Robert Trent Jones Jr. adds appeal to Mill Creek with additional nine holes

By Kyle Dalton, Contributor

Mill Creek Golf CourseSALADO, Texas -- For years Mill Creek Country Club has drawn golfers because of its signature hole - No. 3, a 340-yard par 4 that features a heart-shaped green and two heart-shaped bunkers, all of which resulted in Gov. Bill Clements declaring the hole the heart of Texas when the course became an 18-hole course in 1981. Today, it has new appeal - more specifically, nine new holes.

The Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course originally opened with nine holes in 1965 but most of the existing holes received a major overhaul in 1981 with the addition of the new nine. Jones returned to the small Central Texas community, which is located 45 minutes north of Austin, last year and opened the latest nine known as Creek No. 3. The original 18 are now referred to as Creek Nos. 1 and 2. All three are combined to play into each other to provide three different 18-hole experiences.

For those who get the opportunity to play Creek No. 3, chances are they won't be too disappointed if their round doesn't wind its way to the famous heart-shaped hole. The new nine with all its variety is far and away Jones' best effort at Mill Creek.

The first hole is a challenge to say the least. This monstrous par-5 plays 596 yards from the blue tees and features Salado Creek, which runs throughout the course and runs the length of this hole to the left.

Interestingly, the stream goes almost unnoticed on No. 1 simply because of the wall of trees that separates the golfer from the running tributary. The towering oaks hug both sides of the fairway including an overhanging tree on the left and provide a narrow alley with little room for error. Although it may be a safer play to pull out an iron, the length almost demands the driver on this No. 1 handicap hole.

Mill Creek Golf Course The fairway doglegs to the right about 150 yards from the hole, where a small tributary of Salado Creek and a bunker guard the hole about 70 yards out. "This is a tough starting hole," said Anthony Land, general manager and director of golf.

The next three holes are much more forgiving, including Nos. 3 and 4, which transition your round into more of a links-style experience. Although these holes are interesting and challenging, it's what you encounter following No. 4 that is memorable.

Leaving the green at No. 4 you must pay attention to the signs for the No. 5 tee because the concrete cart path veers hard to the right on to an unpaved surface (more on the reason why later). Soon after you hit the rock-laden dirt path, you realize a truck or some other type of four-wheel drive vehicle might be a more suitable form of transport. The bumpy ride is deceptive as it takes your mind off the fact that you are actually ascending up a steep incline to the next hole. When you reach the top of the hill and get your legs back under you, you soon recognize that all the bumps were well worth it when you see No. 5 below. A large pond sits down in the valley, approximately 100 feet below with Texas prairie land serving as the primary backdrop.

After you watch the flight of your ball as it falls down to the generous landing area, which includes one of Jones' trademarks, a fairway bunker that sits on the right, a mid-iron remains to the 12,000-square-foot double green. The large undulating green, which is shared with No. 6, includes another Jones' trademark, strategically positioned greenside bunkers. No matter where you are on this green - either No. 5 or No. 6 - keep a cautious eye on the adjacent hole for errant shots.

Mill Creek Golf Course Land said the links-style layout on several holes on Creek No. 3 was somewhat of a tribute by Jones to golf and its history. "The double green is Jones tipping his hat to the Old Course at St. Andrews."

Land said the rough gradient to No. 5 is temporary, as this hole will become No. 15 in a couple of years when another nine is completed to make Mill Creek a 36-hole complex. Once the new nine is finished, the first four holes on Creek No. 3 will serve as the opening holes on the new 18. Hole Nos. 5, 7, 8 and 9 will become Nos. 15-18, while the current No. 6 will become No. 5. Like the current Nos. 3-8, the new course will be links-style in design, while the original 18 will be more of the traditional style course. Estimated completion date of the new course and a new clubhouse is 2005.

While No. 5 is the signature hole on Creek No. 3, the par-3, 189-yard eighth runs a close second. This is another transition hole - from the open links-style back into the woods - and the change in style is complemented by a dramatic change in elevation.

Mill Creek Golf Course The hole sits approximately 80 feet below from the back tees and is framed by trees to the left and right with two of the 26 bunkers on Creek No. 3 located on either side of the green. This hole is yet another opportunity to enjoy a spectacular panoramic vista and watch the flight of your ball.

The finishing hole on Creek No. 3, like the adjacent No. 1, features trees on both sides of the fairway and creates an alley from tee to green. The par-4 measures 430 yards and plays even longer as several oak trees tower up in the middle of the fairway, putting a premium on driving accuracy.

The trip back to the clubhouse, which crosses between holes 4 and 5 on Creek No. 2, leaves you wanting more. Depending on how the clubhouse has set up the courses for the day, you might be just finishing up your front nine and heading for another nine.

Where to stay/where to eat

The Mill Creek Inn is most convenient and offers all the amenities as guests may choose from 21 condominiums and six townhouses featuring full kitchens, fireplaces and patios. If you want to stay in town, there are many enchanting bed and breakfast inns.

You might opt for the most popular choice in town, the historic Stagecoach Inn. The Inn opened in the early 1860s as The Shady Villa Hotel, a rustic Overland Stage and Pony Express stop along the Old Chisholm Trail. It lays claim to hosting numerous legendary figures of the past, including General George Armstrong Custer and Robert E. Lee, Texas patriots like Sam Houston, and outlaws such as the James Brothers and Sam Bass. The Inn was restored in 1945 and today it is preserved in a down-home atmosphere offering vacationers and travelers, family groups and business gatherings, the best in country food, comfortable accommodations, personal attention, recreation and sightseeing.

Things to do

Salado shops are full of antiques, home decor, gift items, the latest fashion trends and friendly service. Take a stroll down Main Street, across Salado Creek, along side streets and discover a unique shopping experience.

The Central Texas Museum documents the history and development of Central Texas and displays valuable relics, books and papers that tell the story of pioneer days and the early settlers of this region.

Mountain Mary's Tonkawa Indians Museum - This museum tells the story about the first inhabitants of the area.

Log on to www.salado.com for information on lodging, dining and other attractions.

Directions:
Located in Salado, near Interstate-35 about 12 miles south of Temple. From Austin (40 minutes) or San Antonio (1.5 hours), travel north on I-35 to Exit 285. Follow signs on the right to the club.

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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