Northeast Texas and Lake Fork is a world like no other
EMORY, Texas - Non-Texans, and even die-hard Texans, often buy into the image of the Lone Star State as a dusty Western cowboy frontier. Northeast Texas, however, takes the traveling golfer into a world like no other.
Boasting a forest bigger than the entire state of Indiana, this region is home to more than 23.4 million acres of lush, thick, emerald-green woods made up of tall ancient pines and old cypress trees that are intermingled with impressively blooming ferns and dogwoods. Here you'll find giant lakes, cozy bed and breakfasts, and friendly country folk who take pride in their escape from the urban maelstrom.
The area's verdant feel is literally heaven-sent, receiving an average of 40-55 inches of rainfall each year (more than say, Boston, Washington, D.C. or even Key West, Fla.) - a major factor in producing the dense greenness of the Piney Woods. Right smack dab in the middle of this lushness is the venerable Lake Fork, a world-class reservoir that not only produced the state record largemouth bass (18.18 lbs), but also more than 75 percent of the top 50 bass that have ever been caught in Texas.
Surrounded by the unknown golf towns of Emory, Mineola, and Yantis, all located around the great lake via a 58-mile round trip adventure, you can "bass and breakfast" and enjoy impressive, affordable Northeast Texas golf courses without the crowds.
The 1840s railroad town of Mineola (Elev 414; Pop 4,694) is the first stop, located 80 miles East of Dallas on US 80. A drive through this "Gateway to East Texas Pine Country" in the spring, heading up US 69 to Lake Fork, is spectacular with crimson clover, dogwoods, and bluebonnets blooming vibrantly over the carpeted meadows surrounded by majestic pines.
The 1930s Mineola Country Club (903-569-2472; nine holes; par 35) showcases that very same beauty, a semi-private nine-holer that has long been considered one of the top small-town courses in the state. This old, traditional course is set in hilly East Texas terrain. Water comes into play on four holes, but the bunkering is minimal and not every fairway is lined by tall pines. The highlight of Mineola Country Club is the fast greens, which are considered among the best in East Texas.
Before heading to Emory, mosey around historic Mineola, and have lunch at the East Texas Burger Co. (903-569-3140) or Two Senoritas (903-569-1181), a great spot for greasy Tex-Mex.
The drive up US 69 skirts the southwest edge of Lake Fork at Alba, Texas, and rolls into Emory (Pop. 478, Elev. 1,151), the seat of Rains County. Originally named Springville for the multitude of springs in the area, Emory is a key golf-fish destination because of its convenient location between the under-appreciated Lake Tawakoni and the famous Lake Fork, as well as the gorgeous Lake Fork Golf Club (903-473-3112; 18 holes; par 72; 5,830 yards).
Particularly inviting because of its short length, the course features narrow fairways, medium-sized greens, and a welcome lack of bunkers.
While there are no bunkers, grass moguls frame the fairways, and the course is dotted with small ponds, four of which front greens. In addition to the many mature areas of foliage, the club planted over 4,000 new trees, including thousands of crape myrtles, in the late 1990s.
Two par 3s stand out-both Nos. 2 and 14 demand accurate long-iron approaches. For course strategy, take the advice of one local who recommended his life-long strategy of choking down and shortening the swing, emphasizing the importance of hitting them straight on this short course.
Since the course is actually located about 8 miles east of Emory on the lake, the next golf stop is just a short drive over the FM 515 bridge to Yantis (Elev. 499; Pop. 332), the northern hub of the great lake and home to the "Pebble Beach of Texas Golf" - the Links at Land's End (903-383-3290; 18 holes; par 71; 6,664 yards)
Lake Fork's premier golf facility is appropriately named - it's located in what seems like the middle of the lake where two peninsulas come together. Half of the holes play along these peninsulas.
The most difficult hole on the front nine, and the signature hole of the course, is the scenic par 5 that takes you away from the trees and introduces you to the lake. Despite the average length, the hole plays long because of the wind, and is definitely a three-shot hole since you're forced to lay up at about 150 yards out. Aim the tee shot to the right of the fairway, and beware of the deceptively uphill approach.
On the back be sure to manage your game on hole 11, a painstakingly long par 4 with the lake running down the left side of the fairway. The drive needs to be perfect here, with the lake looming left and any shot to the right being blocked by trees. Since the lake juts in front of the green, the safe play on the approach is to steer right. This isn't the hole to be aggressive on, so the average hacker should play for bogey.
All told, Lake Fork is one of the world's premier golf-fish road-trip destinations, combining world-class bass fishing with excellent golf. Plan the trip appropriately by spending time on the Lake Fork Chamber of Commerce web site (www.lakeforkchamberofcommerce.com), which lists everything you need to know about restaurants, lodging, and guide services, and can help ensure that your weekend is productive and adventurous.
May 4, 2004