Suburban Houston’s Highland Pines GC sets the bar high with trailblazing greens

PORTER, Texas – Any time a new golf course comes on line it’s good news for those of us who play the game. So when Highland Pines Golf Club debuted in March as the first new semi-private golf course in the Houston area in 15 years, there was plenty to celebrate.

The fact that Highland Pines GC is a trailblazer is enticing as well. The course is the first and only track in the world with Lazer Zoysia grass putting surfaces. After playing Highland Pines GC at the end of March just as the Spring 2023 growing season in southeast Texas was trending forward, we found the greens to be quite remarkable and the course as a whole very playable and fun. 

For residents and locals alike, Highlands Pines GC is a semi-private course designed and managed by famous renegade golf-course developers Tour 18 Inc. – the firm that began the trend of “replica-style” courses three decades ago when it fashioned two of its courses with spot-on facsimiles of some of golf’s most famous holes

Highland Pines GC is not a replica of anything but its design and overall routing is a good one and can more than stand on its own. It was designed by former Arthur Hills associate Dave Relford of Tour 18 Design Group, who also fashioned the firm’s popular Augusta Pines Golf Club in nearby Spring.

The green on the par 3 eighth at Highland Pines CG

Highland Pines GC is nestled on the banks of the San Jacinto River and winds through the river’s basin before moving back up through tall stands of Pines and hardwood trees to stunning views of lakes, meadows and valleys. The course stretches to 7,307 yards from the tips and has five sets of tees in all, each offering their own unique challenge.

Designed to be a combination of tests and fun for golfers of all levels, Highlands Pines Golf Club was built into the landscape and offers more elevation changes and diverse terrain that normally found in southeast Texas. 

The Lazer Zoysia being used on the greens is a new strain of the popular turfgrass that was developed at Texas A&M University and putts like the smooth, quick-running surfaces at many elite private courses. It’s been formulated to be hearty enough to survive the southeast Texas summer heat and humidity.

“I had played of some of the best courses anywhere and knew they had the Zoysia grass where the balls sit up in the fairway and is great to putt on” Tour 18 Inc.’s founder Dennis Wilkerson said. “With the first new public course in Houston in almost 20 years, we had to have something different, something the public did not have.”

Wilkerson said the greens run so true that golfers who have played here sometimes ask if the putting surfaces could be slowed down a little.

“It’s not a matter of speed – I’m sure we can make them faster or slower,” Wilkerson said. “But there is not any grain to the grass and everything rolls true. Unless you been on a top private course, you may not be used to that. 

“Probably other (public) courses around here or elsewhere will start to copy it, but once again, Tour 18, Inc., has raised the bar.”

The rest of the golf course at Highland Pines Golf Club is turfed with wall-to-wall Zeon Zoysia, which provides perfect lies in the mostly wide fairways and nearly flawless roughs and greens collars.

The approach to the par 4 10th hole at Highland Pines GC

Routing is strong

Highland Pines Golf Club is means to be kept firm and fast, and that aspect, along with the substantial corridors, can make the course a bomber’s paradise. Rest assured there are some long holes here, but with the rollout golfers can count on some extra length off the tee. That’s needed because the greens complexes are where the course can bare its teeth.

The front-nine has the longest par 4 (the 470-yard third), the longest par 3 (the 249-yard fourth) and the most lengthy par 5 (the 610-yard sixth). If you can survive that gauntlet, you can get a stroke (or two) back on the drivable par-4 seventh, which is carded at 346 yards but has a speed slope to the front and left of the green that bounces shots forward onto the putting surface.

The 183-yard eighth is attacked over a pond, with tee shots on the shallow green bouncing right toward a deep bunker. Then you can really send it on the 580-yard par 5 ninth as a shot to the top of the hill can give you a great chance and going after the putting surface – which is downhill and played over a lake at front left – in two.

You start the back-nine with the 415-yard par 45 10th, which brings water into play on both the drive and the approach. The 203-yard par 3 12th has a bunker that’s actually 30 yards short of the green but a focal point off the tee) and the bunkerless but narrow 417-yard par 4 14th will challenge your driving skill.

The round ends with the nearly un-puttable 178-yard par 3 17th, which has a huge slope from back to front (try getting the ball close to any hole placement here) and the 555-yard closing hole, a par 5 on which the drive is over a huge lake and the green is guarded by two bunkers at the front left.

While Highland Pines Golf Club’s initial draw will be the putting surfaces and playing on “something new,” the course will eventually be a favorite in the area because of its overall package – it’s just a blast to play.

Highland Pines GC

The Highlands is one cool place to live

Highland Pines Golf Club is the centerpiece of The Highlands, a Caldwell Communities-developed, 2,300-acre master-planned community that appeals to residents’ sense of adventure and a love of the outdoors. Amenities include more than 30 miles of maintained bike and hike trails, a resort-style pool, waterpark and lazy river, playgrounds, a lakeside patio and firepit, Mirror Lake Park, fitness center, tennis and pickleball courts, an event lawn and pavilion and a 200-acre nature preserve. 

The Highlands also has a full-time onsite lifestyle director who plans exciting resident activities, such as wine tasting nights, family movie nights under the stars, and more. The community is designed to be a place where families grow, play, reflect and connect – all set on the northern edge of the Houston suburban megaplex.

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