Raven Nest Golf Course a fine tribute to Sam Houston

By Dave Scott, Contributor

HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- As the general who led the Republic of Texas to independence from Mexico and then served as its first president, Sam Houston is considered the George Washington of Texas. In fact, his adopted hometown of Huntsville is often billed as the Mount Vernon of the Lone Star State.

Houston is so revered in Texas that the state's largest city bears his name, as do 13 public schools and one state university. There is even a gleaming white statue 77-feet-tall (reportedly the tallest in the world of any American hero) to greet travelers along Interstate 45.

Now a new golf course has been named after him.

Raven Nest, an 18-hole facility built in conjunction by the City of Huntsville and Sam Houston State University, opened in May. It's name is an homage to the Indian moniker, Colonneh or Raven, given to Houston by a Cherokee tribe that became a surrogate family to him during his rebellious teenaged years.

The tall pine trees covering the rolling sand hills of southeast Texas are a nice setting for a golf course and Raven Nest makes the most of it. The 18 holes traipse away from the highway into secluded forest where the pines make ideal backdrops for the greens while rarely coming into play. In fact, the contours of the mostly tree-less fairways and deep bunkers give Sam Houston's namesake a distinctly un-Texas feel. These features make Raven Nest a unique golf experience from other local courses such as Waterwood National, Bentwater Country Club and Elkins Lake GC.

While visitors to Huntsville, located about an hour north of Houston, may be drawn to the landscape, they will leave enamored of the layout of the course itself. Raven Nest is an interesting collection of holes that present a myriad of intriguing options from tee to green.

And that's just what architect Tripp Davis intended. Attracted by topography that reminded him of his hometown in Georgia (Houston is said to have settled in Huntsville because of its similarities to his native Tennessee), Davis faced a perplexing challenge after being selected from some two dozen architects competing for the job.

Raven Nest needed to be a fair, enjoyable course for the public because it was being built by the City of Huntsville, and yet it needed to offer a sufficient challenge as a new home course for the SHSU collegiate golf teams.

The course passes both tests

From the front and middle tees, subtle angles and pin placement make strategy and shot-making paramount. The four par-5s are the best example, with each one forcing decisions on whether to brave the green on the second or to lay up, and if so, where and with what club. No. 14 is a par-5 sliced into three segments by a creek and a native area. An ideal drive will tempt the daring to cross both hazards, but a more mundane tee shot will have golfers staring at the middle segment trying to gauge how far might be too far.

These perplexing par-5s and some wicked par-4s make the course play longer than its yardage. In fact, if the 452-yard 5th and 475-yard 15th surely are the two longest par-4s of any city-run course in the state.

As for the rest of back tees, only young guns need apply -- Raven Nest measures in at 6,943 yards. Fortunately, the SHSU Bearkats have had their share of young guns. In the 1970s, the team won four consecutive NAIA national championships. In the 80s, it placed in the top 10 three times at the NCAA Division II level. Although the Bearkats haven't competed as well since moving up to the tougher competition at Division I, they have posted two Southland Conference championships. Maneuvering through Raven Nest should make them even better.

Sam Houston first made his mark in Texas as a commander of young guns. The Battle of the Alamo is the most famous battle and it's purpose was to give Houston time to raise and train his army. Ultimately, it was Houston who led the rout of Santa Anna and his Mexican army at the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836.

A lifelong politician, Houston served Texas as governor and state representative and U.S. Senator. His adamant stance against succession from the union cost him his governorship in 1860 and he died in 1863 with the country mired in civil war.

It could take a politician of Houston's eminence to solve the squabbling surrounding Raven Nest. Some of Huntsville's populace didn't agree to spending city funds on a golf course and now are protesting the building of the clubhouse. Meanwhile, city leaders and university officials are bickering over who should pay for land rights and use of the facility. While Houston's long list of military and political contributions to Texas history may not include any golf lore, there is evidence he just might have taken to the game. Once, after a perceived insult from a U.S. Congressman, the feisty Houston confronted him on Pennsylvania Street in Washington D.C. and proceeded to thrash the congressman with his hickory cane.

Not surprisingly, the incident didn't endear Houston to his fellow Washington politicians and within months The Raven was flying away from D.C. and toward history in Texas.

For more information, call (936) 438-8588 or (800) 358-8249

Fast fact:

Raven Nest is the home course for the Sam Houston State University Bearkats and the Huntsville Hornets.

Dave Scott, Contributor

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