The 18-hole layout at Bluejack National is the first headline design to open in the United States for Tiger Woods and architect Beau Welling. Situated an hour’s drive north of Houston city centre, the course is the centrepiece of an upmarket real estate project on land owned by Dallas-based Beacon Land Development in partnership with Lantern Asset Management.
You’d hardly imagine that a golf course recently operated on the same property from reading most of the articles that have been written about Bluejack National since it opened in 2015 – certainly you’ll find no mention of any former enterprise on the new development’s website – but it really has an interesting golfing background which is well worth relating.
Blaketree National Golf Club opened in 2001, shortly after its owner, Thomas W. Blake, died. Blake was quite a character, a five-times married lawyer-turned-oil-tycoon from Houston who meddled so much in the design of the course during the 1990s that architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw walked away from the project, leaving Blake to complete the last seven holes himself.
The Blake family opened the course to the public and ran it for a few years but the business operated at a loss, forcing the property to be sold. It lay dormant for the best part of two years before new owners took over and they set about repairing the irrigation system, upgrading the maintenance equipment and installing new cart paths, all with a view to selling peripheral real estate on the back of an improved golf course.
When that particular plan failed, in stepped Beacon Land Development’s Michael Abbott and Casey Paulsen – who have extensive experience of developing and operating private communities and resort properties in the United States, the Caribbean and Mexico – and they knew the course had a better chance of attracting homeowners if it was to undergo a dramatic transformation by a big-name design team pairing.
And so the Woods-Welling collaboration resulted in the total reconstruction of the old Blaketree layout, retaining most of the mature trees that were planted decades ago, though some lesser arboreal specimens were removed to open up the landscape in places. Only four of the old playing corridors were preserved and a couple of former fairway directions were reversed, partially to accommodate a new clubhouse and other recreational amenities.
Most of the new TifEagle greens are lie of the land, rather than raised platforms behind protecting sand, with plenty of room at the front to promote the ground game. Large, tightly-mown green surrounds also present golfers with interesting short-game options, allowing the bump-and-run shot to be played, and there’s also a general absence of fairway rough, giving players recovery options and speeding up the pace of play.
It appears to be fashionable nowadays for new golf projects to incorporate a "golf-lite" design option within the development and Bluejack National is no different in that respect. Similar to Coore & Crenshaw's 13-hole Bandon Preserve par three course at Bandon Dunes, there's a 10-hole floodlit short course here called "The Playgrounds" which can be used as a relaxing place to play and interact with other family members or as a cool hangout spot in the company of other golf buddies.
There are mixed opinions about Bluejack National. Some think it worthy of being a top 100 golf course in the USA. Others think it lacks strategy and is too wide open to be considered a great course. Some believe that other than perhaps playing Peachtree or Sage Valley, it is the closest they might ever get to playing Augusta National due to the very generous fairways, land movement, incorporation of water, the lack of rough, scattered trees, and bright white sand in the large bunkers. Others think of Bluejack National as a great experience and it does not matter if the golf course is great as long as it is good. If one wants a top 100 in the USA based on the “experience,” then Bluejack National certainly fits. I fall into that final category where the experience is fantastic while the course is good.
With regards to comparisons to Augusta National, I can see a few similarities as mentioned above. However, the land movement here is more gradual whereas at Augusta National it is often more abrupt and much more a factor. While the bunkering features the same white sand, it is placed not quite as strategically or as many as at Augusta National. The greens seem even larger at Bluejack National although not many are as tricky. The biggest difference is that the fairways are even wider here. You can basically hit it anywhere off the non-par 3 tees. Most times it will not hurt you regardless of the side one is on although every now and then there is a green that has a nearby mound or fall-off that dictates a preferred side to the fairway. This leaves many of the holes lacking in definition. However, the expanse of space creates its own beauty especially when there is a reflection in a pond, a more heavily bunkered hole, or a green framed by pine or oak trees.
I did not find a single “all-world” hole here, whereas at Augusta National one can take their pick. This is not to criticize the course because there are many fine holes here such as the fourth, ninth, tenth, and eighteenth. Perhaps the ninth and eighteenth might qualify except that they are similar with a slightly downhill tee shot to a green placed on higher ground backstopped by even higher ground with significant fall-offs to the left side and false fronts. There are also a few weaker holes at Bluejack which fits into perfectly to the intent of the course – take a breath, have fun, and enjoy the walk.
