One of four 18-hole courses at the Barton Creek Resort, the Fazio Canyons layout is the second Tom Fazio design on the property. It opened for play in 1999, thirteen years after Fazio Foothills first made its mark here.
The two Fazio tracks are the longest and toughest of the four layouts at the resort so if you’re looking for a more relaxing round of golf then it’s recommended that you tee it up at either the Palmer Lakeside course (unveiled in 1986) or the Coore-Crenshaw course which debuted in 1991.
If you decide instead to take on the 7,153-yard Fazio Canyons course then you’ll enjoy the scenic holes that are framed with stately Red Oaks and Sycamore trees, with fabulous Hill Country views of Short Springs Branch, a lovely limestone bed creek that wanders throughout the course.
Feature holes include the potentially driveable short par four 4th; the 449-yard uphill 6th; the 457-yard 9th, where a creek runs along the right side of the fairway; and the 561-yard downhill finishing hole, played to a home green that’s tucked into the left, behind a creek and a big live oak tree.
For many years after opening in 1999, USA golf magazines ranked the Tom Fazio designed Canyon course at Barton Creek in the top 100 public courses in the USA. Due to the many fine resort courses that have opened since including Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Sand Valley, Ozark National, several in Michigan, etc, the Canyons course has fallen out of the top 100 public lists. Although I have not played the Foothills course at Barton Creek, many now prefer it to the Canyons.
The Canyons course is slightly above average for a resort course. The most attractive feature of the course is the setting in the Hill country as one winds around canyons. The visual appeal is quite high due to the beautiful plants and trees, substantial change in terrain both up and down, and some wonderful homes atop the hills particularly near the end of the course.
It’s an unbalanced course with the front nine being relatively weak while the back nine is much better. Nearly all of the fairways are generous with the exception of the short twelve and thirteen holes. A player should have no fear standing on a tee.
The bunkers are not plentiful whether in the fairway or green side. Most holes have a single bunker or two bunkers with the par five fifth hole having eight. None f the bunkers are particularly penal in terms of depth or shape.
The surfaces of the greens do not often give one pause, as they are generally flat. However there are a few greens that have a bit more snap than it appears where a small spine or swale has been placed. The best feature of most of the greens is their size which are appropriate for the length of the hole. Often it is the shorter par 4’s that have the larger greens relative to length which does provide a large variety of cup locations. The green surrounds are straightforward with no real interesting shaping around the greens. Should one miss a green they will have a level lie for their chip. There also are not many options to use putter from just off the green which limits choice.
As one often finds on resort courses, there is not a lot of strategy or decisions to be made.
We were told by the starter that the first four holes were the easiest on the course and that is true. They have greens that are very generous for the length of the holes and are fairly flat. Perhaps the third, a par 3 with a green angled to the right was the best hole on the first four but that is likely because we had the toughest pin position for that hole which was far back right with a slight dip in the green in front of our cup. Yet after playing the fifth we felt it did not offer much due to the width of the fairway and another disappointing flat green. The eight bunkers are fairly easy to avoid.
I did not find a hole on the front nine that stuck out in my mind. The ninth plays slightly uphill with a stream along the right side in play. Yet the ninth fairway is wide and the green and it’s surrounds is not overly interesting.
The back nine is better. The tenth is a sharp dogleg right playing slightly downhill fr the approach shot into a green with a front stream which continues down the left side. The green on the par three eleventh is one of the rare greens with a bit more inner movement. Fifteen is a longer par 4 playing downhill to a green angled to the right. The back half of the green has one of the few sizable breaks to the right. Sixteen is a longer par 4 playing uphill to a green that has a rare falloff just after the bunker on the front left. This hole has a narrower fairway and the approach shot is semi-blind. Eighteen plays downhill as a par five where the best line off the tee is near the bunker on the left. The hole requires one to cross a dry stream twice as it bisects the fairway before contouring down the left side then cutting in front of a green placed for to the left with a narrower right side.
As far as resort courses go, I would put in it the third tier - good condition, fun to play, but not particularly challenging. The routing is good as you move in all directions. While the change In terrain results in most holes having a good variety visually, the downhill holes seem to play essentially the same with the biggest difference being the yardage. The course is in very good condition. The greens and its surrounds are the most uninteresting feature of the course. If in Austin and staying at the Omni resort, it is worth playing. But if one is trying to play the best resort courses in the USA, there are many better options. If one has access to the better private courses in Texas, one should give those a priority,
Barton Creek celebrated its return this year with a massive updating and the totality of what the resort provide is quite impressive. The golf side features several different courses but in my mind the Canyons 18 is the one to play when there.
