Pedernales Country Club: Golf, Willie Nelson-Style

By Kyle Dalton, Contributor

Spicewood, TX - When you hear the name Willie Nelson, one thing comes to mind - country music legend who has done it his own way on his own terms.

He has succeeded in the country music industry in T-shirts, jeans and a bandana, not suits, ties or a cowboy hat. He prefers a beard and long hair over the clean-cut look. And finally, his unique voice is more twang than melodic. With all these known and well-documented, it should come as no surprise that Nelson's golf course located in Spicewood, Texas, a little community west of Austin, is no different. Or more appropriately, the course, like Nelson, is different.

Beginning with the name. The official name of the course is the Pedernales Country Club. But around Central Texas many also know it as the Cut 'N Putt, which is also printed on the scorecard. Most just refer to it as "Willie's Course."

The latter is probably the most accurate of the three. It's definitely all Willie, starting with the rules.

No, these aren't USGA rules. These are Willie Rules that were created and perfected by Nelson and his musician friends. And just like Nelson, they were created with the "laid back" golfer in mind.

Here are a few:

Nelson decides what par is on each hole. Actually, the nine-hole course is a par 36 but if you're playing with the legend himself, you might defer to what he says.

No more than 12 in a foursome. If you have an unexpected guest or six in town, don't worry. Bring them, too.

The Pedernales Stroll is always in effect. This is probably one of the most controversial and cherished rules on the course. It requires further explanation.

Pedernales Country Club is a little rugged. The fairways are hard and give you plenty of roll. Unfortunately, that roll might wind up in the woods or in a bed of rocks, which are littered throughout the course. To overcome this rough terrain, "The Pedernales Stroll" rule was enacted and basically states - "in case your ball ends up in an unplayable or merely unpleasant lie, local rules permit you to pick it up and stroll to a more agreeable location for a free drop." Where's the controversy in that?

Compared to the history of the USGA and its rules, Willie's Rules are in the fledgling stage. The rules and the relationship between Nelson and Pedernales began in 1979 when Nelson purchased the course/recording studio.

The course, like Nelson, fell on hard times in the early 1990s when he ran in to trouble with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Nelson actually lost the course. Fortunately, Nelson's good friend and former University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal purchased the property back at an auction for $117,350. At the time, Royal told the Austin American-Statesman that he paid the exact price that Nelson owed on the property. "I'll sell it back to him any time he wants to buy it," Royal said. "It was never meant to be an investment. If anybody bids higher to the IRS, it won't be knocking me out of a good deal; it'll just be knocking out Willie." Eventually, Nelson got the property back.

Today, the course averages between 12,000 to 15,000 rounds played each year. Not a lot of traffic when compared with some of the other courses in and around Austin.

Since 1979, Nelson has called Pedernales his home. In fact, he lives in a home overlooking the course and the beautiful surrounding countryside. He is regularly seen at the course when he is in town. (On the day this writer played the course, my guest got to meet and chat with the country music icon before I arrived. Unfortunately, Nelson left just before I arrived.)

While music is Nelson's main passion and livelihood, golf is not far behind. Fittingly, when Nelson isn't playing the course, he might be in the large recording studio, which is used by some of the biggest stars from the around the world and has been used by stars including Ray Price, Tanya Tucker and Merle Haggard. It is located adjacent to the clubhouse.

The clubhouse by itself is a sight to see. The small building is filled with Willie Nelson memorabilia. From numerous autographed pictures with stars to awards including four Billboard awards he has received throughout his distinguished career. There are even a couple of trinkets that are reminders of Nelson's struggles with the IRS.

The 3,330-yard course layout, as suggested by the creation of "The Pedernales Stroll" rule, can be challenging to say the least. Pedernales is the prototype when you hear the term "Hill Country golf." The course, which was designed by Charles Howard and opened in 1968, features numerous tee shots off of elevated tees with incredible views across the Hill Country.

Hazards on the course are few and far between. Bunkers are placed throughout the course but have overgrown in recent years. The new superintendent of the course is in the process of allowing the grass to fill in the bunkers and gain a solid root structure before new bunkers will be carved out and put back in play.

Water is located on several holes. The par-4, 385-yard No. 3 and No. 12 if you play the course twice for a full 18, is one of the prettiest holes on the course. A dogleg-left, this hole requires precise placement of your mid-iron shot off the tee in between several trees located on both sides of the fairway and behind a small pond that sits to the left at the bend. Your second shot is over the water to a green that is located uphill.

The only other water hazard on the course is on the par-4 No. 7 - the signature hole. On the elevated tee of this 385-yard hole, you have one of the most spectacular views of the Texas Hill Country that any course in the area has to offer. After observing the surrounding beauty, you must hit to a fairway that slopes severely downhill and bends hard to the right. You can try to cut the corner and hit over the trees to the right. Anything short will careen right and find the trees and rocks. If you go too long and left you will be deep in the woods.

If your ball happens to end up in either one of the previously mentioned scenarios, don't worry. You're in luck. There just happen to be a few rules for such situations.

A ball hitting a tree shall be deemed not to have hit the tree. Hitting a tree is simply bad luck and has no place in a scientific game. The player should estimate the distance the ball would have traveled if it had not hit the tree and play the ball from that point, preferably atop a firm tuft of grass.

There shall be no such thing as a lost ball. The missing ball is somewhere on or near the course and will eventually be found and pocketed by someone else. It thus becomes a stolen ball. You should not compound the felony by charging yourself a penalty stroke.

Any tee shot that carries the trees to the right on No. 7 may find the hazard, which unfortunately is empty due to dry conditions over the last few years. See the rule titled "The Pedernales Stroll." If you successfully place your ball in the fairway, whether by actual shot or by hand, you have a shot over the hazard to a green that is uphill.

This hole alone sums up the course. According to General Manager Larry Trader, who has been at the Cut 'N Putt since Nelson took over in 1979, knowing the lay of the land and the course in general is crucial to good scoring. "This is a challenging course and you've got to play it three or four times to fully understand where to hit the ball."

Some more notable guests who have played the course more than a handful of times and might be good guides at Pedernales include Darrell Royal, Dennis Hopper, Ray Price, Matthew McConaughey and Merle Haggard.

While the course itself can be a little rugged, the greens are nothing short of superb. Trader said they have been working on the greens recently and those efforts do not go unnoticed. The 328 Tifdwarf greens are soft and very receptive to incoming shots. They are very well manicured and provide for true putts, with the exception of deer droppings, which can't be avoided because of the abundant natural habitat that walks the course.

When on the green, several more Willie Rules could benefit you if you know them. And who knows, they may even help you tidy up your score.

Scorecard

Conditions: C
Rules That Make Up for Conditions: A+
Layout: A
Service: A
Practice Fac: C
Club House/Pro Shop/Museum: A
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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