This is a course where you are going to have fun. The goal here is for stress-free golf from the tee shot to the green. This does not mean that the course is a walkover, but it fits the description of “hard par/easy bogey.” You will want to stop at the comfort stations for snacks, food and drinks. You can have drinks brought to you while you play. This is not merely a matter of “can you?” The answer is that you should. Golf should not always be about the score. At Bluejack National it is very possible to enjoy the course even more because you are having a good time. The “good time” does not detract from the golf; instead it enhances it.
Designed by Tiger Woods and Beau Welling, the course is located on the former site of Blaketree National Golf Club which was a design half done by Ben Crenshaw & Bill Coore, although completed by the then-owner, Thomas Blake. Blaketree National was recognized as one of the best in the Houston area but upon Mr. Blake’s death, the course was taken over by the family and closed within five years of its opening.
There are 755 acres here for facilities, the course, playgrounds, lakes, and housing. The putting green is 120 yards long and has its own scorecard. There is a ten-hole par 3 course (take only two clubs) that is open until midnight with music playing. There is a family “theme park” called the Fort with swimming pools, a replica of Fenway Park for wiffleball, basketball court, indoor games/arcade, and a lake.
The routing is good and takes prime advantage of the land. The course sits on land with towering oaks and pines, yet has only one Bluejack oak on the property. The topography is rolling and gradual, not abrupt as mentioned. As such the slope and land forms do not play as key a factor here as they do on many other highly recognized courses. One could mistake the land for being in the Carolinas absent the tan sand. Perhaps there are a few holes that might have a different shape to them with a more interesting tee, but that would likely detract from the playability mantra.
However, I have read reviews where many say each hole is distinct and memorable. I did not come to the same conclusion. As an example, eight and seventeen are short par 4’s before the two most difficult holes on the course. Nine and eighteen are similar. Not all of the holes are memorable.
When a course is designed with “fun and relaxation” as the primary goals, one would expect playability to be the primary feature. That is the case here. To challenge the better players, the course has interesting green complexes and sound bunkering. The course uses zoysia for its fairways and “rough” and Bermuda grass on the greens. The grass near the greens is mowed a bit shorter to promote more options for recovery.
There is a special scorecard and tees for Tiger Woods and other long-hitting plus indexes at 7552 yards rated 76.3/134. The more frequently used scorecard has the I tees at 6959 yards rated 73.6/129. There is a hybrid tee at 6688 yards rated 72.1/127 which is what we played. This tee alternates the use of the I and II tees which are at 6178 yards.
1. Par 4 – 458/428/371. One’s name is announced on the first tee including a club designation or hometown. Playing from an elevated tee down a gradual decline there is a pond down the left side in play off the tee. This pond continues along the left side of the green with perhaps only five yards between the green and water. There is a bunker that sits about 280 yards on the outer corner of this dogleg left. A good drive will receive a sizeable additional roll. The green has several higher mounds on the right side that will bring a ball back onto the green with the question being the speed of the ball which could go all the way off the back or have a lengthy putt from the left. There is a bunker on the left of the green. There is nice internal contouring to this green including a central spine and overall goes to the left. It is a nice starting hole, with the best line off the tee trying to hug the water. The pond shimmers on a sunny day.
2. Par 5 – 563/533/479. You climb a hill to get to this elevated tee, with this par 5 playing downhill to the green. Like the first, this is a dogleg left although not as sharp. There is a large left side bunker that longer hitters can possibly carry and get another favorable roll out. There are trees on the left side a bit farther up that can complicate a decision for the longer players trying to reach the green in two. This is one of the holes where the pin location can determine a better line into the green but only if the pin is left front given a mound at that location that can either stop a ball or propel it nearer to the back of the green resulting in having to climb a ridge back to it. There are flanking bunkers at the front of the green. This green also has a lot of internal movement and is has three sections to it including a very thin front between those two bunkers. This is one of my favorite holes on the front nine as the fairway is more rolling and tumbling than on other holes.
3. Par 3 – 230/211/194. This hole plays over a pond that should not be in play to a long green with a large, wide bunker on the left side. There are slight tiers in the green but overall the hole lacks visual distinctiveness.
