Top 5 courses of the Texas Hill Country

By Shawn Nicholls, Contributor

AUSTIN, Texas -- The Texas Hill Country amasses 25,000 square miles and 23 counties. Understandably, deciding which courses to make stops at on your next trip to the area is not an easy task. Here's a rundown of the must play tracks and a few more that are worth the effort if you have the time.

Barton Creek

Austin's Barton Creek Resort is the crown jewel of Hill Country golf. The property features four high caliber courses from three of the game's most respected architects. The Arnold Palmer designed Lakeside Course is situated offsite, but is well worth the trek. Native son Ben Crenshaw returned home to design a links style layout - the Cliffside Course -- that is an excellent example of his minimalist design philosophy and his appreciation for the game's traditions.

But far and away the highlight of the resort is the contribution of Tom Fazio. Both the Canyons and the Foothills courses are consistently ranked in national publications and widely considered two of the best tracks in the entire state. The former, which opened its fairways in 1986, is the resort's signature course. Be prepared for the challenge that accompanies such a distinction. The miniscule greens are well protected by grass bunkers and intensified by undulated aprons. Visually, the course is littered with waterfalls, cliffs and numerous elevation changes.

Although Fazio's other 18-hole project at Barton Creek, the Canyons, is the baby of the resort, it has quickly matured into a formidable challenge. Complete with the challenges of the Foothills, the course also features its own pro shop, extensive practice facilities, oak and sycamore lined fairways and a mammoth par-5 finishing hole that takes weary golfers on a roller coaster ride towards the clubhouse.

Hill Country Golf Club

Knocking it around at the Hill Country Golf Club, a former "Top 10 Course You Can Play" as ranked by Golf Magazine, just west of San Antonio offers two main advantages. Not only is the golf challenging and serene, but the adjoining Hyatt Regency Resort is perhaps the most posh accommodation in the entire region, making the post-round relaxation a pleasure.

The Arthur Hills designed course possesses a rare combination of oak trees and cacti. At just under 7,000-yards the layout is pleasantly long with out being tiresome. The golf carts are technologically advanced, offering a detailed course guide and scoring system.

La Cantera Resort Course

Opportunities to play regular PGA Tour stops are not plentiful in the world of the ordinary golfer. This alone is enough motivation to venture out to the Resort Course at the Westin La Cantera. Home to deluxe accommodations, a spa and a lengthy list of onsite amenities, the resort is just minutes from popular San Antonio attractions.

The signature course is a Jay Morrish/Tom Weiskopf design that is home to the PGA's Texas Open. Memorable scenes sure to have made their way onto your television during coverage of the event include the windy roller coaster at nearby Six Flags, the downtown San Antonio skyline and the 80-foot drop from the tee box to the fairway at the famous seventh hole.

Legacy Hills

Golfers receive an early test of decision making and power at Legacy Hills, a Billy Casper/Greg Nash designed course conveniently situated five miles off Interstate 35. The quandary here comes at the tee box. Hitting to the left portion of split fairway requires pinpoint precision to avoid a trip into the trees. The reward is a shorter hole and a chance to make a put and earn a circle on your scorecard. The alternative is a somewhat safer drive to the right, which leaves a longer approach to a bunkered green, but is much more forgiving. Of course, it could all be a moot point. The drawback to either decision is that a huge lake sits between the tee box and either side of the split fairway. Overall, Legacy Hills is a challenging track with some holes like the second, but many more that are just nice golf holes. What puts it over the others in the area? Throughout the years it has earned the reputation as being on of the better conditioned in the area.

Quarry Golf Club

This Keith Foster designed daily fee course has consistently raked in the honors over the years, including best public course in Texas as ranked by The Dallas Morning News. Thankfully, Quarry Golf Club delivers on the hype. The first nine rolls through native grasslands featuring highlight holes like the fourth, sixth and ninth, all par fours under 300 yards from the regular tee set..

Making the turn takes golfers on a journey through a challenging back nine nestled into a quarry pit over a hundred years old. With the San Antonio skyline looming in the distance, a state of the art clubhouse and plenty of service with a smile, the Quarry Golf Club is a Hill Country stop worth making.

The Best of the Rest

The Bandit - Another Keith Foster design located six miles east of New Braunfels.

The Buckhorn and the Republic - Two other solid designs run by the same management company that oversees the Bandit.

Silverhorn - One of San Antonio's newest courses was designed by Randy Heckenkemper with help from PGA Tour veterans Scott Verplank and Willie Wood.

Olympia Hills - Home to a spectacular landscape, undulating elevation and a design that weaves through the Selma and Cibolo creeks.

Rayner Ranch Golf Club - The serene, oak-lined course was recently made over, to include new tee boxes, refurbished amenities and a new name.

Shawn Nicholls, Contributor

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