BARTON CREEK, TEXAS WHERE I NEARLY MET MY WATERLOO

Story & Photos by: Larry Mayran 

Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa beckoned invitingly from its manicured knoll overlooking 4,000 landscaped acres. Venturing to this Four Star resort located just outside Austin in search of a memorable golf and travel experience was the culmination of a two week sojourn in Texas. Decades ago as a young man just out of college I had spent twelve happy years in Texas trying to launch a career. And while my return visits had been rare, the old umbilical cord that nostalgically ties me to this state remains unbroken. But who knew that I would nearly meet my golfing Waterloo on the resort’s famed Fazio Canyon’s course.  

Top: Early morning chill requires sweater as Larry sets up on # 3 hole.
Bottom: Nice form Larry, head down but lose the bifocals. They distort your set up.

 

Arriving in the early afternoon, after a 3 ½ hour drive from Houston, Baron Creek’s 312 luxuriously comfortable rooms and suites were a perfect antidote for a few days of relaxation and playing one of the Lone Star states finest golf courses.

My room on the 6th floor ushered in panoramic views of a lush golf course, and beyond the magnificent Texas Hill country. It would have been prudent to crash for a few hours, my head cradled in the plump marshmallow-like pillows, but a testing game of golf ahead of me the next day brought forth uncommon discipline and I changed duds for a practice session at the Fazio Canyon Course.

Chosen as the number one resort course in Texas by Travel & Leisure Golf, Fazio Canyons is one of four championship layouts available for guests. An Arnold Palmer Lakeside tract at 6,657 yards, par 71; the Ben Crenshaw Cliffside Course at 6,778 yards, par 71, the Fazio Foothills, a par 72, 6,956 yard layout and Tom Fazio’s signature Canyon course at 7,161, par 72 complete the circuit.  All are eminently worthy but I chose the celebrated golf designers Canyon course because it was reputed to be his masterpiece—tough, fair, and stunningly beautiful amid winding streams and creeks, and limestone-bedded canyons.

I rendezvoused with head professional Brech Spradley to get some  playing tips in advance of my early morning round tomorrow with another Barton Creek pro, Justin Kutz.

The Omni Barton Creek, 212 luxuriously comfortable rooms.

Carr said simply, “Fazio’s Canyon course is long with strategically placed bunkers in just the right spots in case you mishit shots. Then you have some rugged natural and man made obstacles plus numerous elevation changes, so be sure to select whatever club you are going to hit the furthest and straightest.” 

“Think long, hit straight.” “Think long, hit straight.”  A noble mantra.  After my two hour practice session ended, I realized that no matter how fervently I willed my clubs to pound it out long and straight, the practice Callaway balls ended their flighted journeys futilely, well short of the desired markers and generously offline to boot. “Oh well, perhaps the golfing gods will heed my fervent incantations on the course tomorrow.”

Prior to getting dressed for dinner I managed to take a quick power nap and felt refreshed, with pangs of hunger  and a thirst for a well-shaken martini to anoint the meal at 18212, one of Barton Creeks excellent restaurants

Majestic cedars, live oaks, and Spanish oaks let nature shape the fairways.

Embracing the early fall season was an appetizer of roasted butternut squash soup. It was amazing with scents, texture and flavors perfectly blended with sweetness, spice and earthiness. The firm, fleshed sea bass that followed was moist, flaky and delicious. When paired with a lovely Sancerre I concluded a most satisfying culinary outing with an appreciative nod to Executive  Chef  André Natera's  who superbly commands the Barton Creek kitchens.

Morning dawned a bit overcast obscuring the Canyons course landscape, transforming stands of familiar Oaks and Sycamore trees into ghostly figures. Golfers moved in slow-motion, stretching recalcitrant muscles while goading irregular swings into smoother golfing rhythms.  Finally the tendrils of fog and mist began to dissipate and shards of sunlight filtered through the trees like golden threads.

I teamed up with Justin Kutz, (pronounced Kootz) a tall rangy PGA professional who jolted me out of my reverie. Let’s play some golf.”

