The 18-hole layout at Boot Ranch Golf Club is the focal point of a residential development located to the north of Fredericksburg. Opened in 2005, the course brings Palo Alto Creek into play at several holes.
Architect Jim Lipe commented as follows: “When I designed Boot Ranch Golf Club near Fredericksburg, Texas for Hal Sutton, I was given a fantastic piece of the Texas hill country. Great elevation change, beautiful flowing streams with natural waterfalls, trees and rock formations. The land was full of natural golf holes, and the exercise was to gather the best to form a routing that maximized all the attributes of the property. I am very proud of the result.”
The course closed for four months in June of 2017 for a major renovation by contractor Heritage Links. The idea was to enhance the playability without altering the playing experience. One aspect of play may now seem easier than before – reduced difficulty of getting out of bunkers – but that’s more than countered with faster, firmer greens.
All the greens were converted from bentgrass to TifEagle Bermuda to provide a superior playing surface and better tolerate the Hill Country climate and irrigation with reclaimed water. A number of the putting surfaces were softened to counteract the faster putting speeds of the newly installed Bermuda grass.
Most of the improvement work focused on bunkers, which involved installing new Bunker Solutions liners and irrigation. Fairway bunkers were filled with a mix of bright “bunker white” sand blended with the slightly reddish native sand, and grassed areas in waste bunkers were removed. Many of the greenside bunkers were either reduced in size or removed.
The par four closing hole was lengthened, transforming one of the toughest finishing holes in the state into a challenging par five. A one-acre putting park – designed by former Nicklaus Design associate Chet Williams – was also introduced, featuring the largest green in Texas as a centre for family fun and friendly competitions.
While the State of Texas has produced the greatest depth of talent to play golf professionally in America, the lack of significant golf course design is equally striking on the flip side of the equation. That has noticeably changed in the last 25 years as golf course construction project of varying types and dimensions have been added to the overall portfolio.
The most striking terrain exists in the much talked about "hill country" lying west of Austin -- the State's Capital. The area is blessed with rolling terrain and perfectly suited for golf course development.
When Boot Ranch Golf Club opened in 2006 the overall golf market looked extremely promising. Scores of courses were still being built nationally and Texas was on the front page with numerous projects moving ahead. Located in the charming community of Fredericksburg, roughly 75-90 minutes west of Austin, the premise of Boot Ranch was to provide an idyllic private club getaway for those seeking a top tier getaway from daily life.
All seemed set to go until the devastating impact of The Great Recession hit with full bore lasting from 2007 thru 2009. In a short time it appeared Boot Ranch would become Boot Hill as the real estate tornado toppled many developments. Various presumptions that had spurred golf course development were now challenged on a grand scale. Numerous projects that had either just opened or planned for development were caught up in the tornado winds now blowing.
Fortunately, Boot Ranch was acquired by the Terra Verde Group and Wheelock Street Capital from the original ownership group headed by Lehman Brothers.
The new ownership group opted to take all necessary steps in keeping the promise of Boot Ranch alive and that action has clearly been a benefit on a range of fronts. All of the putting greens were changed from bent to Bermuda and the surfaces are well done and clearly add to the experience.
The 360-acre site contains housing but the positioning is set on the outer rim of the golf course -- far away from anything remotely close to being a distraction to the golf. Former PGA TOUR star Hal Sutton along with architect Jim Lipe, who worked as a senior designer for the Jack Nicklaus group for a number of years, were the duo who created a course that works superbly within the overall land site.
Boot Ranch begins with an excellent starting hole. Many such holes are so vanilla that they serve little real purpose. An opening hole should not be totally benign but it should not be so rigorous as to discourage players at the outset. At 427 yards from the tournament tees, the opener can be played from an extremely elevated tee near to the clubhouse. The hole turns right in the drive zone and the bunkers protecting the right side are menacing and command one's respect. Best of all, the putting surface is appropriately contoured and those shots hit with little real spin can easily run off the back. The 1st will yield to quality play -- it just won't give away a score with no serious effort applied.
The flow of Boot Ranch is especially well done. The rolling terrain adds to the visual excitement when playing. Three par-3 holes are encountered on the outward half. The 2nd appears easy but the green is well defended on both left and right sides. The par-5 3rd is reachable in two blows for the strongest of players but a pesky creek cuts in front of the green.
Holes 4 thru 7 provide a sequence where two long par-4's are included with two fairly similar par-3's. Just as I was beginning to believe the course was sliding downward you encounter the highly imaginative 8th. This par-5 provides a series of thought provoking decisions. Palo Alto Creek cuts diagonally across -- the main fairway is straight ahead but there's also one that takes places on the left side. The ideal landing area is the left side but that requires a very well executed tee shot to do so. Even after landing on the left side the player has the option to go for the green but that opportunity can only be realized with a high quality approach. The green sits 25 feet above the fairway and any shots that have too much momentum can easily roll off the back and leave a very delicate situation to walk away with birdie. What makes the 8th so meaningful is that the hole fits the land so well. There's little manufacturing and those attempting to reap a big time reward have to ante up on the risk side of the equation.
The momentum from the 8th carries onward to the par-4 9th. Although listed on the scorecard as 399 yards from the tips -- the hole can be easily stretched to 445 yards. The hole commences from an elevated tee and then plunges downhill. The drive zone is well protected and the longer one hits the tee shot the more demanding the available landing area becomes. The approach is equally testing -- with water on the far left the tendency is to hit away towards the right side. Such a result will mean a testing recovery for those going too far.
The inward half at Boot Ranch starts with the picturesque short par-4 10th. Be even more interesting if a tee pad was played just a bit further up and having the far landing area on the right side opened up just a tad more to tempt the strongest of players to carry that area with a possibility in reaching the green.
The par-5 11th is a straightforward three-shot hole but frankly just adds on yardage to the scorecard. The downhill par-3 12th is well done with a green that is nearly 50 yards in depth so club selection is crucial. The uphill par-4 dog-leg right 13th is one of the best two-shot holes at Boot Ranch. The tee shot must hug the right side while avoiding a fairway bunker on that side and some trees which push in from that side. The green is one of the club's best --protected by a menacing front left bunker that mandates a top tier approach.
The most disappointing hole on the back nine is the short par-4 14th. There's no real architectural imagination. The hole is just vanilla.
But, things improve dramatically with the 15th. The par-4 plays 433 yards and while the tee shot seems fairly simple - it's important not to get too close to the left side. The topography falls abruptly. Those managing to avoid the lengthy fairway bunker on the left will encounter a steep drop-off leaving a very demanding downhill 2nd shot to an uphill diagonally positioned green defended by sand and a daunting hillside. The angle of the green encourages approaches to come from the right side.
The final trio are a quality ending -- with one caveat. The downhill par-5 16th at 633 yards is totally dependent on keeping a solitary tree that stands guard as a sentinel roughly 65-70 yards from the green. If that tree should ever disappear the architecture for the hole plummets noticeably. The 220-yard par-3 17th is very strong and leaving with a score of three is no easy accomplishment. The closing hole was changed from a par-4 to par-5 and I believe the hole does play better as par-4. The extreme back tee is listed on the scorecard but is not being used given the sparse turf that existed on it when I was present. The three-tier green is especially well done -- failure to hit it near enough will result in a likely three-putt.
Boot Ranch is clearly in the conversation for a top ten position in the Lone Star State. The variety of holes is good and the wherewithal to keep houses far enough away from the course simply adds to the experience. The hill country of Texas has provided Boot Ranch with something many other Texas courses can't replicate. For those fortunate to play the course the experience will certainly be a lasting one.
by M. James Ward