Founded in 1899, Austin Country Club is one of the oldest golf clubs in the state of Texas. Fifty years after its formation, the club moved to Riverside Drive where it remained until finally settling at a 180-acre Davenport Ranch site in 1984.
Pete and Alice Dye were tasked with laying out the current course on land adjacent to Lake Austin and they routed the opening seven holes on largely flat terrain beside the water, with the remaining holes set out on hillier parts of the property.
The elevation changes on holes 8 to 18 are severe – Deer Creek Canyon winds its way across holes 11 to 13 – leading to one commentator describing the back nine as “a wild ride, a golf version of a bucking bronco (and) not for the faint of heart or rickety of swing”.
The WGC Match Play Championship was hosted at Austin Country Club in 2016 after a lengthy stay at Dove Mountain and a once-only stop at TPC Harding Park in 2015. The event has since remained at Austin Country Club.
I arrived at Austin Country Club with two thoughts. First, I knew most of the front nine from tv as it is played as the back nine in the Dell World Matchplay. Second, a good friend of mine who has played most of the world’s most highly ranked courses thought it to be good, but not great.
This design by Pete Dye receives some criticism in two areas. First, for the longer scratch players potentially all of the par fives can be reached in two shots assuming one finds the fairway. Second, four of the holes near Lake Travis are wide open (after the tee shot on the third) while the rest of the course is tree-lined. Some players feel this inconsistency detracts from the course. As to the first critique, Mr. Dye finishes all of the par fives with very compelling and challenging green complexes. Therefore, chances are limited for eagles and even birdies for the best players. Second, there are many fine courses that have an inconsistency due to their routing; Cypress Point and Crystal Downs come to mind. I am not suggesting that Austin Country Club is as good as those but merely making the point.
What I liked the most about Mr. Dye’s design and routing is the wonderful balance of drama and fun that occurs throughout the course. Drama is evident often beginning with the tee shot over water on the shorter par 3 second hole. Water presses against the left side of the green on the third with tricky mounding off the right. The fourth is a risk-reward drivable par 4 over water but one must carry all the way to the green. Five has water down the left side. The eighth has a deep canyon off the left side of the par 3 eight as well as the canyon to the left of eleven and twelve from tee to green. A deep ravine also fronts the twelfth green. The back of the tenth green is a falloff of perhaps 25 feet. Another deep canyon fronts the green on the finishing hole.
The fun factor is high due to the decisions one must make in terms of taking on the challenges due to those dramatic shots, some tilted fairways, and a lot of change in terrain and land movement. The bunkering is very good on the course, well placed, appropriate in number, and a mixture of penal and a chance for recovery.
Finally the green surfaces are strong. I could not figure out the pace for much of my round as the use of spines and swales are trickier than they appear. There are several false fronts. Surrounding the greens is a very strong mixture of bunkers and mounding. Our pin placements were often in the hardest spot for recovery of the green for me. I know that playing the course more often will lead to one “learning where to miss.”
As far as designs by Mr. Dye, overall the course is not as tough at the Stadium/Players course at TPC Sawgrass, nor PGA West Stadium, The Ocean Course at Kiawah, or The Pete Dye course at French Lick. It is more similar to The Honors Course or The Golf Club in matching both playability with difficulty.
In sum, I really liked the golf course. Looking at the list of best golf courses in Texas from various sources, on most lists there are 2-3 ahead of it that I have not yet played. But of the top fifteen other courses in Texas that I have played, I would put it somewhere between fifth to seventh. Part of that ranking is that it is very much a walking golf course. The visual appeal is high throughout the round. It is not a tricked up golf course and feels more traditional, somewhat out of character to Mr. Dye’s reputation. There is a very good variety of holes here both in length, strategy, decision-making, difficulty, and ending nearly always in a very good green complex. Finally, this is a course that would be fun to play every day as it feels like it would play differently every time based upon wind direction and cup location.
