Tom Fazio might not design the world’s toughest courses but there is little doubt in our mind that he designs appealing and generally exciting layouts. He is also a man on a mission, a mission to have his name tattooed on the top Texan courses. Naturally, Fazio is the man behind Dallas National Golf Club.
We’ve know a fair bit about Tom Fazio and we think he is a magnificent architect but we do sometimes wonder: “If Dallas National were the only course I ever designed, I feel I would have had a great career.” The fact of the matter is that Dallas National is just another of Fazio’s top-notch creations. If you have a multi-multi-million dollar budget and you want to create another exclusive private members club then he is definitely the man for you.
Elevation, elevation, elevation seems to be the motto for successful modern US golf courses and Dallas National is no different. Set in a limestone canyon, which plunges through and across ravines to raised plateaux landing areas, the course is dramatic and exciting. The conditioning is naturally immaculate and the panoramic views of the city of Dallas and the absence of houses makes a lovely change with a genuine feeling of escape.
This is quintessential Fazio design but a couple of ordinary par threes have sneaked in along with a weak 17th which may peg Dallas National back in the long-term rankings. But there's no doubt that this is a bold new millennium design which will sadly be kept under its members’ lock and key. We think a simple but limited visitor policy would actually help the Dallas National cause and put into practice some of the preacher’s quotes – “They say seeing is believing. But actually seeing Dallas National Golf Club is unbelievable” – which appeared in the local press.
Dallas National is often listed as the best course in Texas and has appeared on one magazine’s list of the top 100 in the USA. This design by Tom Fazio is very good and certainly deserves to be in the top five in Texas. One could make the case that it is the best course in the state although I would place in third behind both Whispering Pines and Austin Golf Club. Once the two courses in Frisco are built by the PGA of America, it might drop another spot given the likely positive reception for a course from Gil Hanse.
Dallas National is a wonderful routing going through the site of a limestone quarry. As such, there is are numerous canyons, ridges, and substantial changes in terrain to navigate. It is this change in terrain that likely keeps the course from being named the best in the state as the land movement leads to some restrictions on a few of the holes that restrict both the length as well as the shape of the hole. However, I think Mr. Fazio could point to this course as one of his very best routings along with Wade Hampton and the Quarry at La Quinta. There are a couple of areas on the course where one can hardly believe a hole was made given the substantial rise and fall of the land. A few of the holes could compete with the best holes built by Mr. Fazio in western North Carolina. It takes true knowledge of golf course architecture to build a course over terrain such as this.
I played it on March 10, 2021 with a good young amateur, a friend, and a member of the LPGA on a cold and windy day. It was my second visit to Dallas National and found the course had not changed from my previous visit in November, 2015.
The course is a 7404 yards from the Texas tees, par 72 rated 76.2/147. From the “I” tees it is 6707 yards rated 73.6/142. We played the II tees at 6224 yards rated 71.6/134. With the cold and high wind as well as rain overnight, the course played much longer. For me it felt as though it approached those “I” tees in length.
From the Texas tees, the course is difficult, and perhaps that is a reason is no longer considered the best in the state. Even from the “I” tees the course seems to play even more difficult than the high index and slope and perhaps that is another reason that people might critique it. There are very few holes where one can senses a certain par or a birdie is within reach. I counted only four holes that were in that category whereas the other holes require solid execution and a very good day with the putter. The “easiest” holes are the opener and the ending hole, although even those can have difficult pin locations that can easily have the possibility of a three putt. Many of the bunkers are deep with a few having irregular edges that can lead to awkward stances. The greens rolls true but there are plenty of breaks as well as slope to them. If one shots within three stokes of their average score here, they have had a good day.
1. Par 4 – 385/333/318. The opening hole is meant to be one of the easier holes on the course but the wind was very strong into our faces and ballooned any ball hit with height. The land falls sharply away on the right where there are thick trees while the left side offers a bank with scattered trees and a large bunker. The bunker on the right front is raised and also large followed by a smaller one. The green is angled left to right creating a more difficult back right pin position. I like the hole because the fairway had a lot of contour as did the green with a false front and various shelves.
2. Par 5 – 552/500/454. From an elevated tee this hole offers the first look at the elevation changes awaiting you on the course as the fairway falls downhill as a dogleg right. Adding to the danger of the hole is that the fairway is tilted left to right. One must stay left off the tee to avoid a large right side bunker and a blind recovery shot as a best case scenario given one could also have a lost ball. The safer play to the left has two corner bunkers. From a low spot near that left hand bunker the hole rises to its finish with a green angled left to right and two front, deep bunkers. The fairway has various rolls and shelves in it but I thought the green complex would have been more interesting with a right to left angled green that would cause additional confusion. Going off the right back of this green leads to a difficult recovery given the slope of the green back to front with several ripples in this long green. It is a demanding par 5 despite its relatively short length.
