There are a number of golf courses in Texas with fine views of San Antonio but only one with a fine view of San Antonio...Mexico. The Max A. Mandel Golf Course is a municipal facility north of Laredo, where players will be treated to scenic views of the Mexican municipality of San Antonio.
Some may be tempted to pull driver on the short par three No. 13, which plays just 138 yards from the back tees; a smash from the tee here could quite possibly reach the Mexican backdrop, although we don’t recommend it...for both your scorecard and for the sake of international relations.
The dividing line between the two countries is the Rio Grande, which provides beautiful views across much of the golf course. On the front nine, players will be able to look from the bluffs that Mandel plays across during holes Nos. 3, 4, 8 and 9 and see the river, quite rightly described as “grand.”
Don’t let the landscape hog all of the attention, however: Robert Trent Jones II didn’t rely strictly upon views to make this golf course worthwhile. Risk and reward weigh on both the long and short par fours here.
The 2012 opened course is quite literally on the border with Mexico although the holes themselves do not play at or near the Rio Grande.
Architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. did a quality job in creating a good mixture of holes. The only real downside is that at times the shaping becomes a bit much and, as a result, the holes stand apart from the native terrain rather than blending in well. But fortunately, that does not happen too often.
The course is blessed in having ample land -- 270 acres in total. You never get the feeling of being cramped.
The course is named for a Laredo bank executive – whose family donated 390 acres of land to the city in his honor.
When you head to the 1st tee be sure to catch a good look by standing on the championship tee which measures out at 454 as opposed to the next set of markers at 363 yards. The shot from that vantage point is quite intimidating but it's more of the "look of danger" than in actual reality.
The opening quartet is adequate in getting the muscles loosened up but it's at the dog-leg right 5th where things begin to accelerate the proceedings. The land movement is nicely done and one needs to shape the tee shot to get the most benefit from the terrain. The par-3 6th is also well done. You face a green that's wider in the front but becomes especially narrower when the pin is placed in the far rear position. The hole is uncluttered with only one solitary bunker that's aptly positioned.
The 7th and 8th holes feature a long par-5 and par-4 hole in succession. They are merely yardage "eaters" and not especially noteworthy. Things change when you arrive at the par-3 9th which plays 210 yards. Those missing to the left will be under extreme pressure to avoid bunkers on that side and the elevated green you need to reach. Once again -- the hole is uncluttered in its appearance but the strategic calculations are of a high order.
The inward half starts off very well with a split fairway at the par-5 10th. You have to choose what side provides the best angle. I believe the left does that and even with a well-placed tee shot you have to decide hard and long about going for the green with your second shot on the 553-yard hole. The 11th hole turns back into the opposite direction and it's well defended with angled bunkers on the right side of the green.
For me the 13th is arguably the most impressive visual and strategic hole at Max A. Mandel. The hole turns right slightly and the green is parked on the other side of an unforgiving barranca. Positioning of shots is an absolute essentiality to succeed here.
The main drawback for the inward side comes at the long par-5 17th. The hole dog-legs right around a water hazard and for those desiring to cut the corner it's indeed doable. As a matter of fact, with the assisting prevailing wind one can simply aim right of the water hazard and try to sneak a tee ball between the out of bounds to the right and the hazard. When such ploys are done and succeed it simply provides too great of an advantage because the penalty for not being successful can be even more of an issue than it is now.
The final hole brings the round to a quality conclusion. The hole features a green which is tucked over native brush area and is not really visible from the tee. The more right you go the better the opportunity to have a better angle to any pin placement. Those opting down the left side will need to carry a pesky bunker that rigorously protects the front half. In fact, when the pin is cut towards the very front the amount of landing area is quite limited so only the finest of approaches will succeed.
Max A. Mandel is a quality taxpayer-owned layout. No doubt it's location will be a hard chore for many to entertain for visiting purposes but for those who do make it to the greater San Antonio area it's certainly worth considering doing the 2 1/2 hour drive. When one sizes up Texas public golf -the very idea in bringing forward a quality layout soon after The Great Recession ran its course in 2009 is a testament to Laredo's desire to create something of meaningful interest. That mission has indeed been successful.
M. James Ward