Already featuring 36 holes from Arthur Hills and Tom Weiskopf, respectively, the Bentwater Yacht & Country Club turned to Jeff Blume for its final 18, and many believe it to be the best yet. Helpful to that claim is the course’s complete isolation; the master plan includes stipulation that no property will be sold that might lead to real estate popping up along the fairways at Grand Pines.
This move was made in an attempt to replicate two greats of American golf — Pine Valley and Pinehurst — by placing emphasis on shortgrass throughout. The trees of Sam Houston National Forest will certainly contribute to the necessitated “pines,” and the significant bunkering will contribute to any comparisons between the aforementioned clubs.
No. 13 will let you relive a shorter version of the famous “Great Hazard” at Pine Valley; if you choose to take the left fairway, you’ll cross two sets of bunkers to earn an eagle attempt. The twist on the classic hole is that you may also take the right fairway for a longer, safer route. Expect plenty of such twists, and trees, in this design.
Grand Pines is perennially underrated in Texas. One reason may be that the private membership is limited to existing members of Bentwater Yacht & Country Club's primary Miller & Weiskopf golf membership. The course presents a mix of gettable scoring holes with heroic forced carries in a tight, woodland setting that, on the balance, is very competitive. Some golfers may see Grand Pines as a slightly less dramatic little brother to the vaunted Whispering Pines just up the road. Both courses traverse elevation changes in a peaceful forest with top flight conditioning. Grand Pines boasts a membership under 200 and thus is rarely crowded for play. Afternoon rounds often feel like a quiet walk through the woods, beautifully accentuated by golden hour light streaming through the towering pines that line the course. That being said, the layout of the course suggests a cart may be a more reasonable choice, as there are a number of long walks from green to tee.
The course tends to use deceptive visual looks to challenge the golfer to trust a distance or shot shape while providing ample bailout opportunities for the less-skilled amateur. On the first hole, a player has plenty of room to sling a draw around a tall, obstructing left side fairway bunker to make the par 5 green in 2, but even more room to lay up right to leave a wedge in. Off the third tee, the player must take on the blind left side contour of the fairway or be left with a mid iron or longer into a green complex with hazard or woods tight into all sides. High handicap amateurs play into this hole in 3 and make bogey. On the split fairway par 5 13th, a player will create an eagle opportunity by trusting a draw over a seemingly endless cacophony of fairway bunkers guarding the hero line inside the doglegging trees. On the dogleg right par 4 15th, the player must then shape the ball hard left to right to create a reasonable approach line to the elevated green, and the shot that fades passed the centerline fairway bunker to the right and dares the forest edge is rewarded with a flip wedge into the green.
Grand Pines is at its most puzzling when the design leaves too great a distance between a forced layup and forced carry into the pin. These occur harshly on the 10th and 11th holes, where the hazard requires beyond-heroic shots but a well struck drive to the landing area does not reward the player in any material way. On the finishing par 4 18th, the tee shot must shape left to right at a ten yard distance window to leave the player with a reasonable approach into the intimidating peninsula green.
The course balances these challenging holes with obvious birdie opportunities on the par 3 2nd, the par 3 7th, the par 5 13th and the short par 4 16th. However, the high likelihood of bogeys on the most challenging holes adds pressure to the birdie chances, and together elevate the pressure on the golfer over the course of the round to meet the challenge presented, whether to score or merely survive. This experience provides a mental test rarely seen in Texas golf, similar to Whispering Pines, and is reminiscent of a journey through Spyglass and Harbour Town.
Grand Pines is currently grappling with low income modular development alongside its 2nd and 3rd holes and the clubhouse area, which remains behind a tree line but is plainly visible. The journey back into the woods from 4 to 18 remains untouched. As a whole the course is an underappreciated gem of the Houston area and provides solitude, beauty and challenge not found in the highly ranked parkland courses of the area.