The Apple Rock course was the last of three Robert Trent Jones Senior designs to appear at the Horseshoe Bay Resort when it debuted in 1986, fifteen years after the old master’s first 18-layout opened for play here.
Robert Trent Jones Junior renovated his father's original production in 2018 and the renewed Apple Rock course re-opened for play in 2019.
Apple Rock opens with a long downhill dogleg right. Favor left of center off the tee to take the right fairway bunkers out of play. Favor the right on the approach to avoid the water hazard left. The 2nd is the longest par four on the course and is also a dogleg right and it also has two bunkers on the inside elbow. The third is the longest par three, with a water carry and right of the green. The 4th is a valley par five. Two fairway bunkers left and the approach is to an elevated green. There are two bunkers front left and the tree right of the green acts as a bunker in the sky. Not sure why it is the number one handicap hole. The fifth leans right with a bunker at the elbow. The 6th actually goes left with a large fairway bunker right and the green has one front left and rear right. The 7th is a reachable par five. Favor left of center off the tee and this fairway narrows significantly inside of 200. The 8th is a mid-yardage Florida par three. The 9th is downhill and contours left, so favor the right side to avoid the fairway bunker left.
The back starts with two par fives. The 10th provides a nice vista and there are three fairway bunkers left. The 11th is a reachable par five. Fairway bunker right and the lake sneaks in and around the green front and left. Unless you have a green light lie, play it as a three shotter. The 12th is probably the signature hole. It is the shortest par three and just about all water carry. The 13th is the longest par four on the back. The 14th and 15th are good birdies holes. The former a dogleg right with a bunker on the inside elbow and the latter straightaway with fairway bunkers left and right and several greenside. The 16th is a tough hole. It is a split fairway and I strongly suggest laying up. I went for the hero shot and good thing I missed it because I would have been in the hazard that bisects the fairway at a 45 degree angle. Play smart and accept that you will have a long approach. The 17th is a mid-length par three and rated the easiest hole on the course. The finishing hole bends left with a couple of fairway bunkers on the outside elbow.
I will always think fondly of Apple Rock as I won the prestigious Jack Faulhaber Invitational there in 1998. However, I would not pay to play it again.
Apple Rock often gets second billing at Horseshoe Bay given the three courses one can play at the resort. Often it's Ram Rock drawing the most attention and frankly, I have to wonder if such a presumption holds validity.
One of the advantages with Apple Rock is that the course provides rolling terrain -- especially on the outward nine holes and is the only course at the complex which actually touches LBJ Lake for a brief moment at the par-5 11th and most especially at the par-3 12th.
The front nine is quite good -- plenty of twist and turns and having a number of putting surfaces with sufficient movement to keep your attention.
The opening four holes put you on notice rather quickly. The downhill dog-leg right opener is a good introduction to what Apple Rock provides. There's a solitary bunker on the right side and playing away from it only assures a lengthier and more problematic approach. The same holds true for the lengthier 2nd -- also a par-4 but playing 463 yards. The par-3 3rd is a worthy challenge with water situated next to the green. At the long par-5 4th you encounter a gem of a hole from RTJ, Sr. The par-5 moves downhill then back uphill to a superb green -- elevated above the fairway and serpentine in shape. A single tree hugs the right side of the green like a pre-schooler clinging tight to his Mom's apron on the first day of school.
The remainder of the side is good -- the lone exception being the pedestrian par-3 8th with its formulaic pond in front of the green. Closing out the opening side is the challenging 9th. The hole is just over 400 yards but the key is securing position on the downhill tee shot. The fairway moves slightly to the left so any shot that overextends itself on that side will bounce away from the fairway into a precarious position. The green is well crafted. Not especially deep but quite wide. Landing the approach requires the wherewithal to marry proper club selection and loft.
The back nine commences with the hole that should have been the opener. The par-5 10th provides commanding view of the nearby Lake and the Hill Country. After back-to-back par-5's you come to the aforementioned par-3 12th. The various teeing areas are well-positioned -- adding more length and a more interesting playing angle. The green provides appropriate contours and when the pin is placed in the deepest position will mandate the finest of plays to get nearby.
The stretch of holes commencing with the 13th thru the 15th are merely perfunctory golf holes. Collectively, they fill out the scorecard but offer little in terms of memorability given the ordinary qualities of the land they occupy.
The split fairway at the par-4 16th changes that storyline quite effectively. Here a barranca runs on a diagonal splitting the fairway. Those who opt for a safe play can do so with an iron or fairway club. The strongest of players can think about flying a tee shot over to the far side but for 99% of players such a thought process is likely to fail.
The final two holes -- the par-3 17th and the uphill par-4 18th are satisfactory but a much more scintillating ending would have really ended the round in a far better fashion.
RTJ, Jr. did a recent renovation and the course re-opened in 2019. The downside with Apple Rock is how the course has its clear moments but simply fails to sustain them.
M. James Ward