4. Par 4 – 474/432/394. Trees are down the left side with acres of open space down the right side until the fairway narrows about 110 yards from the green with thicker trees on both sides of the fairway. Going right off the tee will likely lead to a blocked shot given the trees as the green is set off to the right of the hole. This hole plays slightly uphill to the green on a bit of a shelf and a higher mound on the right side giving the green a slant to the left. The hole has fall-offs on three sides. Being left of the green leads to a difficult pitch given the single bunker. The green is angled to the left making the right side more advantageous if it was not for the trees. I did poorly on this hole but it was my favorite on the front nine.
5. Par 5 – 634/592/531. The longest hole on the course plays between a narrower chute of trees from an elevated tee with flanking bunkers. The trees are thinner here until they get thick about 130 yards from the green on the left side. There is a bunker about 25 yards short of the green placed on the left side to provide doubt for those trying to get to the green in two as this is the best line to the green. The green is long and narrow with a middle swale and the back half going from the player. There is a substantial fall-off on the right side. It is a nice hole but I did wonder why there was not another bunker at this green.
6. Par 4 – 454/422/349. The best comfort station on the course is off to the side of the forward tees. This was the previous clubhouse for Blaketree. The hole plays slightly uphill with a right side large bunker about 260 yards from the Tiger tee making the left side the better side to approach the green. The green has two bunkers on the right side and is one of the smaller ones on the course. The left side of the green has a sizeable fall-off that can lead to a semi-blind recovery shot. The overall slant of the green, despite the land nearby, is from left to right. This is another good hole.
7. Par 3 – 158/137/124. This short hole plays over the lake shared with the first hole. The green has two distinct levels. It is a pretty hole due to the water and the backdrop of pine trees, but it is not unique.
8. Par 4 – 352/318/289. My least favorite hole on the course offers a hole where the best line is on the left side of the green due to the substantial slant left to right. The green is long and narrow with several small tiers. If one misses to the right with their tee shot and more so with their approach, their ball will go down into a 40 feet deep valley where a blind recovery shot is the only option. To the left back half of the green is a long bunker built into the higher ground. Any recovery shot from here will be treacherous given the slope. I think this hole is one that longer players might struggle more than mid-length players who do not have to make any real decision other than execute a very good second shot to the left half of the green with little pace. Scores from three to eight are very possible on this hole if one goes down into the valley to the right.
9. Par 4 – 492/452/400. This is rated the number one index although my caddie thought the eighteenth to be slightly more difficult. The fairway plays down and then up to the green with a tilt to the left. Bunkers on the right side narrow the fairway but there is ample room to the left. The green sits on higher ground with a large bunker cut into the hill on the right side of the green. The green has a significant tilt to the left with a fall-off on the left of perhaps 15 feet. It is a difficult hole.
10. Par 4 – 462/428/380. This is easily my favorite hole on the course due both to its visual appeal from the tee and to the green. While it does not have the most interestingly contoured green, it offers a very nice green complex and surrounds. From an elevated tee you play downhill before going slightly uphill to the green. Down the left side is a trio of bunkers with them spaced at 240-270-300 yards from the back tee. If one can carry the final bunker, they will have a gap/sand wedge to the green. However, I saw no reason for longer hitters to take on the final bunker given the expanse of the fairway to the right. The green sits on a shelf and is triangular in shape with two deep, sharp-edged bunkers on the right corner. There are fall-offs left and right with higher ground behind the green and a swale on the left rear. This is a hole that somewhat evokes the tenth at Augusta National in the way the land falls and rises, although not nearly as dramatic.
11. Par 5 – 623/581/523. The longest hole on the back nine plays downhill to a very generous fairway. The fairway is perhaps 100 yards wide and is rolling with the only bunker being to the right side of a green angled to the left with a narrow front. The green falls off to its left side. The bunker on the right requires a deft touch to hold the green. I felt this to be the least memorable par 5 on the course.
12. Par 3 – 200/180/159. There is a boozier comfort station along with bar-be-que, brisket and beef jerky. While many say this hole is in recognition of the twelfth at Augusta National, I think it more closely resembles the twelfth at Muirfield Village. The hole plays from a more elevated tee than at Augusta National, more similar to Muirfield Village. However, the pond is angled left to right making a right half offer a more difficult carry. We found that left pin was protected by the hill behind the green to the left side where a ball will come back onto the green. Any balls hit long to the middle or right will likely find one of the two very large bunkers built into the hill behind the green. A ball landing short of the green will go into the water. It is a visually delightful hole.
