Playing A Round With History
San Antonio Celebrates Its Golf Links
Story by: Bill Nestor
|The 10th hole at historic Brackenridge Golf Course
Greens with rectangular shapes, flat bottom sand bunkers with steep grass faces and fairway-mowing patterns with traditional straight lines were returned to Brackenridge.
A.W. Tillinghast incorporated these same features when Brackenridge Park Golf Course first opened in 1916 as the first public golf course in Texas. It was restored to the original Tillinghast design in 2008. The iconic designer's portfolio includes Baltusrol Lower and Upper in New Jersey, Winged Foot, and perhaps his best-known municipal course Bethpage Black in New York, the 2009 U.S. Open venue. It also hosted the Barclays as part of the FedEx Cup playoffs in 2012 and 2016.
Brackenridge now measures about 6,286 yards from the back tees, a par 71 spread along 113 acres of downtown San Antonio. Green patterns and reef bunkering, where bunkers curve out into fairways, are as they were when Brackenridge hosted the inaugural Texas Open in 1922 thanks to Texas golf architect John Colligan and design associate John Kemp.
|The Hyatt Hill Country Golf Club
The pair thinks San Antonio is the most historic city in Texas and Brackenridge the most historic course. They wanted to make the layout a living Tillinghast museum that can be experienced and enjoyed by golfers from around the world. “From a historic standpoint, we had a great responsibility to Texas Golf,” said Colligan. “We felt strongly about getting the course as close as possible to the original configuration.”
The first Texas Open winner, Bob MacDonald, took home a first place purse of $5,000 in 1922. It's no comparison to the present day prize of $1 million plus to the player besting the field, or to the $7.5 million cost of Brackenridge Park’s restoration project.
The rejuvenation includes more than the golf course. It incorporates the preservation and planting of Oak and Pecan trees, restoration of stone bridges, returning the river to its natural flow, refurbishing the classic 1923 Tudor clubhouse, and rebuilding the contiguous 1885 stone building where sculptor Gutzon Borglum worked on his Mount Rushmore models in 1924.
|Brackenridge golf course has narrow fairways and requires target golf, lined by mature Pecan and Live Oak trees.
The Texas Golf Hall of Fame and Museum, also part of the plan, was completed 2010. " We’ll be the fourth largest golf museum in the country," said Reid Meyers, chairman of The Municipal Golf Association- San Antonio (MGASA). "Being situated next to the flagship public golf layout in the state, is something unique and very special that will cater to golfers, tourists and business travelers alike."
The tradition of Texas Golf is alive and well in the San Antonio metropolis of two million people. Artifacts, vestiges and restored treasures combine with contemporary golf resorts and routings to present a very attractive destination. The combination creates a living golf chronicle spanning more than a century.
|The Texas Open has been played at the Westin La Cantera- Resort Course since 1995.
The Texas Open has always been played in San Antonio. Brackenridge, Willow Springs Golf Course, Fort Sam Houston Golf Course, Oak Hills Country Club, Pecan Valley Golf Club and Woodlake Golf Club have hosted the event over the years. Now named the Valero Texas Open it was held at La Cantera Resort Course from 1995 until moving in 2010 to the new AT&T Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio.
Scattered throughout the thriving municipality are many classic examples of an even older cultural history with restored authentic buildings of another era - Fort Sam Houston, the Alamo, other 17th-century Spanish Missions, Missions National Park, and European-style homes in limestone from local quarries.
The golf courses also span a century’s old-timeline. Even though soldiers at Fort Sam Houston are purported to have hit golf balls in 1886 while on break from guarding Apache leader Geronimo, the first official golf course didn’t appear in San Antonio until 1904 when legendary golf architect Alexander Findlay’s nine-hole design at San Antonio Golf and Country Club opened.
It closed and was replaced in 1907 by the San Antonio Country Club, a new nine designed by Findlay in another location. Findlay added a second nine six years later with input from A.W. Tillinghast. Then came Brackenridge, Tillinghast’s monumental contribution to San Antonio and Texas golf.
|The Westin La Cantera- Palmer Course.
A new era of contemporary golf facilities have joined the list of venerable layouts. Hyatt Hill Country Golf Club, a 27-hole Arthur Hills design just outside the city and adjacent to the Hyatt Regency Resort Hotel & Spa was completed in 1993. The Westin La Cantera-Resort Course, a Tom Weiskopf design opened in 1995. The Arnold Palmer designed eighteen, Westin La Cantera-Palmer Course, was added in 2001.
The Municipal Golf Association San Antonio (MGASA) in partnership with the City of San Antonio will operate seven golf facilities making up The Alamo City Golf Trail - Brackenridge, Cedar Creek, Mission del Lago, Olmos Basin, Riverside, Willow Springs and San Pedro driving range.
San Antonio’s Tex-Mex style hospitality is warm and friendly. The vibrant nightlife is striking, especially on the downtown River Walk where people flock to fill waterside tables for dining, drinking, and shop or stroll amid a happening festive air of revelry.
|San Antonio’s Tex-Mex style hospitality is warm and friendly. Left: the famous Alamo. Center: the vibrant nightlife on the downtown River Walk. Right: the Hyatt Hill Country Golf Club.
All the area’s indigenous trees are found here -- mature live oaks, cedar elms, and pecans-- as well as plants native to the rocky, dry soil of South Central Texas. As are hawks, falcons, rabbits, roadrunners, deer, wild turkeys, and fox.
The new TPC San Antonio project is a colossal $500 million, 1,002-room JW Marriott hacienda style hotel with two new courses- the Greg Norman AT&T Oaks and Pete Dye's AT&T Canyon. The design includes a water park, an enormous spa and six restaurants.
The current financial climate will be a test of San Antonio’s love of golf and its impact on the economy, but the city, its partners, residents, and overseers are betting on it as it has for more than 100 years, and history suggests it will prevail.
Bill Nestor writes about golf, travel and lifestyle from his home in Vermont.
For More Information:
San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau
203 S. St. Mary's Street, Suite 200
San Antonio, Texas 78205
Telephone: (210) 207-6700
Toll Free: (800) 447-3372
Fax: (210) 207-6768
San Antonio Golf Courses: www.golfguys.net/golf-courses/San_Antonio/
San Antonio Public Golf: www.sanantoniogolf.com/Public.htm
Alamo City Golf Trail: www.alamocitygolftrail.com