With three courses by the scion of the Jones golf architecture clan, and an exclusive Nicklaus course for members, this Texas Hill Country resort sets the bar high
HORSESHOE BAY, Texas (April 27, 2019) – The central section of Texas is a region of the Lone Star State jam-packed with hills, panoramic vistas and quality golf experiences. No place is better for a set of challenges on the links than the venerable – but always fresh – Horseshoe Bay Resort, located just a medium-length conversation by car north and east from the state capital in Austin.
Established in 1971 on the south shores of Lake LBJ in the heart of the Texas Hill Country near the small town of Marble Falls through a rugged 7,000-acre of rolling expanse, the scenic Horseshoe Bay Resort has grown and adapted through the decades, enough to lend credence to its claim as the premier lake and golf resort in Texas.
With four acclaimed championship golf courses and the innovative Whitewater Putting Course, Horseshoe Bay offers an appealing array of unforgettable golfing experiences designed by World Golf Hall of Fame members Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Jack Nicklaus.
In 2016, Horseshoe Bay embarked on an expansive $7.5-million project to upgrade all three of its Robert Trent Jones Sr. designs, Slick Rock, Ram Rock, and Apple Rock. The improvements to the courses and overall golf product has the resort community in position to re-establish nationwide attention and secure a rise in out-of-state rounds.
“Everything traveling golfers’ value, you’ll find here in a truly distinct and elevated presentation,” says managing director of Horseshoe Bay Resort Bryan Woodward. “The investment we have put into these renovations have elevated the quality of our golf to a national level and has made the overall golf experience more fun for our guests.”
Tropically adorned with palm trees, bold water features and the most colorful vegetation this side of Hawaii, this destination stands apart, both visually and in the guest experience. The golfing experience matches that uniqueness.
“People know desert golf, mountain golf, links golf and parkland golf, but if you’ve never experienced golf in the rocky, panoramic Texas Hill Country, your bucket list has another line to check,” Woodward says. “Once you play golf in this setting, it just stays with you.”
Before there was ever a Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, Horseshoe Bay was home to three very distinct courses designed by Jones, Sr.
The Ram Rock course, constructed in 1981, has made its reputation as one of the toughest courses in Texas. Slick Rock, the first golf course built (in 1971) at Horseshoe Bay, features a classic parkland setting and classic elements of Jones’ renowned architectural sensibility.
Wall-to-wall renovations to both courses over the past four years have enhanced playability and fun from the forward and middle tees while maintaining each layout’s legendary challenge for scratch players.
Each of the course renovations included installing the latest Bentgrass greens to improve quality of turf, expanded sizes of the putting surfaces by as much as 50 percent in some areas (to Jones Sr.’s original specifications), renovating bunkers, re-shaping and leveling tee-boxes, new irrigation, as well as adding beautiful rock retaining walls along all of the water-hazards to improve over-all course aesthetics.
This was most significant with Slick Rock’s awe-inspiring “Million Dollar Hole” where golfers follow a winding path across a 35-yard rock-walled waterfall.
The final course and renovation project, which is finishing up now at Apple Rock, will see much of the same renovations completed as its sister courses and will re-open in June 2019. The course offers some of the most picturesque views in the region. Jones Sr. strategically routed holes to take advantage of the many higher elevation points that overlook Horseshoe Bay and Lake LBJ.
Punctuating the re-opening of the Ram Rock and Apple Rock courses will be the unveiling of the opulent, new Cap Rock Clubhouse. Members and guests of Horseshoe Bay will enjoy the new setting with its expansive views of the courses and Texas Hill Country. It will feature a dining room and bar area along with a pro-shop, swimming pool, cabana, pavilion area for groups, and a practice/teaching facility.
In addition to the resort golf, Horseshoe Bay also offers a distinctive member-only experience with the Jack Nicklaus Signature design, Summit Rock (which opened in 2012). The course offers some of the most stunning scenery in Texas. Nicklaus routed holes along a high ridge, a setting that showcases spectacular views that stretch for more than 40 miles over the Texas Hill Country and Lake LBJ.