1. This short par 4 doglegs sharply left with two hidden bunkers after the turn designed to give pause to the longest hitters. The green has two waves/spines on it sloped back to front and is surrounded by trees, bushes and six bunkers, of which two on the left are pot bunkers. The length might suggest it’s an easier start, but par is not guaranteed.
2. This par 3 hole can play over 200 yards to a right rear cup location, playing slightly downhill with rocks and water pressed against the front of the green angling left to right with that right side offering a longer carry. Two bunkers are placed at the back/right of the green. This green is sloped back to front and quicker than it appears with subtle slopes and breaks to it. The miss is to the left due to a shorter carry and a hill providing a backstop.
3. This long par 5 at 578 yards from the back tee plays shorter as the tee shot is downhill before flattening out for the next shots. The right side offers trees and many bunkers on mounds while the left side has a marina and Lake Travis. The green s rested against water on the left while the right side has several mounds alongside the green as well as a spine on the right side of the green that can kick a ball quite a ways away from a near right side cup location. The green narrows by half of its width about 75% into the green. The miss to this hole is short of the green. It is a dramatic hole.
4. This short par 4 is famous for the players driving the green during the matchplay tournament should the wind be favorable and having stands behind the green acting as a backstop. The hole has water down the entirety of its left side as the water creates an arc before ending at the green. “Normal” players can play well out to the right which leaves a favorable angle into the green as well as a short iron. The green is quick on the left front middle due to a swale so the play into the green is to be below the cup. This is very much a risk-reward hole but only for the best players.
5. This longer par 4 plays alongside Lake Austin on the left side with a carry over a bunker and long bunkers on either side. The right side bunker is shared with the sixth hole. It is a semi-blind tee shot over a fence/maintenance area on the right side. Another long bunker begins on the left about 50 yards before the green continuing down half of the green. The right front features mounds and three pot bunkers. The green is angled away from the lake to the right and has most of its movement in the front half. It is a demanding hole.
6. This par 4 has its back tee playing over a short pond. The hole is a somewhat semi-blind tee shot with a long, wide bunker down the right side. The hole angles a bit to the right but the green is set off to the left hidden on the left side by a series of mounds. There are a couple of short spines in the green but also a back left center swale. It’s a well designed golf hole.
7. I really liked this par 5 which plays from an elevated tee to a fairway with trees on both sides atop 20-30 feet high banks. The fairway has a fair amount of movement in it so one can definitely get an uneven lie. The green sits slightly uphill off to the right and has a sizable false front. There are three tiers to the green with the final tier running away from the player. The green is also defended by two deeper bunkers on the front middle which also serve to disguise the depth and length of the green as it is angled to the right. A final deep bunker is behind the middle of the green and is blind to the player. This is my favorite green on the front nine.
8. The short eighth is short at only 150 yards from the back tee although the back pin can play 20 yards longer. The green is set inside a hill on the right and behind the green. There is a landing area short of the green which is a safe play if the cup is in the front although a small pot bunker needs to be avoided. Nearly every other cup location will have to cross a very deep ravine where one hitting short will have a lost ball. There is a bunker on the left middle that one will be glad to end if they go left off the tee. A larger bunker sits in the right middle which leads to a difficult recovery shot with the green running away. Finally there are two bunkers placed halfway up the hill behind the green. I asked my host whether he had ever seen anyone in one of those and he said he had the day before and somehow the player had saved par. I would guess more often that playing from those bunkers on the back of the hill would result in a shot that barely came out or perhaps go all the way across the green into the ravine. The green moves towards the ravine with small rises in it. It is a brilliant short par 3.
9. The ninth is a shorter tree-lined par 4 with a valley in front of the green. The hole features seven bunkers of which four are on the right side of the fairway, one deep bunker front middle of the green and two on the back right. This green felt fairly large and is steep back to front, yet overall I thought it likely to be the second weakest hole on the front nine.
