Clubs of Lakeway Live Oak and Yaupon: Two Different Styles of Hill Country Golf
LAKEWAY, TX - It was the early 1960s in Houston and one local construction company was in trouble. According to those familiar with the situation, the company got caught "doing something it shouldn't have been doing." The company had two options - act responsibly and own up to the unbecoming activities, or blame someone else. The company chose the latter and surprisingly, that someone was within the company.
Lee Blocker was the chosen "fall guy." Blocker, who had worked at the company after graduating from Rice University with a degree in accounting, was the scapegoat. Blocker fell and found himself spending time in the state penitentiary in Huntsville.
After two long years in state prison, Blocker was released. Upon his release, Blocker found a nice reward waiting. A large sum of money had been set aside for him as a payoff of sorts for what he had done for the company.
Blocker, surprised by the money, decided to make the best of a bad situation that had suddenly gotten better and put his accounting degree to work. First, he contacted several acquaintances he had met at his former employer. He had an idea. Blocker wanted to develop a piece of land approximately 20 miles northwest of Austin. After several meetings, the 10 men formed Lakeway Land Company and purchased 2,500 acres west of the city, in large part with Blocker's newly acquired cashflow.
In Cleburne, almost 200 miles to the north, Leon Howard, an established golf course architect, was concluding his work on the construction of a golf course he had designed. Through an associate, Howard heard about Blocker and his plans. Howard inquired.
Blocker was very receptive to Howard's initial inquiry. He was even more impressed at a meeting when he saw Howard's resume and established background. He hired Howard.
Howard was then tasked with surveying the 2,500 acres of land and creating a development of lots in a community that would feature two golf courses. "I did the master plan for Lakeway on all of it except for a few lots that had already been done down by the marina. Basically, I had a free hand to create the layout of the course and where everything would fit, including the streets, the lots; the whole bit."
Howard developed the first course, Live Oak, in two stages. The first phase was the construction of the front nine, which started in July 1964. Howard said they tried to follow the lay of the land on the front nine and all subsequent holes. "With Live Oak we followed the elevation all the way around." A year later, the first nine holes were complete. Howard said that in the following year he oversaw the construction of the second nine holes, which eventually opened in 1967.
Live Oak, by most who have played it, is considered the easier of the two Howard-designed Lakeway courses. Howard said it is less difficult simply because the land was much flatter.
However, be prepared on those holes that do have a change in elevation. It's almost as if Howard attempted to make up for the relative flatness of the course by making those holes doubly difficult with the inclusion of water on each one.
Starting on No. 9, a par 4 of 420 yards, this hole features a tee shot over a former creek that was dammed up to create a small man-made lake. Clearing the water is just the first task on this hole, which is the No. 1 handicap at Live Oak. The fairway, like many holes on the course, features trees on both sides. What makes it different from the other holes is that the fairway goes straight uphill to the green. Regardless of where the flag is placed, the pin is blind because the green is so much higher. A nice, challenging finishing hole on the front.
To start the back side, No. 10 is almost equal to its predecessor. This par 4 of 400 yards includes a tee shot over a valley that runs diagonally to the fairway. The second shot is straight uphill over a small pond to the right and to a green that is by far the most difficult on the course. The Tifdwarf Bermuda green slopes hard back-to-front and is often the creator of many three-putts or worse.
Following a pair of doglegs to the left that are laced with trees and a par 3 over a small pond, awaits the most spectacular hole on the Live Oak Course. No. 14 is a par 4 of 381 yards from the back tees. Off the tee you hit between a cluster of trees on either side to a fairway that is approximately 100 feet below and guarded by a small lake along the entire left side. The lake is not visible due to the trees, so don't go left. Don't go right either because there is out of bounds and a creek. If you hit the fairway, you then hit your approach across the lake to another uphill green that is blind.
Howard made the most out of the severe terrain when he designed holes 14 and 15. No. 15 is a par 4 of 415 yards and is a dogleg-left that is straight uphill off the tee to a blind fairway. Your best bet is to try and cut the corner. But be careful on this hole not to hit into the group ahead. It's happened before.
Down the stretch are a par 5 and par 3 respectively before you finish with another Howard beauty. No. 18 is a par 4 of 345 yards that features another elevated tee shot to a fairway that includes a small pond to the right. Grip it and rip it on this hole as you are able to see the entire flight of your ball.
Howard returned to Lakeway in 1969 to build a second 18 holes for Blocker and his company. The Yaupon Course opened in 1971. It features a great deal more undulation than Live Oak because Howard said the features on this portion of the land allowed it. "The terrain at Yaupon was much more severe. I tried following the ledges around the hilltops (for the course layout) and at the same time tried to leave as much of the hilltops as possible for good lots."
This is apparent off the first tee - the most difficult hole on the course. This zigzag par 5 of 562 yards includes an elevated tee shot to a valley below. The second shot is to a green that is straight uphill and blind. You must avoid a slope on the left to land on the upper tier of the fairway and have any chance of going at the flag in three.
No. 2, like the first hole, features undulation in the form of an elevated tee box to a downhill fairway. It differs in that it is much shorter at just 335 yards and features Howard's trademark - water. It also features a dogleg-to-the-right fairway that makes almost a 90-degree turn toward the green and over a small pond. When you approach Lakeway from the north on Highway 620, this is the hole you see on the right.
The remainder of Yaupon is much the same as you have numerous ups and downs as well as abundant trees that Howard creatively used to form doglegs on various holes. The final hole includes both trees and undulation. However, No. 18, a par 5 of 503 yards is unique to say the least. With trees to the right and left, you look at yet another elevated tee box down the sloped fairway. The green is visible in the distance. What lies between you and the green is four tiers and a creek. The stair-step fairway causes great dilemma in club choice off the tee. Most woods, if struck well, can clear all the tiers and land in the water. Any iron will land short of the creek but could potentially end up on one of the severe down slopes. Luck plays a role on this hole. If you do encounter bad luck and land on a slope, play it safe and pitch to the next flat tier. It will pay off. When you reach the green, look back and observe the monster you just conquered.
Guests of the Lakeway Inn can play either of the two courses. In addition to golf, there are numerous other activities nearby including water sports, chartered boats including dinner cruises, fitness facilities, and the world-renown Lakeway World of Tennis that includes 24 outdoor courts and two indoor courts. For information on the Lakeway Inn, go to: http://dolce.com/lakeway/rec.html.