13. Par 5 – 530/508/462. This fairway has a slant more pronounced on the left side. There is an early bunker left and another 30 yards further up on the left that either need to be carried or threaded. These are some of the deepest bunkers on the course and advancing the ball a long way is difficult. Two bunkers are placed flanking the fairway about 50-60 yards from the green. The 60 yard long green is placed again on a bit of a shelf and angled to the left with a large, deep bunker carved into the left half. The long green is a Biarritz with a sizeable rise. While the bunkers add a nice visual element to the hole, I do not think the hole rivaled the two par 5’s on the front nine.
14. Par 4 – 390/367/324. I like this short par 4 more than the eighth. The hole offers a very generous fairway to the left of the single bunker on the right. The green is small and shaped like a kidney bean with a deep front left bunker. There is a false front with the right side of the green falling away to a collection area. It is a fun hole and a very good chance for birdie.
15. Par 3 – 206/173/156. My favorite par 3 is the fifteenth, requiring an uphill shot to a small green guarded by a deep front left bunker. One can use the bank to the right of the green to kick a ball onto the green. The green slopes quickly to the left. A ball putted from behind the pin will be difficult to judge the pace correctly. The hole is framed by beautiful large pine trees behind the green set on higher ground.
16. Par 4 – 492/456/413. This slight dogleg left is a strong hole with a fairway bunker on the left side that longer players can carry or easily avoid given the width of the fairway. The hole plays downhill. The green has no bunkers and has various slopes laid naturally on the land. It does not appear that there was any real shaping to this green other than to make it smooth.
17. Par 4 – 337/302/259. The third short par 4 playing longer as it is uphill. There are three bunkers on the left beginning about 35 yards from the green along with a single bunker on the front right. This is likely the smallest green on the course but a good wedge player can handle it and have a good look at birdie.
18. Par 4 – 497459/417. After the breather at seventeen, eighteen is a chance for the course to test one’s game, whether a long hitter or a player hoping for a one-putt par. Similar to the ninth the hole plays slightly down before rising to the green placed on higher ground with even higher round behind it. From the tee the longer hitter need to stay in the middle due to the flanking bunkers while shorter hitters pay them no mind as their goal is to get to the right side for their third shot into the green. This long green is raised much like the ninth, although this time the bunker is built into the sizeable hill on the left side of the green. Go left and one will have a 15-20 feet uphill blind recovery shot to a long green with internal waves. Hit short and one will find a sizeable front false. The higher ground to the right and back will funnel balls back onto the green.
The club is very much focused on family, fun and relaxation. As such, Mr. Woods and Mr. Welling built a course that perfectly matches the ambitions, goals and desires of its owners and any member. I am uncertain whether the course is the number one priority or the highlight of the club given the outstanding amenities. One nice aspect is that the housing is not seen often from the course and never intrudes on it despite some of the houses being very large. Rounds can take a while here due to those two comfort stations and the amount of laughs and joy one can have on the course. From an architectural standpoint, there is nothing unique or overly interesting here, but the course fits the land very well and the greens are nicely done. The white sand provides added beauty. There are a nice mixture of very challenging holes as well as more approachable holes. It is a wonderful golf course in a beautiful setting. One wishes there were more clubs such as this.
I am a torn as to the rating. For fun and experience, I do think it is the best in the Houston area, but for overall quality of the holes pairing strategy/difficulty/consistency/playability I would put it slightly behind Whispering Pines.
Prestigious club with all the amenities. Huge practice area including lighted 9 hole par 3 course. Unique announcement of your name given as you step up on 1st tee. Caddy required. Real Estate high dollar
While I haven't played every great club in the USA (far from it), I'd be willing to bet there isn't a more FUN golf club in the country. Bluejack is just different.
It starts with the valet. The range and clubhouse attendants who attend your every need. The club pro who treats their guests like members. The bartenders and servers who treat you like family. The culture of this place is unmatched, you won't ever see this many smiling, happy people anywhere.
The range really sets the tone. With bulls eye targets that make a loud PING when hit, you can see this isn't your stuffy country club. (It was cold when I went, but normally you are just as likely to see someone wearing flip flops as you are to see your typical stodgy country club member.) A GIANT putting green with 18 holes and awesome contours makes for a great putting stroke warm up. Throw in a 10 hole short course (free for all guests) and a great short game area, you've got everything you need.
