13722 Champions Drive,
Texas (TX) 77069,
- +1 281 444 6262
5 miles W of Houston Intercontinental Airport
Members and their guests only
Ken nominated the Champions Golf Club as a gem back in July 2008. Since then the Cypress Creek course has been elevated to a Texas Best In State ranked course. Ken’s original nomination comments are as follows:
“You should consider adding Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas to the Top 100 website. It’s a storied course that has hosted big events that just drips with golf history and culture. Jackie Burke and Jimmy Demaret were the co-founders and knew how to establish a great club. Champions has two courses and a men’s locker room atmosphere that is unrivalled. The Cypress Creek Course is the one that has hosted the Ryder Cup, US Open and several PGA Tour Championship events and has been in and out of many Top 100 US lists over the years. It’s very old school… even in Texas and I was a member for several years while living there and would give the course 5 or 5.5 balls based on your player review system.”
It takes an exceptional course to host both a Ryder Cup and a U.S. Open within a decade of opening but that’s exactly what happened to Cypress Creek when Ben Hogan captained the US team to a 23½-8½ thumping of Great Britain and Ireland in 1967, followed two years later by Orville Moody winning his national Open by one stroke from a group of three players.
The course is set up on a grand scale for championship golf with long holes, large undulating greens and a sprinkling of water hazards around the layout. Eight of the par four holes on the card measure over 430 yards from tee to green so it’s a track that suits long, accurate hitters.
The 540-yard, right doglegged 13th is a memorable par five but the most appealing holes on the scorecard are the par threes, the toughest of which is undoubtedly the 213-yard 4th hole. It was here that, incredibly, Ben Hogan sprayed three tee shots into the Creek during his final competitive round of golf in 1971.
Much like the very good/great golf courses on flat ground that I have played such as Kingston Heath and Chicago Golf Club, the Cypress Creek course at Champions sits on flat ground. In fact it might be the flattest course I have ever played that remains a golf course very much worth playing.
The design by Ralph Plummer likely met the desires of the founders of the club, Jackie Burke, Jr. and Jimmy Demaret, multiple major champions who were native to the Houston area. When first built it is easy to see why it was considered by many to be worthy of a top 100 ranking in the USA/world due to its fine routing, the incorporation of ponds into the routing, and the large, slightly raised greens with a lot of subtleties. However, as the course was opened in 1959 it has slide down the rankings of various magazines as there have been hundreds of very good golf courses built since then on more interesting land. These courses offer more visual attractiveness as well as the opportunity to place tee and green sites at elevated positions. Finally, many courses built since then are on land where bunkers can be built into the sides of hills, or knobs, or have more ponds/water that can come into play.
Champions Cypress Creek would have had to have more interesting green complexes/surrounds such as can be found at Kingston Heath or Chicago in order to have stayed in top echelon of the rankings.
Champions Cypress Creek remains as it was built, a relaxing and serene golf course that is built for good players. Yet while it is challenging, its primary feature is its playability. You may not make many pars here, but you will not get beat up unless the wind is very strong.
Many critique it for not having many memorable holes. They critique the par 5’s due to a lack of length, although they were plenty long when built. They also note that the first and tenth holes are essentially the same; nearly the same length, both a dogleg left with two outer corner bunkers, and both having an irregular shaped pond off the left side of the green. Yet both are strong holes and the first has a greenside bunker on the right and a green with a different interior contour. The usage of the ponds on the left side are different with the first coming close to the front left of the green while the tenth is set further away but the fall-off from the green if one misses slightly left will be punitive.
As for whether it has any architectural significance, I would say that it does. The use of the creek on four forces the player to fully commit to the shot and not bail out due to the front bunker and tree on the right. The ponds on one, six, seven, ten, eleven, fourteen and seventeen are nearly invisible to the eye yet on flat ground confuse one as to how far they come into the fairway or protect the green. They are well placed and add to the defense of the hole. The shaping of the left side of the large green on fourteen is particularly noteworthy, offering up a truly heroic shot to a back left pin location. Finally, the design of most of the holes lead to a preferred side of the fairway in order to score well. These holes show a wide fairway that in reality does not really exist on several holes.
The course is a par 71. The Black tees play to 7410 yards rated 75.8/134. The Silver tees are 7022 yards rated 74.1/131. The Gold tees are 6548 yards rated 72.7/127. There are two tees of lesser yardages and a combination tee. We played the Gold tees.
1. Par 4 – 434/446/420. The course does not wait to get started with this long dogleg left with two outer corner bunkers. One must clear the dogleg to have a shot at the green. The trees down the left side are a definite obstacle to being able to reach the green in two. The green is large leading to a two-three club differential. There is a lot of slope to this green.
2. Par 4 – 454/413/386. A second long hole follows the first although this one is basically straight. A few trees come in from the left side that will require either luck or a skillful shot to get anywhere near the green. The green has three bunkers, two on the front corners and one on the left middle with the green being thinner at the front due to the placement of the flanking bunkers. The green has good inner movement making this a good hole.
3. Par 4 – 430/391/367. The longer holes continue with the third being a sharp dogleg right. One must clear the turn to have a shot at a well defended green with flanking bunkers at the front and one on the right that is more at the rear. The green is angled to the left with the front section very thin. This is another hole that demands precision off the tee.
4. Par 3 – 226/201/178. It is a long heroic carry and it was here that Ben Hogan, trying to play out of the rough on irregular ground fronting the green, hurt his knee which led to it being the last professional round of golf he ever played. Cypress Creek down below followed by rough ground fronts this green. Although large, the green has a front bunker on the right side preceded by a tree that narrows the options for the “safe” shot. It is a good hole.