Complementing the championship golf is the highly-unique Whitewater Putting Course, a tropically-adorned 18-hole day/night real-grass putting course that sits adjacent to the hotel and is routed around the energetic 360 Sports Club (A full-service destination for pub food, cocktails and live sports on more than two dozen flat screen TVs). It is the perfect attraction for golf buddy groups, couples and families.
Members of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the National Golf Foundation and the Golf Course Superintendents of America selected the Horseshoe Bay golf complex as one of the Best Built in the U.S. since 1962, placing all three Jones courses “among the top 1 percent of golf courses in America.”
Knowing you are going to be on such regal turf, one might be intimidated by the scope of playing perhaps the most challenging three-pack of golf courses anywhere in the country. After easing into the friendly clubhouse and warming up on the practice tees and putting greens, you are immediately encompassed by a “good golf” vibe, a state of mind that can drive your game to greater heights.
You’ll need all your skills to master Horseshoe Bay’s offerings, many of which look harder off the tee than they really are. Just stick to your game and you’ll be okay; trying to extend shots and making swings that are iffy or low-percentage plays are what will get your blood up at Horseshoe Bay’s trio of temptresses.
We were able to play Ram Rock and Slick Rock on our recent trip to the resort and found the former a little easier (thankfully) after the recent renovations, and the latter in fine shape and super-playable despite a nearly-always-full tee sheet.
Slick Rock Sets the Table & the Bar
The Slick Rock Golf Course embodies Jones Sr.’s philosophy of “hard par, easy bogey.” The course – playing to a par of 72 and 6,834 yards from the tips – carries a rating of 72.8 and a slope of 138. It contains 76 bunkers and water hazards on 12 holes.
The track covers 154 acres, with the front nine routed through colorful outcroppings of granite and a magnificent mixture of native oak, cedar, persimmon and eldarica pine trees. The back side is open and gently rolling.
Your accuracy off the tee will be tested on holes six and seven, two of the best offerings on the front nine. No. 6 is a tight, slight dogleg-right par-4 playing just 385 yards, but the fairway is at its most narrow in the landing area. The seventh (the No. 1 handicap hole) stretches 421 yards and is guarded by bunkers on three sides.
The 12th is a 530-yard par-5 that involves a third shot which must avoid water that crosses the fairway and continues along the right side of the putting surface; there are two bunkers left of the green to mandate a good shot. Play it safe and lay up to about 125 yards.
Slick Rock’s most famous test is the 14th, called “The Million Dollar Hole,” which was built in 1990. The hole, a slightly uphill, dogleg-right 361-yard par-4, sports a winding cart path that takes golfers on a ride through a waterfall that spans more than 35 yards and dumps more than 8,000 gallons of water into Slick Rock creek each minute. Don’t worry, you won’t get wet as long as you stay in the cart.
The journey around Slick Rock ends with three real tests. The 419-yard, par-4 16th doglegs hard right before ending at a green surrounded on all four sides by sand. No. 17 is a 219-yard par-3 with a wide-but-shallow green placed atop a rock ledge. The finishing hole, a 420-yard par-4, winds upward and to the right around a strand of trees and bunkers.
Slick Rock is considered the easiest and most forgiving of Horseshoe Bay’s trio of courses and was chosen as one of the six best inland resort tracks in the book, “America’s Greatest Golfing Resorts.” But don’t be fooled – Slick Rock can clean your clock, and it deserves full attention.
Ram Rock is Tough as Nails & Unforgettable
If Slick Rock is the “sheep” of the three courses at Horseshoe Bay, Ram Rock is the mountain lion. The course is one of the stoutest tests of golf in the United States. It has been named the hardest 18-hole layout in the state of Texas and been singled out as one of the nation’s outstanding tracks by various publications.
With narrow fairways, natural streams, plenty of water and sand hazards, rock gardens, granite outcroppings, blind tee shots and all types of trees, bushes and plants, Jones held nothing back at Ram Rock. This is a roller-coaster ride; you are constantly going up and down and side to side, and sometimes just survival of 18 holes is an accomplishment.
The par-71 layout contains more than 60 bunkers along its fairways, and greens ringed by water enter play. One of the most talked-about holes – although every hole here seems to possess its own type of challenge – is Ram Rock’s treacherous island-green par-3 fourth, where you must accept the challenge of a 191-yard carry to the middle of a shallow putting surface impinged by water and sand.