3. Par 3 – 188/176/155. This hole offers a very long green for its length and a back left bunker. There are some interesting rock/land features cutting diagonally in front of the green. The green has a bulge in its middle. This hole plays relatively flat.
4. Par 5 – 554/516/485. This hole plays very slightly uphill working both ways, first to the right and then back to the left. There are two bunkers left and one right off the tee that significantly shrink the size of the fairway. The best bet is to play short of them given the fairway starts to turn more just beyond them making the longer hitters have to hit a very precise tee shot. There are some trees and a bunker set short of the green off to the right with three bunkers fronting the left side of the green which is raised. The third bunker on the left is a small, round pot-like bunker. The green is narrow at its front and then widens and angled to the left. This is a very fair par 5 and a birdie chance if one can navigate those early bunkers.
5. Par 3 – 225/200/183. This par 3 plays over a valley with a significant tilt off the green to the left. Due to the wind being in our faces our balls did not release the way they normally would onto the green. If stuck to the right of this green, one faces a very tricky putt if the pin is middle or back left as there is a plateau/shelf on the back half of the green where putts will have to be judged perfectly for pace to get them to release down the slope without too much speed. The tee shot needs to favor the right side as the left side has three bunkers set into the face of the hill. It is another demanding par 3. At this point one might think the routing of the front nine is a bit quirky with the par 3’s and par 5’s behind you after only five holes but the routing does fit with the land.
6. Par 4 – 452/430/415. This straight hole plays slightly uphill and is one of the more heavily tree lined holes on the course. The only bunkers are near the green with the left one set about 20 yards from the green and the right one placed at the right front elbow of the green. We had a strong wind in our faces and I felt this to be the second most demanding hole on the front nine. The green has a lot of subtle internal movement.
7. Par 4 – 356/337/317. This hole is meant to be a breather hole given its length but there are thick trees on either side if one’s shot is wayward. There are two bunkers placed 60 yards short of the green on the right that narrow the landing area for the longer hitter. The green has a front middle bunker and flanking side bunkers. After the difficulty of six, this hole was a nice bit of relaxation although it is important to have a putt of less than 30 feet.
8. Par 4 – 475/416/354. This flat but rolling hole played harder than likely designed due to the strength of the right to left wind that seemed to knock balls down. There is a high shelf of land on the right side of the fairway that narrow the fairway although it should not come into play. Still, it seems to force even the approach shots more left than one desires as the hole has its only two bunkers left of the green. These bunkers are again deep. The green is slightly raised with fall-offs on the right and rear. The nice part of the hole is that there is a comfort station you can access (as well as after the fifth hole) to gather one’s thoughts and get an energy boost.
9. Par 4 – 448/404/369. This hole has a lovely visual look to it. After having two longer par 4’s with bunkers only at the green on six and eight, this long dogleg left has bunkers everywhere with two left off the tee with a fall-off further left and a large one on the right. Then there are four bunkers middle and left with the first two beginning 40 yards before the green then one at the left middle and then one left rear. The hole plays uphill.
10. Par 5 – 610/571/549. This was my favorite hole on the course with this snaking hole offering multiple options to play it given the bends in the hole as well as very well placed bunkers. The bunkers begin with an early one on the right followed by flanking bunkers at the first turn. One can try to fly that early bunker on the right for a look all the way to the green, or play left of it but if you do not make the first bend, then one has to either lay up short of three large bunkers on the right which will leave a very long third, or play to the left of them and risk have a blocked view of the green with sits to the left. There is one final bunker on the left about 45 yards short of the green. The green is raised with no bunkers and is somewhat small for the length of the hole. The hole seems to rise slightly as you make your way to the green but it might have been an illusion given the twists and turns.
11. Par 4 – 433/333/294. This hole offers a massive break if one is no playing up on high ground 100 yards further. The back tee offers a narrower chute of trees to navigate as well as an early bunker on the right. The forward tees offer flanking bunkers with the right one set inside the fairway. The tee shot is downhill but the hole then goes slightly back uphill with a central bunker and three on the right side with the ground and green tilted strongly to the right. If one is to the right of those right side bunkers, they could have a blind recovery shot given the tilt of the land. The green has an inner horizontal tier but is dominated by the back to front and left to right slope. This is a good hole from the back tee for the better players but not as strong from those forward tees.
12. Par 4 - 438/398/369. This hole is slightly uphill from the tee with a set of two bunkers on both sides. The fairway is wide short of those bunkers but narrower the longer one drives the ball. Much like the previous hole the green is set into the side of higher ground to the left with the three bunkers on the right side.