Tom Fazio has created an array of top tier courses but for whatever reason his effort for the Canyons 18 does not garner much attention. In fact, there are those who view his first layout at Barton Creek -- Foothills -- as being the best of the bunch. I disagree with that.
One of the virtues about Foothills is that it's located a few miles from the main building. The golf receives the priority without any distractions or clutter.
The other factor in favor of Canyons is that Fazio resisted a tendency he has shown with other layouts in overdoing his hand with a given property. The Hill County in and around the greater Austin area is truly a visual treat. The land movements allows for a range of different holes and the key is having an architect realize that there's no need to "dial up" the imposition of elements that overpower the majestic nature of the land.
What's interesting is that the first four holes belie what is to come later in the round. The opening quartet is satisfactory but hardly inspirational. Word to the wise -- be sure to take advantage of the scoring opportunities early on because when arriving at the par-5 the intensity meter begins to ramp up.
The 5th plays just under 600 yards but unlike many par-5 holes it is not just fodder for players to presume a birdie opportunity is easily available. Fazio wisely allowed the land to be the dominant force -- his main creation being a contoured green that mandates a first rate approach to secure a good look at birdie.
The remainder of the inward side features a string of consistent challenges. As mentioned earlier, Fazio wisely allowed the terrain to set the tone and the totality of what the holes provide shows how architectural restraint can be a creative asset.
The inward half shines brilliantly with two exceptions. The 10th is a daring risk/reward dog-leg right. The prudent play is to simply ignore the bait and place a tee ball at the turning point of the elbowed hole. The par-3 11th is listed the 18 handicap hole but pay close attention when the pin is cut either towards the very front or the extreme left side.
The downside comes only from the consecutive par-4's at the 12th and 13th. The challenges are fairly similar with holes moving left. The saving grace is that the approach at the 13th must be played with a healthy degree of respect because losing an approach to the far left will likely result in at least one or more drooped shots.
The final five holes provide a building-up of anticipation. Fazio smartly resisted the desire to gussy up matters and you can see that clearly with the first rate par-5 14th. Here the hole turns one way for the tee shot and then reverses direction going the other way as you get nearer to the green. The putting surface is also well done -- angled and protected by a series of bunkers on the right side.
As you work your way to the elevated tee at the 15th -- you face a crucial decision. You can go full bore with driver and attempt to squeeze your ball between trees pinching in from the left and a menacing creek that lies just to the right and runs parallel up the right side of the green. For many, the more likely choice is to use something less than driver. However, when doing that the approach shot will increase in distance and the green shows Fazio realizing how less is indeed more.
The 16th continues the momentum. Here a stout par-4 of 452 yards. A series of trees are well-placed to impact one's decision making at the tee. If you avoid those to the left and err right you can be, at minimum, blocked out either partially or totally.
The 17th shows the important in having a par-3 with serious teeth. The green is receptive in the frontal portion but when the pin is placed near to the right side and all the way back it takes a golfer with real gumption and shotmaking prowess to fly the devilish right side bunker and still have enough stopping power to remain on the green.
The 18th provides one last opportunity to finish the round in a heroic manner. The downhill par-5 is listed at 561 yards but plays a bit shorter because of the elevation. Fazio has created a left side fairway bunker and those who play away from it will soon find out how out of position they've placed themselves. The bunker's position sets the process in how aggressive or conservative one chooses to play. The closer to the left side of the fairway the better the possibility strong players can attempt to go for the green in two shows. There's just one catch though.
The green is protected by a winding creek that enters the picture from the left side and then forms the right boundary with the green on the other side. No doubt, players can opt to the safer right side but the pitch shot does not become an automatic exercise. Fazio smartly created a green with different pin locations and the contour are more subtle than needlessly overly dramatic.
Canyons will not likely engender much acknowledgement from many who have been following the design career of Tom Fazio. The more high profile designs usually are always mentioned with the likes of Shadow Creek, Estancia, Gozzer Ranch, Martis Camp, to name just a few gathering praise for his efforts in America. I have played close to 100 Fazio designs over the years and it's crucial not to make a blanket assertion on what one will find. No question, there have been those showcasing deep pocket outcomes but when held to scrutiny are woefully short on anything remotely calling itself compelling architecture.
Fazio's efforts at Canyons belies any attempt at fixating the architect with a permanent label. No architect hits home runs with each design and those who are creating numerous courses -- such as Fazio -- need to bear in mind what lasting legacy they will demonstrate. Canyons certainly showcases a side of Fazio both refreshing and revealing. Those heading to Austin and Barton Creek had best include it on their golf itinerary.
M. James Ward