And now the course. It sits amongst rolling hills and is surrounded by pine trees. Each hole is lined with trees, but they are sparse enough that you can recover from bad drives 99% of the time. (Not to the green, but almost always at least a chip out.) You often have a chance at a hero recovery shot, which makes for great fun. Tiger's influence is clearly Augusta and at times you feel like you are there.
Condition: 6 Perfect tee to green. The Zoysia fairways play firm and fast. You can run a ball up or spin a pitch shot off the green. Allows for lots of creativity.
Routing: 5 No real complaints, but I do think the course could use more variation in it's routing so the wind is more varied. When we played, it was uphill upwind, downhill downwind way too often. Tiger was working with the remnants of an old course, so his hands were tied a bit.
Greens: 6 Insanely fun greens and surrounds. You can play your chips and pitches in multitudes of ways. There are often back or side stops where you can get really creative. Like most great greens, being above the hole often means great danger.
Tee Shots: 4 Okay, I struggled with this one. As a 10 HCP, I LOVED the tee shots, The fairways are wide and forgiving. But I understand that the questions asked aren't varied...usually it's pull driver and swing away. For Tiger's stated goal, to make golf FUN for average players, he accomplished exactly what he wanted.
Approach: 5.5 Really fun approach shots. The green surrounds make for lots of options. Missing in the right areas can mean easy chips or even a ball rolling 100 feet to get within birdie distance. Missing in the wrong place can mean being 60 yards away. (The 8th hole, one of my favorites, presents this exact scenario.) Also you frequently are on uneven lies, so you have to really think about your targets.
Aesthetics: 6 Now, I played in the winter, but you can still tell how beautiful the place is. If you look at summer pictures, you will see perfect grass, stunning Azaleas, just a perfect place to look at.
Amenities: 6 It does lack a formal clubhouse (it's in the works), but it has EVERYTHING else. It has 2 full halfway houses with themes. (Chili and BBQ, btw it's included for guests and members.) The short course and putting course are a hoot. A simulator is available. The alcohol is abundant and tasty. (Their signature drink, the Jackhammer, is outstanding.)
Overall: I can't give it a perfect score because the tee shots are a bit too easy. But in terms of overall facility, it's one of the best on earth. And the vibe of the members and staff is truly unmatched. Bravo, Bluejack.
Unmatched experience. You won't have a better time. Not stuffy like many Top 100 courses. The course itself is kept in great shape. Very Augusta-like. Some of the most beautiful holes you'll find. Not overly difficult but back up a tee and it can bite.
Tiger created a course in Texas that feels like Augusta met North Carolina. The rolling terrain, towering pines, and wide playing corridors make for a tremendous layout. Bluejack is the epitome of the new era of golf course design; it is playable for anyone and gives you options on every hole. My favorite hole is the 8th, a short par-4 that tempts you to drive the green. This track gives Whispering Pines a run for the best place to play in the state.
Awesome, creative, transformative.
For those of you who have read my reviews, I do not think I am prone to hyperbole, but Bluejack National is amazing. It starts when you are driving into the subdivision and you see the community recreation area, pool, water slide, football field…
I learned later it is called The Fort and in addition to the above has a mini-Fenway park, basketball, pickle ball, canoeing as well as indoor activities such as bowling, video game arcade and my personal favorite the ice cream station that is supposedly open 24/7. In addition to the above it has the expected amenities, tennis, walking trails, spa and fitness center.
Bluejack National is on the site of a former golf course called Blaketree. Its claim to fame was that you could rent the cabin and hunt the feral hogs. I played there about 11 years ago and my only memory was that the 9th hole was very difficult, long and with a big water carry on the approach. Bluejack is in Montgomery, TX, over an hour north of Houston. The name Bluejack refers to a type of oak tree. I was informed that when the new owners bought the place they were told there were hundreds of bluejacks on the property. The owners commissioned Texas A&M to do an inventory so that they could be marked and retained. The aggies came back and reported they had found none. As with many engagements where the answer does not meet the sponsors' expectations, they were told to do it again. This time A&M met with success as they found one bluejack. It is located on the right side of the par 5 11th about 180 yards out.
