The Oaks at Woodlands Resort is good for business

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

HOUSTON, Texas - When you've had enough of scrapping with the nearly surreal Houston traffic, find Highway 45 and head north. Soon, you'll be seeing real trees and your breath will start slowly coming back to you.

That's about the time you'll want to start looking for the turnoff to the Woodlands resort. The resort is in the process of changing hands and shuffling its five golf courses, one of which is the Oaks.

The Oaks will soon be one of the resort's two courses available to guests, as well as the public, and it's a good fit. The Oaks is a pleasant enough course, just not very memorable; there really is nothing bad you can say about it, but neither is there anything truly memorable you can point out.

It's like that nice date you had Saturday night, but you can't remember her face Monday morning.

The Woodlands does a lot of corporate business, and the Oaks is a good course for businessmen; you can talk a mess o' business on the course without being distracted too much by the golf.

None of this is to say The Oaks is a bad course. It's playable and scenic. The course used to be known as The West course, then given a new name after a redesign in Jay Morris in 1999.

It does have a woodlands feel - with many of its namesake trees scattered about - though you ride over busy thoroughfares several times during the round, and there are homes along many of the holes. The homes are quiet and tasteful though, sitting stolidly in the tony, residential neighborhood in which the course winds through.

It features easy par-3s and some tough par-5s. No. 13, for example, has a narrow, tree-lined fairway off the slightly elevated tee, with pines to the left which are fairly open. Oaks and deep bush are to the right, and as you approach the green, a pond dips in to the front and right side of the green, made more difficult to approach by sand traps to right and in back. Deep woods lurk behind; there isn't much green to work with if you're going for it in two.

Or take No. 16, a 581-yarder from the back tees. A ditch is within reach of the tee, so you have to do some cogitating right off the bat - lay up or blast it. It's a fairly narrow fairway with water coming into play on the right as you approach the mildly undulating green protected by bunkers both sides.

No. 7 is only a 535-yard par-5, but rated as the toughest hole on the course. That's mainly because it has a narrow fairway and a lake is to the right, which is where most right-handed golfers tend to go. You need to stay left here, otherwise you'll be battling the water the length of the hole, and the trees that stand sentinel over your approach.

The verdict

The Oaks is a pretty flat course, fairly typical of many nice, resort courses. It does have quite a few trees and enough water hazards to hold your interest, and the greens have some slope and undulation without making them overly challenging.

It's very playable, and if the weather is nice, it comes recommended.

The Arnold Palmer and Gary Player courses at the Woodlands will join the TPC as private clubs the start of next year, and resort officials are giving the public one last shot at the TPC, usually rated one of the best resort courses in Texas. It hosted the Shell Houston Open for 17 years.

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

Panther Trails will join the Oaks as the other course open to resort guests the start of next year.

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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