13. Par 3 – 154/128/118. This short hole is a terror given the small size of the green with a tilt given it a reverse redan feel. Three deep bunkers are on the right side of the green yet again for the third hole in a row. Any miss left of the green on the bank of the hill has a very high probability of scampering across the green into one of those bunkers or down the hill given the slope. Ending up in the bunker is a “break.” The green is long and narrow and other than the fifth hole I felt it to be the best green on the course.
14. Par 4 – 374/328/308. This hole goes sharply uphill with a severe falloff down the left side towards a tree line and a blind second shot. There are two bunkers on the left that can catch a fair number of balls given the slope of the land towards them. For the fourth hole in a row I felt Mr. Fazio used perfectly the land he was given to demand a tee shot to a certain section of the hole, thereby upping its difficulty. The green has a small front left bunker and a large one while the right side has a bunker buried into the hill to the right of the green.
15. Par 4 – 458/443/430. With the exception of the second hole, this is the sharpest dogleg on the course going to the left with the fairway narrowing at the turn. There is an early bunker left not really in play and another on the outer corner of the turn. For those longer hitters daring to cut the dogleg there are two small bunkers and a larger one on the left about 80 yards from the green. The green has two bunkers on the right corners and has three tiers/plateaus in it. I had a long putt and given the wind, a three putt was an expected result given the inner movement of this green, the best green on the par 4’s on the course. Going long or left of this green will likely put you down a steep hill. It is a very clever and demanding hole.
16. Par 4 – 489/461/433. Despite this hole being longer than the fifteenth, I felt is to not be quite as strong as the green is easier to read. This hole is a dogleg right with an inner corner bunker and two very long, deep bunkers on the outer corner. The trees again pinch in as you near the green. The raised green with a false front is angled to the right with a front left, small bunker. It is another demanding test of golf.
17. Par 3 – 245/218/191. Much like the third, this is a long hole that due to its flatness lacks character given all of the land movement on nearly every other hole at Dallas National. There is a left side bunker and a rear bunker, a rarity on the course. Of the par 3’s this is the least interesting hole and I wondered if it would be better to shorten it by 35 yards and raise the green and also add a few bunkers.
18. Par 5 – 568/515/482. The finishing hole is a chance to end on a high note. The longer hitters have to navigate two long bunkers left and three bunkers on the right. The second shot has to carry a valley on the right side of the green with the left side offering flatter ground to the green. There is a large bunker on the left and a bunker short right as well as one on the right side of a green angled to the right. The green has a definite early tier, almost a bowl at the front. After the wind pummeling me and exposing the weakness in my driving on the day, I was relieved to hit an approach shot to three feet to a front pin to end on a high note. This is a large green offering all sorts of pin locations, which is true for many of the holes at Dallas National.
If in Dallas/Ft. Worth area one often runs to Colonial CC based on its long history with the PGA. I have played Colonial numerous times and it is a fine golf course. Preston Trails is also a very good golf course. Yet for me if I were in the area and could only play one course, I would head to Dallas National. While the course has a high degree of difficulty from holes two-sixteen, it is a marvel of routing through very uneven land with holes going in all directions whether up or down or left or right. The green complexes and surrounds are expertly built, although holes 11-13 have a repetition of three bunkers on the right. One never feels here as if they are playing a hole that is similar to a previous hole both with the tee shot as well as on the green.
A great course with a challenging design that fits well together. Perfectly maintained, yet with a rustic feel, the holes are well designed, the course is playable while at the same time providing a not so easy feel to it.
When assessing courses the number one element that I look for is how good is the terrain the layout occupies?
Dallas National is not for the faint of heart. One has to golf your ball around the property. In many instances, architect Tom Fazio specializes in creating end products that have the "look" but usually play down the shotmaking challenges.
That's not the case here.
The site is a former limestone canyon and true to form, Fazio weaves a routing that provides the fullest usage of the property. Just when you think you've seen it all -- there's another hole -- another shot -- that shakes you to full attention.
In years past, the Texas golf scene was rather subdued -- courses located on fairly mundane pieces of property with little to really standout.
Dallas National is a vintage "golf club." The golf takes center stage and Fazio is quick to include a broad array of holes. Interestingly, the layout begins with the most benign impact for an opening hole. Things ramp up rapidly and to Fazio's credit he delivers an end product that captures every nook and cranny on the site.
Texas golf has clearly accelerated its position in the USA. Dallas National is clearly among the finest in Texas and deseres serious mention as being one of Fazio's finest achievements. Why the club does not receive more fanfare escapes me. Too many people have continued to view Texas golf as a backwater when the reality is that those with such an ignorant viewpoint need to spend a bit more time and see what is now happening.
Dallas National delivers.
M. James Ward