure more than 400 yards, including No. 8 - the 450-yard signature hole. The distance plus the trees, which line both sides of the fairway, make this par 4 extremely difficult.

"You've got some really good par-4s out there," said Joe Balander, head golf professional from 1974-1997. "Most guys have a pretty tough time getting close to the hole because you're hitting long irons into a lot of the greens. And if you play right after it rains, it really becomes long."

Rain not only makes the course play longer; sometimes it makes it unplayable altogether. Because of the close proximity of Onion Creek and Williamson Creek, some of the holes can be washed out or rendered unplayable by heavy rain and flooding. In fact, when this writer attempted to play the course the first time, hole Nos. 3-8 were closed after an eight-inch rain deluged the city and the course.

Gomillion said No. 5 has often been referred to as the lowest point in Travis County, and not surprisingly, floods every two or three years. As a result of the most recent flood and what Gomillion described as the "worst in a long time," they are considering moving the hole to a new location. He added that it's all preliminary at this point.

Despite the hard luck with Mother Nature, the maintenance crew always returns the course back to pre-flood condition. The Tifdwarf Bermuda greens provide for soft landings from the fairway and true rolls with the flat stick. The Tif 419 fairways provide a much-needed roll on the longer holes.

To maintain the plush fairways and greens through the hot summers and sometimes chilly winters, the course uses reclaimed water for irrigation. To reduce depletion of the underground water supply, water is siphoned off from the South Austin Regional Treatment Plant before it is returned to the Colorado River.

Clay was the first course in Austin to implement this type of recovery system, which is more commonly used in Austin than any other location in the state. The program benefits the course and also saves money for the city, which has been strapped by water conservation problems in recent years.

Playing the diverse course is challenging and fun. It's obviously no secret either as it plays host to almost 65,000 rounds per year. Along with Kizer, Clay plays host to almost 350 tournaments a year including the University Interscholastic League or high school state championships, which have been played at Clay since 1974. It also hosts the annual Texas State Juniors Tournament that features 160 of the top junior participants in Texas.

With all the traffic on Clay, play can sometimes be slow. "We have a strict marshaling policy and keep a close eye on the time," Gomillion said. "But once you spread out the tee times, there's not much else we can do. We sometimes refer to it as 'fast-food golf.'"

With some delays anticipated in your round, you can make the best of the situation and use that opportunity to think about your next shot whether it's through trees, to a dogleg, or around water. On No. 18, it's all three. The par-4, 438-yard signature hole is a dogleg-right through a chute of trees off the elevated tee. If you successfully maneuver the 40-yard gap without going in the water to the left, your second shot is wide open to a green that has another small lake sitting to the right.

"On 18, you have to hit a good tee shot," Gomillion said. "It's a very difficult finishing hole and I've seen many championships lost or won on that hole."

Use your time wisely.

From Austin go south on IH-35 to Ben White Blvd. Turn left and go east on Ben White Blvd. 2.3 miles to Montopolis. Turn right on Montopolis and go 2.5 miles and turn left at Jimmy Clay Drive.

Kyle Dalton, Contributor

Since graduating from the University of Texas in 1992 with a degree in journalism, Kyle Dalton has been a writer and editor for a variety of national publications in various fields.

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