Upon arriving at Bluejack you will be overwhelmed with friendly faces and helping hands. There is no parking lot the valet will take care of your clubs and abscond with your keys. You will be given a quick over view of the lay of the land. Note well, Bluejack is expensive and everything is included, no tipping (except caddy). They only allow a few unaccompanied 4somes per week. Prior to booking you will be required to fill out a fact sheet with credit card info and you will be provided a list of all the fees that will be charged. When my head pro showed me this we both agreed that it was interesting concept and we hoped that I would be overwhelmed and I was. The fees include all drink and food and it will be pushed on you. My advice, show up hungry. I did get a cup of coffee and I headed over to “The Playgrounds” This is a lighted ten hole venue with holes ranging from approx. 50-100 yards. Next door is the range, one feature I loved was the large bulls-eye target about 150 yards out. I would liken this area to a party. Even though it was early in the AM, with the music hoppin’, you could see where this was a happenin’ place. Bluejack is NOT a stiff upper lip kind of club. No pretensions, yet very upscale.
To the course.
I was introduced to my caddy, Lucas and the AP I was set to play with Alex. I was told the Bluejack had a couple of traditions that occur on the first tee. On of which is putting to the tee marker with your driver for honors. Alex went first a was wee bit long and I was able to cut him. He said he did not lose at that very often. I explained that at our four club championship, I putt with my driver, so I probably had an unfair advantage. The next first tee tradition is that each golfer is announced. In hindsight, I wish I had recorded it, they pronounced my name right, with my nickname, hometown and club. Pretty cool. Amazingly I was even able to hit a good drive.
Another superb design feature are the Tiger tees. Typically, when you hear Tiger tees, you think way back. This is the exact opposite. What they did was calculate what the average driving distance was for an adult male and set up tees at that distance in the fairway. The concept is, dad can tee off and then the kids can hit in from approx. where his tee shot lands.
The first hole is a dogleg left with a bunker on the outside elbow and water on the inside. The 2nd hole is a reachable dogleg left par 5. To have a chance to get home in 3 favor the left side. I was in great shape and inexplicably I rolled my fairway wood. I was able to recover and get on in reg. The green is shaped similar to a three leaf clover and with deep bunkers protecting the right and left front. In another sign of the apocalypse I rolled in the birdie putt. This of course led my PBFU double bogey on the par 3 4th.
As I was chunking my ball around I noticed how trampled the pine straw and waste area was. Lucas explained this was caused by the feral hogs. Bluejack’s fairways are zoysia and in a fortuitous outcome, evidently zoysia blades are sharp and bother the snout of the hogs. Hence, they do not tear up the course itself.
The 4th is a longer par four. Favor center and left off the tee to avoid being blocked out. The left will also provide a better angle to run the ball onto the green. The par 5 5th is only reachable by the biggest hitters. To do so, one must carry the fairway bunker on the right. My recommendation is play for par. Favor the left side and what appears to be a greenside bunker on the left is a good 20 yards short of the green. Approaches will run right so favor the left side of the green. Anything right will leave a tough up and down.
Favor the left side of the fairway on the par 4 6th to avoid the ravenous fairway bunker on the right. After your tee shot the first halfway house is on the right, which I respectfully suggest should be a called a third way house. As we were boot scooting along it was not open when we went by. My hosts wanted to call to have someone open it and I assured them that I was fine and was here to play golf. As you walk towards the 6th green look to your right to scope out the short par 4 8th. There is sharp drop-off on the right side, called the green wall, which will push your tee shot further right and create a challenging approach.
The short par 3 7th is a pretty hole. Carry over water to a narrow two tiered redan green. Club selection is critical. The 8th is driveable, but favor the left side to avoid the green wall. I pitched up to about 12 feet but was above the hole. Alex, the AP, was pin high off the tee, but was rebuffed by the green wall. He hit a good pitch that skidded past my ball. It appeared that I would get a nice read, but slowly gravity took over and he rolled back just inside me. As we were eyeing the putt, I observed this looks faster than teenage sex. Both he and Lucas fell in love with the one liner. Please use it sparingly. I trickled mine in and then Alex topped me.
The long uphill par 4 9th is the number one handicap hole and it found me wanting as I posted my only double bogey. Favor the left off the tee. The green is pitched back to front with a false front. Take an extra club.