Justin Kutz  creams a 300 yard drive on #1 hole.

You can’t start off much better than Justin who creamed his 300+ yard drive just to the left of a giant bunker on the 400 yard par 4 first hole. I followed suit and was happy with my 225 yard shot onto a safe landing area. A utility wood brought me to the edge of a large green. But I missed an easy putt from within six feet to bogie while Justin scored a birdie.

On #2 a 385 yard par 4, dogleg right,  you hit from an elevated tee staring into a horde of bunkers guarding the right side, with water on the left .No problem for Justin who easily made par while I did well, my wedge shot came within four feet of the pin and  then sank the putt for a par.

“Nothing really formidable so far,” I said to Justin. “Oh I meant to tell you,” said Justin “Tom Fazio’s design operandi is to ease you onto the course with short to middle distance pars for the first two holes, and then he hits you with the big ones the rest of the way.” “Gulp.”

Number #3 was pure and simple eye candy, but difficult. A long par three of 170 yards onto a huge green. The foibles of wind and an inviting creek to the right of the green that swallows errant shots loomed menacing. Justin, a former wide receiver from the University of Wisconsin drilled a “no-fear” shot to the center of the green. My titlist, unschooled in swimming, flew high, and then drowned with a mighty kerplunk.

Fazio’s Canyon course is long with strategically placed bunkers.

Still, I wasn’t playing too badly, and I was enjoying it immensely. Justin was a great partner as we eased our way to the 9th, a killer hole if there ever was one. It was here that I nearly met my golfing Waterloo. It’s the number one most difficult hole on the course, a par 4, 450 yards that meanders uphill for a seeming mile with a surging creek on the right running all the way to the green. Add a prevailing south wind and naturally, Mother Nature just happened to have a forest of trees guarding the left fairway.  A piece of cake for Justin who deftly made par on this monster. After dribbling my drive—not a good way to start—and then flailing my way from one side of the fairway to the other (thank heaven we were in a golf cart), I finally dragged myself to the left edge of the green laying a frightening 10. That total in golfers lingo is a called a ‘snowman +2.’  Now I know how Napoleon felt at Waterloo facing Wellington but at least Napoleon had Marshall Ney and the cavalry to bolster his cause. Me, I was alone, albeit encouraged by Justin, “Go ahead and try to hole out from the fringe.” I took an eight iron and the ball scudded across the green, rammed into the flagstick and dropped into the hole. How’s that for a cool 11.

Here’s further evidence that Tom Fazio was a master at “listening to the land” when he crafted the Canyon course. Nothing was artificial. It seemed like Fazio deftly dropped the course into the natural landscape letting nature primarily dictate the shape of the fairways and holes. Majestic cedars, live oaks, and Spanish oaks sheltered road runners, jack rabbits, deer and wild turkey. They would appear like magic scooting across the fairways when golf balls or harried golfers entered their hiding places.

Lush fairways with the Texas Hill Country background.

Every hole on the back nine was rewarding but the 10th 15th and 18th holes resonated especially. The 10th, a deep sloping dogleg right, par 4, 430 yard hole requires a careful drive down the left side of the fairway. I managed that and then hit a 3 wood to within 40 yards of a small green.  After a fine wedge and a lovely 10 footer, I was home with a par.

From the back of the championship tee on #15 you can see the famous golden dome of the Texas state capitol in the distance. Its 457 yards to the green with woods, a narrow fairway and a sinister creek bordering the green. My partner Justin played this hole flawlessly and I shall defer my score for another time.

A fine finishing hole is the 18th, a long par 5. Its beauty draws you in and seduces you into thinking you can navigate its length and avoid obstacles with impunity flaunting the deep creeks and streams that gobble everything that rolls. Justin ended his round the way he began the day with a nifty par while yours truly could only muse that the Fazio Canyon experience was very special to be savored always in my book of golf ventures.

You can contact Larry at larrymayran@bellsouth.net