10. I really like the medium length par 4 tenth. Three bunkers go down the left side so one plays to the right. The green is angled to the left with a deep front middle bunker and another set on the front left corner. But the beauty is the rest of the green complex with a substantial fall-off of perhaps 40 feet behind the green. The large green is also likely the quickest on the course with a lot of internal movement to the left or sometimes right depending upon where you end up on the green. It is a hole that must be respected.
11. The next two holes are challenging and among the best on the course as they play alongside a canyon to the left from tee to green. The fairways on both holes are sloped right to left. Both holes are longer par 4’s. The eleventh offers a wide fairway but as one wants to be right off the tee, Mr. Dye put a bunker on the right side. At this bunker the fairway narrow all the way to the green although one can still play to the right into the rough. The land falls down towards the green with mounds down the right side. The green is set to the left and has bunkers on the front corners and a hidden rear bunker. There is a spine making it a two-tier green. It is a gem of a hole. The only negative is a very unattractive home across the canyon behind the green where the club should buy the land and knock down the house.
12. The twelfth might be even better than the eleventh. Again the canyon runs down the left side but this time the canyon also fronts the green offering one a chance to miss the green left or right. Missing long will mean you likely stay on the side of a sizable hill facing a green running away towards the 20 feet canyon. One can play out of the canyon as a blind shot if you don’t find the sliver of a stream at the bottom. The canyon is about twenty five yards wide and presses against the front 30th of the green. The tee shot features the second or third biggest/longest bunker on the course down the left side while trees are on the right side. The fairway is also narrow. That long bunker offers a chance to stay out of the canyon. It is a terrific hole.
13. This longer par 3 sits on higher ground to a kidney shaped green with two fronting, deep bunkers and one at the rear middle. The green has several smaller spines and is very quick to the left and front. It is a strong hole.
14. This short par 4 is the most heavily bunkered hole on the course with thirteen of them, with seven down the right and one to the left. The green is protected by five bunkers surrounding the green. I thought this to be the most fun hole on the back nine.
15. A short par five that plays slightly downhill comes next. It begins with a large/long bunker down the right followed by another on the right. For shorter players there are no bunkers to consider for the second shot. The green is large and angled to the right with the second half offering a lot of speed to the right while the front half has a rise. The first shot of this hole is tree lined while the second s wide open with moguls down the right side.
16. This par 3 plays from a raised tee to green that is also angled to the right. There is a bunker on the right near the tee that adds nothing. The relevant bunker is a long one going down the right side all the way to the right side f the green. Any cup location middle or right will have to carry this bunker. We had a left side cup location where there is a sizable spine in the green and good contouring off the left side of the green.
17. This short par 5 is also a lot of fun. For shorter players they likely do not have to consider any bunkers until their approach shot while longer players will go for this green in two as the back tee is less than 500 yards. There is a central bunker 20 yards short of the green and then a bunker front and one on the middle of both sides. This is a good use of double bunkering. The green is raised about five feet and has a lot of slope to the left.
18. The finishing hole is difficult as it is only slightly shorter than seventeen but is a par 4. It features a dramatic drop off from a plateau to the green which sits behind a canyon/wetland that is 40 feet of a drop. The green sits hard against that drop-off. For bunkers sit on the right side of the fairway which drops off its right side. Two large bunkers sit on the rear/right side of the green. It is likely the most difficult hole on the course.
As I stated, I would certainly place this course much higher in the state. If one is fortunate to get a chance to play here, they will be treated to a special course and one of Mr. Dye’s better courses. It is a very good mixture of difficulty and playability with a requirement for decision-making, execution and a good short game.
The best course in the greater Austin area. It offers unique and picturesque holes on both the front 9 and back 9. You quickly come upon the lake-front holes, which can be seen from the highway over the lake. The course is always well-maintained with fast and smooth greens. There should be no questions why the PGA Tour stops off here to play the WGC Match Play every year.
If you're invited to play a round here, short of your spouse giving birth, drop what you're doing to go out and play. It's a fun golf experience that will last a lifetime.