Lead by Falconhead Golf Club and The Golf Club at Star Ranch, Austin golfers have strong public courses

By Steve Habel, Contributor

AUSTIN, Texas — The lack of rain in the Central Texas area has been brutal on the businesses that utilize the area's lakes and rivers for recreation, irrigation and — in essence — their very livelihood.

No. 17 at Shadow Glen
Almost home - the green at No. 17 at Shadow Glen calls for a precise shot, especially with the often-punitive wind conditions.
No. 17 at Shadow GlenFalconhead Golf ClubTexas Longhorns Football
If you go

But the many days of sunshine and moderate (for Texas) summer temperatures last year were a boon to local upper-end public golf courses as players flocked to the links rather than to their boats, their jet skis and the local (dried-up) swimming holes.

"It was a good summer of for us — without a doubt our best ever," said Lindsay Bowman, the general manager of the four-year-old Shadow Glen Golf Course in the northeast Austin suburb of Manor. "People in this area have a lot of choices for recreation and for great golf, and as long as we get the players out here, we know we can keep them coming back."

The Austin area is considered a haven for upper-middle class demographics and an educated populous, two target profiles for golf success. During the past 20 years, a bevy of golf courses have sprung up along with — and due to — the suburban sprawl that is created when people begin to look for affordable places to live within a reasonable commute to their workplaces in the city.

Real estate developers have learned that when they lay out residential subdivisions, they should include space for a golf course. The benefits to the community are plentiful, but to a developer, having a golf course in a residential area adds to its livability, increases property values and provides a means of which to dispose of the community's effluent wastewater.

It is a win-win situation for all involved — none more so than golfers since they are provided with additional and varied places to tee it up, often away from the maddening crowd but still relatively close to home.

With the area's demographics, its weather and its continuing residential boom, there are 24 public golf courses within a 20-minute drive of the state capitol building, which is located in the center of Austin. Of those 24, 13 can be considered upper-end courses and every one of those tracks are located in a residential subdivision.

Given the competition for area golfers' greenbacks, it would be of little surprise if some of the courses had financial trouble — and some in the area have. Falconhead Golf Club, located on the doorstep of the upper-crust west Austin suburb of Lakeway, was still working in late 2006 to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, while the aforementioned Shadow Glen recently began work on a proper clubhouse that had been scheduled for completion in the spring of 2006.

But for the most part, the area's top public golf courses live in an uneasy harmony, knowing that there are plenty of golfers to go around.

If you are a golfer planning a trip to Austin, you will find that there will always be a great golf course waiting for your game. It is reasonable to schedule a round per day every day for two solid weeks and have a different golf experience with each outing because of the area's varying terrain, the affect of differing wind conditions and different types of putting surfaces.

Any trip to Central Texas is worth the effort, but it is even more so if you are a golfer and have a few days to spend on the area links.

Austin golf: Must plays

Falconhead Golf Club: A lot of good things have been written about this course — and none of it is exaggeration.

Falconhead opened in 2003 to great fanfare as the first course ever to carry the label of PGA Tour Signature Series Course. Laid out by the folks from the PGA Tour Design Center, Falconhead fits lovingly into the gentle ups and downs of its site west of Austin.

They kept all the flavor of this unique land with a layout shaded by gnarled trees and crisscrossed by meandering streams and creeks. The Tour's seal of approval means that you will find the kind of excitement you would expect to find at a tournament-level course. It plays at 7,302 yards and has a slope rating of 125.

"The character of the golf course reflects the surrounding natural beauty and subtly blends and complements the Texas Hill Country," said Byron Cook, Falconhead's general manager. "By utilizing the existing natural topography, carefully saving trees, capturing picturesque views and providing a variety of shot-making opportunities, Falconhead is a unique golfing experience unlike any in the Austin area."

This course gets high marks for being tough, but fair and making you use every club in your bag.

The Golf Club at Star Ranch: Bechtol & Russell Golf Design and Carter Morrish, of Jay Morrish & Associates, designed Star Ranch in 2000. It is one of the friendliest courses you will play, but don't be fooled — it's quite a challenge.

The course, which plays at a testing 7,017 yards, follows the natural rolling contours of the land, using a central lake and prevailing wind to create an experience both formidable and fun. Located on a scenic hilltop, the land utilized by Star Ranch was not long ago grazed by cattle as part of the Timmerman Ranch.

This 18-hole daily fee course also features a massive stone clubhouse, restaurant and lounge that combine with the very best in architecture, topography, development and management to create a memorable golf experience. And the views from the high points at Star Ranch stretch for miles.

Austin golf: Solid seconds

The Golf Club at Circle C: For many Hill Country and Central Texas golfers, the Golf Club at Circle C seemed for several years to be a waste of a good tract of land that had started out with such lofty aspirations.

The course, located in the far southwest city limits of Austin and a ways off the beaten path, was always infinitely playable when one got past the poor maintenance, the high price of playing and the snootiness of the staff and those that considered the course the own little county club.

That has all changed. A recent trip to the Golf Club at Circle C reminded us about how fun the course could be and is again, thanks to new ownership, strict attention to detail and a staff that bent over backwards to make sure we enjoyed our day of golf.

The large, undulating greens, tree-lined fairways and well-placed bunkers designed by Jay Morrish make the course, which plays at 6,859 yards and rates at 72.7, is challenging and appealing for players of all skill levels.

Austin off course

Austin bills itself as "The Live Music capital of the World," and every night of the week there are places to see great and varied, live bands. The city also is very fit, with a world-renown hike-and-bike trail located around the lake that sits directly downtown.

The Austin area, home of the 2006 national champion Texas Longhorns football team, is also home to some of the finest collegiate sports in the nation. For minor league baseball, the Round Rock Express, the Triple-A farm team for the Houston Astros, is located in the northern suburb of Round Rock.

Just being outside is what Austin is all about, but if you are a homebody, there are many museums and indoor attractions to satisfy most any taste.

Austin dining

Golfers in Austin will find the city replete with a wealth of excellent dining options, from upscale American restaurants to a wide variety of Asian offerings to that most sacred of Texas subjects: Barbecue. Whatever you're in the mood for - a quick bite, a nice wine, an exotic meal - this city has an answer. Use our Austin dining guide to help plan where you might like to eat on your next Texas golf vacation.

Steve Habel, Contributor

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