The backside starts off with a dogleg left that challenges your appetite. With three staggered bunkers on the inside elbow how much do you want to chew off? The par 5 11th (home of the aforementioned Bluejack) like the state of Texas is big with a huge fairway. However, it does slope significantly right to left, favor the right and I would suggest playing it as a 3-shot hole. The greenside bunker right is especially tricky as the green also slopes away from you.
After 11 you are at the next third-way house where the specialty is jerky. The grill here is designed for the carnivore in you, tips, sausage, brisket etc. Due to our meteoric pace, it was not open when we zipped through. Behind the grill is the tee box for the signature hole par 3 12th. Downhill over a water hazard this picturesque par 3 had an Augusta-like feel with a redan green and bunkers behind it. I was fortunate as the azaleas were in bloom behind the green.
The par 5 14th is reachable in two but be wary of the fairway bunkers that pinch the fairway on both the right and left. A long multi-tiered green toughens the hole. The short par 4 14th is a birdie opportunity. The best angle is to fly the right bunker to give you a wedge to the green. The 15th is a par 3 that is well protected by a greenside bunker left. Favor the right side as balls will trundle left. Avoid being above the hole, as this can lead to the dreaded three jack as I can attest to. The par 4 16th is a dogleg left. Big hitters can fly the bunker left to leave themselves a wedge. For the rest of us favor the right side. While the green is visibly sloped right to left if your approach is short and on the right third of the green you will be left with a nasty up and down.
From 16 we ambled on over to the third-way house. The grill had been fired up but alas the jerky machine was down. Perhaps next time.
The short uphill well-protected par 4 17th is driveable. Take the environmentals into consideration. If downwind, go for it. With three bunkers left and one right there is not a lot of room for error. The 18th is a long uphill par 4 and is the number 2 handicap hole. I hit a decent drive and needed a par to break 80. I asked Lucas if long was better. He said, no long is bad and then he said but so is short. He waited a second and then said right is bad also as is left. What is a guy to do? I caught my shot thin and while it gave me glimmer of hope it ultimately ran out of juice and came to a stop short left. I was faced with an 10-foot uphill flop shot to a tight pin. Fortunately, I reached deep and pulled one out of my sphincter and had a 10-inch tap in! What a great day.
This is an awesome course. I would have spent all day there, but alas I had a meeting. Expensive, but I strongly encourage golf aficionados to make the trek and savor the day.
Bluejack National is a breath of fresh air for the huge state of Texas.
The feel of the course is as close to the “situations” you find yourself in at Augusta National. I recognise that 99% of the world will never experience these “situations”, but to give you a sense of it – Bluejack has implemented its own interpretation of the green-side aprons, the run-offs and the magical flash bunkering to add visual deceptions just like Alister MacKenzie has done around the world.
The scale of the course is enormous, yet very tranquil. The change in elevation adds a massive test, as do the raised green sites which have been perfectly discovered.
I have now played this course several times and my appreciation for it has grown over that time. Some people may discount how good it is simply because it bears Tiger’s signature, and not that of some of the more en vogue designers, and because it doesn’t dazzle with rugged or elaborate bunkering. TGR design showed surprising restraint by how few bunkers they used and by how lay of the land this design is. In many ways golf needs more of courses like this. It is an enjoyable walk, playable for all abilities, yet gets more difficult and interesting the closer you get to the hole. The strength of this course is in the interest on and around the greens and how the firm and tight conditions give the player both choices and perhaps the opportunity to second guess themselves. The course will continue to be interesting and fun because the angles matter and there is always a preferred place to miss for those who have learned the greens. By clearing out the areas under the trees, they have eliminated the most time consuming and least enjoyable part of golf, searching for wayward shots so rounds are always played at a nice pace.
Bluejack is Tiger Woods' first design in the USA and his second design worldwide (first being El Cardonal at Diamante in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico). The full 18 holes opened in April 2016, so not on any Top 100 yet. The property is about 750 acres in size and contains an 18 hole course, a 10 hole par three course (all holes<105 yards…lite at night…great for kids), a wonderful driving range which includes a “bulls eye” target about 180 yards out and 40’ high on a pole, a large lake stocked with a wide variety of fish, and a whole bunch of cabins being constructed. As Bluejack is a good hour and 15 minutes from Houston without traffic (a rare occurrence there), the cabins are rented (or purchased) by members for weekend stays…and with all the activities, it is a great place for the entire family…the place exudes “fun”. Interesting concept and got the sense it is working.
