Port Isabel & South Padre Island: Texas' Southernmost Golf Experience
PORT ISABEL -- Port Isabel is a tiny, picturesque village on the Laguna Madre, the body of water between the Texas mainland and South Padre Island. The port served as a supply base during the Mexican war and hosted gold seekers who landed here to begin the trek to California during the Gold Rush.
South Padre is famous for the warm, clear-green Gulf waters and miles of isolated sandy beaches. Legendary for its spring break debauchery, the island serves itself up as a more traditional vacation venue the remainder of the year. With premier resorts, bay and Gulf side dining, great fishing, and shopping, South Padre is Texas' finest spot to take in the seaside atmosphere.
Here at the tip of Texas, at virtually the same latitude as Miami, and 984 miles away from Texas' northernmost golf course in Booker, the avid golfer can break away from family beach activities on Padre with two golf options, both on the mainland in Port Isabel. The par-3 Jim Paul Golf Course is the best option if time is an issue or you need to work on your short game. But the spot you don't want to miss is the unique South Padre Island Golf Club.
This southernmost course in Texas, despite its name, is actually situated on the mainland in Port Isabel. Architects Chris Cole and Stephen Caplinger carved an outstanding layout out of the wild native Gulf coast vegetation, with several holes bordering the Laguna Madre. The club has hosted the Texas Senior Open and the South Texas PGA Southern Championship since its opening in 1997.
The design features wide fairways bordered by native yucca, mesquite and cactus, and the windy conditions often make it challenging to keep the ball in the fairway. Errant shots will be lost for sure. Others that fail to find the fairway will bury in waste areas and deep rough.
For the most part, the longer holes seem to play more downwind, while the shorter ones play into the wind. The large greens are of championship quality. Three of them are multi-tiered.
The front side is more entertaining, especially since holes 3-7 roll along the Laguna Madre. No. 5 is the feature hole, a picturesque, 335-yard, par 4 with a tee shot that must carry the Laguna Madre into a sharp dogleg-right fairway. On the back, No. 11 stands out because of the giant mesquite tree that dominates the middle of the fairway. And No. 12 can be interesting: it's a short par 3 that is completely surrounded by water.
The facility has plans for slow expansion based on development of the residential lots, with the grand scheme involving a total of 54 holes, many of which will also play along the waterfront. A second 18-hole course is under construction, with three completed holes currently used as practice holes.
The other golf option in town, the Jim Paul Golf Course, is located in a residential community now known as Long Island Village. The course is an 18-hole par-3 route that consists of holes ranging from 44 to 146 yards, with most under 100 yards. The design incorporates a few water hazards, and the course is a solid challenge when the wind is blowing off the Gulf.
A National Golf Foundation poll concluded that the Rio Grande Valley has more playable days of golf (less than 25 days lost to bad weather) per year than anywhere else in the United States. That -- and the fact that the sweltering summer heat is made bearable by the cooling breezes blowing in off the Gulf -- is reason to consult your travel agent. But South Texas has a deeper, more exotic appeal than just its climate.
It begins with a perceptible change in pace. From San Antonio south to the Mexico border, time moves slower. Especially when compared to the ambitious, build-and-conquer mentality of the major cities, life in South Texas has a more placid, contented feel. The spirit of manana ("tomorrow," as in, "I'll get it done tomorrow, instead") pervades, providing good therapy for Type A personalities who need to slow down and savor life's pleasures.
Stay & Play
From Labor Day to March 1, stay-and-play packages are available starting at $59 -- a fantastic value. Investigate the golf packages offered by many of the hotels and resorts or check with the golf shop about their casitas, then call Jim's Pier (956-761-2865) to reserve a guide to take you to the speckled trout and redfish in the Laguna Madre.
Fish in the mornings, play golf in the afternoons, then watch the sunset with cold beers at Scampi's (956-761-1755). For the lazy man's midday breakfast, Isabel's Cafe (956-943-5082) is a hole-in-the-wall with coffee and papas con huevos, and Ted's (956-761-5327) is laid-back, friendly and the perfect place for migas and the morning paper. And don't forget that the Mexican border town of Matamoros is only a 30-minute drive from Port Isabel.
April 27, 2004