Other great tests on the front include: the beat-you-up-early-in-the-round 488-yard par-4 second, which doglegs right and up a hill to a wicked and sand-protected green; the tight, dogleg-left 430-yard par-4 fifth, where you have must right off the tee to avoid a big number; the 368-yard par-4 sixth, whose right-leaning green is virtually ringed by deep sand; and the extremely tight 540-yard, dogleg-left, par-5 ninth, which you should never think of reaching in two even if the approach is downhill.
The inward nine at Ram Rock is highlighted by the short but deadly 344-yard, par-4 10th, which you have to play over a rock and water-filled canyon to an elevated, well-guarded green; the 438-yard, dogleg-left, par-4 13th, which demands a great approach to a three-tiered green; the 217-yard uphill par-3 17th, where the green seems to repel shots and send them into one of the five bunkers standing sentinel; and the ease-on-home 378-yard par-4 18th, a hole that – uncharacteristically for Ram Rock – gives you a reprieve with a wide fairway and an approachable green.
Ram Rock is not for the faint of heart. It may be the beast in Horseshoe Bay’s beauties. So just take your medicine and learn to live with it.
Whitewater Putting Course Unusual & Fun
Horseshoe Bay Resort’s 18-hole, par-72 Whitewater Putting Course reflects the resort’s fun philosophy. Billed as the most expensive putting course in the country and rated the most unique by some of golf’s finest professionals and instructors, night-lit Whitewater is a competitive putting course that any level of player can enjoy.
Whitewater is designed like a regulation 18-hole layout, complete with fairways, bunkers, water hazards and excellent turf, just on a much smaller (1,712-yard) scale. Every shot is played with a putter, but unlike a practice green, Whitewater is a landscaped, competition course. Adding to the drama of the 17-acre complex are state-of-the-art fogging, theatrical lighting and outdoor music that create a dreamlike setting.
HSB is just as much of a blast off the course
The resort in nearing the completion of $70 million in a property-wide renovations and new construction that include new guestrooms, golf facilities, dining experiences, meeting spaces, and more. The Resort’s property is part of the Crescent Hotels & Resorts management company’s distinguished Latitudes lifestyle hotels and resorts division.
Phase I of the renovations and capital improvements is now complete. As part of the renovation, the property introduced 100 new Palm Villa Suites. Designed with a “home away from home” look and feel, the rooms are available in one, two, and three-bedroom units, perfect for family outings and group getaways.
In addition to new rooms, Horseshoe Bay Resort has expanded its culinary offerings with the new Whitewater 360 Sports Club. The grill serves a menu of American classics. Ideal for sports enthusiasts, the restaurant features 16 flat screen TVs for game watching and 360-degree views of the surrounding Whitewater putting course. The restaurant is exclusive to resort guests and club members.
Further enhancing the guest experience, the hotel has refreshed its sports and fitness facilities. The property tennis courts have been completely resurfaced with two new clay court offerings. Additionally, the Paseo Fitness Center features state-of-the-art equipment and a tennis retail shop. The Marina Del Bay Movement Studio has been refreshed with new interiors, a fitness floor, and an expanded schedule of daily classes.
Ideal for meetings, weddings, and special events, the new Palm Pavilion features 9,600 square feet of versatile event space to accommodate up to 600 guests. Opening up to an adjoining lawn with picturesque fountains and views, the pavilion offers a memorable backdrop for any occasion.
In early 2018, the resort wrapped up a full tower renovation of its 249 rooms, with all new furniture, bathrooms, finishes and updated amenities. The property now offers more than 25,000 square feet of renovated meeting facilities, including a beautifully re-imagined ballroom and breakout meeting areas, a new spa and salon, and marina slips.
If you’re looking for a challenge to your golf game, Horseshoe Bay cannot be beat. The only reason this resort area is not as famous as more popular venues in Northern California, Florida or North Carolina is that for years area residents greedily kept this plush and exciting spot a relative secret.
There’s something for everyone here. The Horseshoe Bay Resort is a real load of fun, no matter your tastes or the shape of your golf game.