5. Par 5 – 512/506/482. I was glad to get to this hole, a dogleg left that offers only trees as the defense for the first and second shot. The green is well guarded, with four bunkers placed around it. The right back side of the green has a fall-off area. The green is undulated with several hollows.
6. Par 4 – 467/446/414. Another long par 4 turning back to the left with a pond on the right coming into play about 100 yards short of the green. The green has a large front left bunker. Only an accurate approach shot can avoid the pond or the bunker. This is another good hole.
7. Par 4 – 452/436/412. This is a very sharp dogleg right with a slight dip before the green which is very long and thin for the first half. There is a bunker right of the green and one placed at the rear. The miss to the green is to the left side but one must clear the pond and some trees that seem to hang over the pond that serves to increase the punitive nature of the left side. It is a strong hole.
8. Par 3 – 183/174/158. This hole features a forced carry over a pond that begins about 30 yards short of the green and cuts down the front and left side of the green. The right side of the green is shallow with a rear bunker while the bigger middle/left side also has a rear bunker. The green is one of the easier ones to read although it is tilted and has a plateau area. The use of the pond and the two bunkers make this another well defended hole.
9. Par 5 – 512/503/476. Similar in length to the fifth hole, this dogleg right has no fairway bunkers like the fifth. The defense is a a few scattered trees, mainly down the right side but the left side has taller, gnarly grass. The green is thin at the front with two deeper bunkers on the sides. The rear of the green is large on the left side but also thin on the right side due to a rear bunker. I did find this to be one of the easier holes on the course.
10. Par 4 – 466/439/433. This is a strong golf hole, mirroring in many ways the first hole as a dogleg left with two outer corner bunkers and a pond on the left side of the green. The fairway gets very narrow the closer you get to the green which is large and raised. The green has a lot of subtle inner movement.
11. Par 4 – 502/462/445. The longest par 4 on the course is a strong hole. The pond on the seventeenth is placed behind the tree line but could come into play with an errant tee shot. There are two separated bunkers down the left side before the trees begin on both sides. The green has a fall-off to the left side where another pond awaits. The front right has a bunker making this a hole where precision is required with the tee shot and approach.
12. Par 3 – 231/202/168. Much like the eighth one has to carry the pond to reach the green. The green has two bunkers on the right that make the bail-out area one where you play well short of the green. The green is one of the easier ones to read.
13. Par 5 – 551/519/488. This is my favorite par 5 on the golf course as a double dogleg playing out to the left to avoid Cypress Creek, then turning back to the right. There is almost a third turn to the left given the direction of the fairway. Much like the other par 5’s, there are no fairway bunkers, but there are four as part of the green complex, two on the left and two on the right with the right side coming into play about 30 yards short of the green. The green has a lower swale on the front right.
14. Par 4 – 435/415/386. My favorite hole on the course is the fourteenth which plays straight but with a pond beginning about 20 yards short of the green. There are no fairway bunkers. One wonders why this is done. Is it to tempt the longer hitters to swing carelessly as they try for distance? The large green expands to the left side where the pond is set against the green. The right side has a large bunker. The other important defense to the hole is two rear bunkers. The green has a spine through it.
15. Par 4 – 416/404/382. Playing back the opposite way of the fourteenth, this is a decent hole due to the scattered trees and the green being placed at an angle right to left with bunkers on either side. Due to the angle of the green, the right bunker is more at the rear of the green. The preferred line to the green is down the right whereas a drive down the left could be blocked by trees and have to consider that front bunker.
16. Par 3 – 182/168/155. This green is very thin between the two flanking bunkers with a very wide green at its second half.
17. Par 4 – 479/454/411. It has been awhile since the course had a long par four, so here it is. There is a pond very much in play on the left side while the trees on the right side narrow the fairway for the longer hitters. One must hit a straight tee shot. The pond continues down the left side but should not be in play for the better players while the lesser player has to consider the pond having two elbows pinching in to the front left and rear left. The green has two bunkers on the right side to a green angled left to right. If the pin is in the back right the best angle is in from the left side of the fairway, yet the pond lurks there.
18. Par 4 – 458/443/388. The course finishes with another long par 4 with a large bunker on the left side in play for all players depending on the tee chosen. The green has a bunker front and to the left with the green shaped to blend between those bunkers. It is a fine finishing hole.
Champions Cypress Creek is no longer considered the best golf course in Texas. Yet I am willing to bet that a low index member here will play well anywhere whereas a low index player at one of the other top courses will struggle here because they are used to wider fairways and greens that have contours that likely assist them more than hurt them.
I think there is architectural merit to the course due to those ponds and the placement of bunkers. By not having fairway bunkers on the par 5’s, the course tempts the longer hitters to go for the green in two where a lot of trouble awaits.
I think anyone in the area who wants to play a good course will be glad they played here, even if there is not a lot of interesting land movement and “fun” holes.
Hosting big time events is no guarantor that the course itself will be one where architectural greatness lives. Such is the case with Champions Golf Club and its Cypress Creek Course. Founded by such golf titans as Jimmy Demaret and Jackie Burke, Champions sports a larger than life persona -- comparable to that of the State of Texas.
Yes, the club hosted the Ryder Cup and US Open early in its history but the course can be summed up very quickly -- flat, dull and repetitious with nothing that really stands apart. Cypress Creek can be stretched over 7,300 yards and features several dog-leg holes. The most noted hole is the par-3 4th which can play to a max of 230 yards and requires a carry over a water hazard.
Texas golf has certainly advanced since the time Champions was created. There are several designs of quality which truly do "fly under the radar." Amazingly, the greater Houston metro area is among the largest in America but the golf side is still devoid of anything of truly meaningful stature.
Sadly, Champions personifies a Texas expression -- "all hat and no cattle."
by M. James Ward