Packsaddle: History In The Hill Country

By Kyle Dalton, Contributor

Kingsland, TX - Back in the mid 1960s under the presidential leadership of Lyndon Baines Johnson, the federal government wanted to encourage rural recreation centers in small towns throughout the country.

To accomplish such a feat, the Farmers Home Administration (FHA) set up a program where it would finance the recreation centers for communities of less than 5,000. For every member that joined and paid the $100 down payment and agreed to pay monthly fees of $25-30, the FHA would loan $1,000 to be used in the construction of those facilities.

In Texas, 70 such golf courses were constructed. Through the years some of the courses built under the program were not financially successful and failed. However, there are still quite a few in operation and successful today. One such course is Packsaddle Country Club located in Kingsland, Texas just an hour west of Austin.

For Packsaddle, a small group of men led the membership drive back in the 1960s. After lots of knocking on doors, the group had collected the signatures of 550 members for a total loan amount of $550,000. Back in that time, the money was enough to build a golf course, including the sprinkler system and a nice clubhouse, and a swimming pool. By some estimates, this type of facility would cost approximately $3.5 million today.

Interestingly and coincidentally, Lyndon Baines Johnson owned a lakehouse near the club for many years. He was also rumored to have spent evenings in the clubhouse enjoying a meal on occasion.

With the money and the plan for a recreation center in the works, the group backing the club called on the services of Leon Howard to design the course. Howard, who has done more than 150 courses today, was given the choice of the land he wanted to use for the course.

After looking over the 300-acre spread, Howard decided on a spot that included a large hill, where the clubhouse would be located. "I decided on the high spot to put the clubhouse because it offers a really nice view of the land," Howard said. From the clubhouse you can see almost half the holes on the course and get a good view of what lies ahead of you when you start both the front and the back side.

Both holes - No. 1 and No. 10 - because of their close proximity to the clubhouse and location near the top of the hill offer clear views of each respective hole from the elevated tee box. No. 1, a par 4 of 375 yards, is fairly wide open with a few trees to the left. No. 10, a par 4 of 389 yards is very similar in its design. Both offer wide landing areas, one of the trademarks of a Howard-designed course. "I like to offer a big landing area and a bailout area to the right because a large percentage of golfers slice the ball."

Another Howard trademark is water. "I like water. It's good from an aesthetics standpoint and it's the most economically maintained of all the hazards." No. 2 provides plenty of water in the form of a large pond. You must hit it solid off the tee on this par 3 of 196 yards to avoid the water and a few trees to the right. If you don't you're looking at bogey or worse.

Water also factors in on the closing hole on the front side, the No. 1 handicap hole on the course. Off the tee box to the left is a pond that runs parallel to the fairway. A narrow portion also crosses the fairway near the tee boxes. If that's not enough, there is a cluster of trees to the right on this par 4 of 431 yards that doglegs to the right. Add in to the equation that it's uphill and you understand why it's rated the most difficult hole.

The back side sparsely features water but on the one hole it does, it's omnipresent. The signature hole on the course, No. 16, is a par 3 of 204 yards. From the tee, you must hit to a green that has a steep slope to the right that runs off in to the pond. To add to the difficulty, a group of tall trees sit to the right and almost in front of the green. Only if the pin location is on the left side of the green is the flagstick visible. Otherwise, you must hit your ball to a blind pin location with trees and water waiting for any wayward shot to the right.

While water on these few holes adds to the challenge and beauty of the course, Howard made the most of the remaining 177 acres he used for the course. With the rolling terrain Howard created several holes with blind ridges that put knowledge of the course at a premium. Trees are also prevalent throughout the course but the large landing areas give you plenty of opportunity to avoid them. Interestingly, another Howard trademark is bunkers, or more accurately, a lack of them. Put the sand wedge away and bring your ball retriever in its place.

The course is also laid out where the predominant south-southwest wind can either help you or hurt you as it is blowing in your face or directly behind you on a majority of the holes.

The Tifdwarf Bermuda greens are very receptive to incoming shots. This should come as no surprise considering the fact that the current USGA specs used for greens were actually developed by Howard.

After Howard completed his design including the greens, the course officially opened for business in 1968. Unfortunately, the operation and management of the course through the years wasn't as thorough as Howard was in his design.

Since its opening, Packsaddle has been through some rough times both on and off the course. Like many other clubs that were part of the original FHA program, the membership at Packsaddle was difficult to maintain. As a result, the FHA foreclosed on the property in 1980.


Conditions: A-
Layout: A
Service: B
Practice Fac.: B
Club House/Pro Shop: B
Pace of Play: A
Value: A
Overall Rating: A-

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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