I've finished up my week in the Austin area. I'd say the golf was good to outstanding, the best being Wednesday's tour around the University of Texas Golf Club course and today's round at The Hills in Lakeway.
The Hills Country Club golf course was one of Jack Nicklaus' earliest designs, circa 1981. The Golden Bear's design affectations are on full display throughout the imaginative, often difficult routing. First and foremost is the Bear's tree fetish; he just has to put them in places few others are bold enough to consider -- that is, more or less in the middle of fairways, forcing precision drives and extra length off the tees. (I played the blue tees at 6,358, but the rating and slope of 70.8/133 give an idea of how difficult the course is.) A good drive on the #1 handicap hole, the 380 yard par 4 8th, leaves you with a tree and water to come over (unless you are well left). On other holes, fairways are pinched in at the landing areas, with trees at one pinch point or the other, and occasionally both.
My camera wasn't working today, but a few holes will be etched in my memory for some time. The par 3 7th plays to just 151 yards but is both beautiful and intimidating, with all carry over waterfalls at the green's front and right. It is a terrific hole that demands one club more than it looks off the tee.
The par 4 18th plays as the 9th when The Hills hosts an annual Champions Tour event in the spring. At an average 4.65 strokes for the senior pros, it is one of the most difficult on their tour. For me it played a modest 372 yards, but for the pros around 450. One of Jack's trees will force anyone who hits to the right edge of the fairway to pitch out for a wedge third shot. The green is significantly elevated, the highest of any on the course, and is guarded by a bunker in front and a pond with more waterfalls at front left. I wound up on the slope in front of the green in three, above the bunker, with the pin at front, and I holed out for a par, beating the professionals by 65/100 of a stroke. Hurrah.
The course was in splendid condition, and despite a recent aeration and covering of sand, the greens were medium fast and near perfect, as well as difficult to read, as most of the greens in the Texas Hill Country tend to be. My cart mate, Jack, told me that the first couple of years of the tournament, the senior pros had a difficult time reading the greens. Thanks to him and his mates Mike and Joe for helping me with directions around the course. It made for a most pleasant day.
The Hills and its sister course, Flintrock Falls, are owned and managed by Club Corp, which provides members with reciprocal privileges at many of the company's other golf courses nationwide. For membership information at The Hills, contact Leah Carter at (512) 343-3806, or firstname.lastname@example.org. The club's web site is at www.TheHillsCC.com.