Galleria's shopping splendor makes Houston a golf widow's surprise ace
HOUSTON -- Jordan Capers sits at a table sipping an iced caramel macchiato, watching the ice skaters go by, Jimmy Choo, Cartier, Fendi and Neiman Marcus bags arranged around her feet like soldiers standing sentinel. Make that her freshly manicured feet, the bright pink toenails peeking out of shoes that would make Sex in the City's Carrie Bradshaw swoon.
Jordan Capers has been dragged here to Houston from her Kentucky home by her golf-addicted spouse. At least, that's what he tells the guys at the office.
She tells a different story. One in which the main characters are MasterCard, Visa and American Express.
"We come to Houston because I want to shop at The Galleria," Capers says, smiling sweetly. "It's part of the bargain I made with him. If he wants to go on some trip where all he does is golf and ignore me, well, I get to pick the destination.
"I picked Houston because of The Galleria. Ask yourself how many golfers would choose Houston as their first choice? He tells his buddies that it's because Houston has some great affordable underrated courses ... something like that. But we're here for the shopping."
They're not the only ones. The Galleria, a huge mall with as many wings as some universities, is Houston's No. 1 tourist attraction, drawing more than 15 million visitors per year. Some cities can boast of historic museums, great cultural events and proximity to breathtaking natural wonders. Houston has Gucci, Tiffany's, an exotic tea store and an ice-skating rink all in one place.
Which just might make it one of the best cities for a golf widow or widower to convince their spouse to tee it up in.
On a recent visit to Tour 18 Houston, a replica course a short drive outside Houston, every other golfer seemed to have a spouse with a pocketbook full of credit cards out at The Galleria.
And those were the ones willingly to sheepishly admit it. (Jordan Capers used her maiden name for this story to save her husband from some office ribbing.)
Several golfers swinging away at Tour 18 had stories you might find fishy.
"I just got a timeshare out here," Paul Capito of Louisville said. Pause. "For the golf."
Whatever reason brings your obsessive game to Houston, it's a safe bet your better half will find plenty to do. The Galleria experience isn't limited to the 300-plus shops, two hotels (yes, one wasn't enough) and the post office (like you want to leave the mall to send that postcard to the folks back home?). A number of nearby hotels offer shopping and pampering packages.
Hotel Derek -- a hip place with the requisite love of the color black and a plasma-screen fireplace in the lobby -- is one of the better options. There's a Shop Till You Drop package that includes a gift certificate for a foot massage at the Clarins Salon & Day Spa in Saks Fifth Avenue. (Yes, the best spa may just be in The Galleria. What'd you expect?)
Not that it's hard to find a good hotel within a short walk or a quick complimentary shuttle to The Galleria. Houston may be sprawling city encompassing 617 acres (half the size of the state of Rhode Island), but all the top hotels and best restaurants seemed to be packed around the shopping shrine.
Head to the heart of downtown on a weekend and you'll imagine tumbleweeds blowing down the empty streets as you search for a place to eat near the Houston Rockets' arena. Drive around The Galleria and you'll have so many choices, trying to decide could fry your brain.
Of course, if you're on a golf trip, your spouse will probably have already made it for you.
"I just call my husband on his cell and tell him where to meet me for dinner," Jordan Capers said. "Then he listens to my shopping stories. He'll be telling the golf stories at parties for months. I don't need to hear them."
The shopping stories certainly carry more sticker shock. That one positive about Houston as a destination for the golfer in the family. Most of the area's better courses are still under $80 at peak tee times -- usually closer to $50. Or about 42 times less than the $2,100 you could easily drop on a Jimmy Choo Snakeskin Hobo handbag.
Yes, they have a $2,100 purse called the Hobo. If you can't understand that, you're probably the golfer.
"I figure my husband can golf anywhere," Alabama visitor Elizabeth Bankership said. "But I can only find my Kate Spade shoes here. We're not getting Kate Spade back in Birmingham."
This is where golf widows need to be strategic. The Mall of America may be bigger than The Galleria, but Minnesota is never going to fly as a winter golf suggestion. Texas, on the other hand -- well, you've hit the shopping hole-in-one.
Should you tire of running The Galleria's gauntlet of commerce - it weaves up and down four stories, with plenty of glass ceilings - and Houston does have other attractions for the non-golfer on the trip. The city's zoo is vastly underrated, the Museum of Natural Science considered top-notch. And there's the Space Center a little farther out.
Of course, The Galleria does its best to discourage such straying. There's the Williams Water Wall right outside the mall, a 60-foot aquatic display that's lighted at night and surrounded by a park (ah, forgotten fresh air). There's also a new fountain in The Galleria itself that shoots straight to the top ceiling.
Who are you kidding? You're not leaving this place.
"When my co-workers come in from Taiwan, the first thing they want to do is go shopping," local Diana Yang said. "After that, it's golf."
But surely, you're coming to Houston for the golf. Just stick to that story and you should be fine.
May 1, 2006