La Cantera Golf Club: Texas History, Rocky-Top Golf

By David R. Holland, Contributor

SAN ANTONIO, TX -- In last year's Valero Texas Open at the La Cantera Golf Club, PGA Tour pro Rich Beem "adopted" the friendly Troon Golf staff. He took them to dinner as a group and returned their friendly Texas hospitality.

"Beem even told us that if he won the event he would give us $1,000 just to take the staff out for dinner again," said D.J. Flanders, head professional. "All the staff wears yellow shirts during the tournament. You can imagine how many yellow shirts were in his gallery."

Well, Beem, who plays out of El Paso Country Club, didn't win. The winner was Duffy Waldorf, whose kids decorated his golf balls with their special art work of the Lone Star, the geographical state outline and armadillos.

La Cantera Golf Club is pure Texas.

Carved from a limestone quarry in northwest San Antonio, it is a Tom Weiskopf/Jay Morrish award-winner -- one of the last the two designed together. It's No. 48 on Golf Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play List.

And just within the last year Westin finished its long-awaited Texas colonial-style hilltop resort, that sits on one of the highest natural points in the area looking over the golf course like the famous castle in Heidelberg, West Germany.

La Cantera, which means "quarry stone" in Spanish, will soon have another 18 holes designed by Arnold Palmer.

"The topography of La Cantera exhibits interesting characteristics that will make it both beautiful and unique," said Palmer. This second course is scheduled to open in late 2000. And some people are already talking about using some of the new Palmer holes integrated into the existing course to create a different look to the Valero Texas Open.

Opened for play in January 1995, La Cantera Golf Club is a 7,001-yard, par-72, daily-fee course with five sets of tees on each hole and features a climb to the No. 7 tee that rewards the golfers with a view of Six Flags Fiesta Texas themepark and an 80-foot perch atop a quarry wall.

Your tee shot can be aimed at the "Rattler" roller coaster and a generous landing area creates a spectacular drive with the hang-time of a pro football punter. The hole is only 316 yards from the back, but there is a bunker square in the middle of the fairway that will gobble up mis-hits. If you fly this trap you only have 100 yards or less to birdieland, but the approach is to a green guarded by a lake on the right and traps on the front, middle and side.

In his first Valero Texas Open competition, Hank Kuehne, a Texan and one of the longest hitters in pro golf, reached No. 7 in one shot, but on No. 8, a 361-yard par-4 he went over the green on his drive and recorded a 9 -- leading to his 5-over-par round 77 for the day.

"Actually, golfers love Nos. 7, 12 and 16," said Flanders. "They come to the tees on these holes and say, ‘I can birdie these', but these holes can bite you on the butt."

No. 12 is a 415-yard par-4 with a limestone-rock wall and church-pew bunkers left. The approach shot is all carry to an elevated green guarded by a rocky ravine and running creek. Anything short of the putting surface is not going to go forward, so take enough club.

No. 16 is trap city -- nine in all and one left of the green is huge. The hole is only 380, but the tee shot presents a small target -- you have to place it in-between all the sand distractions.

"La Cantera is an absolutely beautiful course," said first-time player Mike Castillo of San Antonio. "I play golf all over the city, but this is the most beautiful I have seen. I love the challenge. The greens are really fast and well-kept and the wind can really make this a hard test of golf."

And what a start you will have. You heard everything is bigger in Texas? Well, No. 1 is big as they come. This par 5 is 665 yards, but downhill thankfully. You have a view of the San Antonio skyline 15 miles to the south on this slight dogleg right and 125-foot drop in elevation.

The new hotel could be the most spectacular one in Texas.

"At the Westin La Cantera Resort we hope guests will step into the courtyard areas and feel as if the structures and pools have been here for hundreds of years," said James Keeter, president of J.E.K., Inc. Landscape Architects. "Then, when they scan the horizon from all sides to catch the breathtaking view, we want them to feel as if they are on top of the world."

Several huge quarry rocks exposed during the early phase of construction were kept and located though the property. These historical pieces were cut 85 years ago and many have the original drilling marks still in place.

"The idea was to recreate the feel of a working quarry operation, especially in the pool courtyard, which is designed to reflect the kinds of water holes that were left behind in quarry sites after rainstorms," said Keeter. "The major focal point of the pool courtyard is a 14-foot waterfall, cascades into several different pools. There is also quarry Gantry crane in this area which will allow children to swing from a rope into the pool."

Although it is hard to enjoy fire pits in the San Antonio summer, if you visit in the winter there are fire pits burning at night and Mexican "chimeneas" placed among patio and sitting areas to enjoy the starry Texas nights.

The 508-room hotel features the native parchment-yellow limestone rock and a muted red-tile roof giving it a feel of Texas Colonial history. The doors on the first floor echo that period too, along with influences from the 17th-century Spanish Missions, limestone European-style homes found in San Antonio's King William District, and the legendary King Ranch of South Texas.

You will find all the area's indigenous trees -- mature live oaks, cedar elms, and introduced cypress, as well as plants native to the rocky, dry soil of South Central Texas. Rabbits, roadrunners, wild turkeys, and fox are among the many animals living at La Cantera.

There's 39,000-square feet of space with 11 meeting rooms along with 25 suites and 38 casita units. It includes tennis courts, a library and three restaurants, including two in the hotel building and The La Cantera Grille, located within the golf clubhouse.

Best New Public Course Of The Year, Golf Digest, December 1995. America's Top 75 Upscale Courses (#17) - #1 In Texas, by Golf Digest, May 1996. America's 100 Best Golf Shops, Golf Shop Operations, February 1998. Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System (ACSS) February 1998. Top Fairways List Of The Country's 175 Most "Women Friendly" Golf Courses, Golf for Women, March/April 1997, 1998. Top 10 Courses You Can Play, by Golf Magazine, February 1995.

Green Fees:
Monday through Thursday $115. Friday through Sunday $130 (per player, tax not included). Cart and range included. Call for current rates or specials.

I-10 to La Cantera Parkway exit. Turn onto La Cantera Parkway La Cantera Golf Club entrance is one mile on the right. Or Loop 1604 to La Cantera Parkway exit. Turn onto La Cantera Parkway. La Cantera Golf Club entrance is one mile on the left.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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