I played with a friend David W. and a friend of David’s Craig W. (both belong to Champions GC), and head professional Rich Barcelo, who is a very strong player (played on PGA Tour and Web.com Tour for 15 years) and great guy.
Put simply, this is a fun course that unabashedly is an effort to capture some of the concepts that made Augusta National great. From the back tees it is big…7552 yards (I played it at 6178) and par 72. It reminded me of the “pre-Tiger Proof” ANGC. Wide wide fairways (strategic design) creating seemingly easy long shots (but the angles define the approach shots), very few bunkers (39) but they are all massive, fabulous use of a highly contoured piece of land (shockingly contoured…I always thought of Houston as being very flat), very very tough around the greens, intimate routing (generally short walks from green to tee) on a huge piece of land, scenic beauty very much like ANGC with long leaf pines everywhere, and overall, a true test but really really great fun. Around the greens the lies are very tight…and the greens have big slopes, with subtle mounds and crests (me thinks Maxwell Rolls) on many. Also, given how new the greens are, they were firm and fast but receptive to well hit shots. Rich Barcelo said they were able to get them receptive with a very deep green punching.
Many have tried to capture the “sense” of ANGC through the years (two best examples that immediately come to mind are both Tom Fazio courses…Sage Valley in SC and Alotian in AR). Sage Valley in particular tries to capture the “look” of ANGC, but to my mind, it does not capture Augusta’s architectural subtleties. I walked off BJ with the sense that Tiger has captured these subtleties in a very unique and original way. Golf architecture aficionados are very familiar with the Macdonald/Raynor “template” hole concept. That is…building adaptations (not copies…but adaptations) of great old designs found mostly in GB&I. The most interesting “adaptation” to my mind is the Biarritz hole (e.g. #9 at Yale, #16 at Yeamans. #5 at Fishers, #11 at The Creek, #8 at Greenbrier White, etc etc etc). The original (which no longer exists) was located at Biarritz GC in southwestern France and featured a chasm/inlet from the sea in front of the green (like #15 at Cypress Point or #16 at Cabot Cliffs). As such a feature is available at very few locations, MacDonald and Raynor created an adaptation featuring a grass swale in front of or in the middle of the green.
At Bluejack, Tiger seems to have adapted “situations” or “features” as opposed to holes. For example, the 10th hole felt to me very much like the 10th at ANGC. At the green, Tiger added a large swale to the left and behind the green. To my mind, that swale was adapted from the swale to the left and behind ANGC’s 13th hole. Similarly, the back left corner of the 18th green at Bluejack reminded me of the front left corner of #4 at ANGC; the 18th is a totally different hole concept than the ANGC 4th…but I think Tiger used this feature here. I think this concept of “template features” or “template situations” is simply brilliant.
Here are some holes worthy of special comment:
--#1…dogleg left par 4, 458 yards (see picture of us with first hole in background)…only two bunkers, but note their size…and key feature is the slope to the right of the green…hit approach shot right of the green and watch the ball trickle down toward the pin…fun way to start a round and get you loose;
--#7 par 3, 158 yards; no bunkers but water short and left; two tiered green that is wide but shallow on left side (upper tier is on left); 4’ fall off behind left side of green. Bring your distance control or bail out right.
--#8 par 4 of 352 yards…drivable from forward tees (in my case if I manage to hit a few sprinkler heads)…green slopes sharply from back left to front right, and off the right side of the green land tumbles down a good 15-20’ (deceivingly, from tee this slope is not at all obvious)…pitch from down there is no fun at all; back left bunker slopes up to its back which means it yields mostly downhill lies to a green sloping sharply away from you (and toward that nasty slope to the right of the green). So you big boys, go at it, there are rewards but real risks
--#12 par 3 of 200 yards…green similar in shape and angle to ANGC #12 (BJ’s is somewhat larger); water (but no bunker) in front and two bunkers behind; this is some sort of hole from the back (but of course no architect can duplicate the winds at ANGC #12)
--#13 par 5 just 508 yards…four well placed bunkers in fairway keep you thinking about how to play this one; hole is dead straight and #14 is right behind it in same line…so from 13th tee you look down a corridor that is about 900 yards long (see pic);
--#17 short par 4 (337 yards) to shallow elevated green protected by massive and very deep bunker in front of green’s right side.
Yes, I liked it a lot!
If you get the chance to play it, do so!!