5403 Fredricksburg Road,
Texas (TX) 78229,
- +1 210 349 5151
10 miles NW of downtown San Antonio
Members and their guests only
The Oak Hills Country Club course in San Antonio hosted the Texas Open 19 times between 1961 and 1994. Its tight, tree-lined fairways were fashioned by A.W. Tillinghast in 1922 with Jay Morrish making some modifications in the 1980s. In 2018, architect Tripp Davis was engaged to breathe new life into the course:
“We were honored to be selected to renovate and restore this storied golf course,” Tripp Davis said. “Everything we did at Oak Hills was to better reflect Tillinghast’s design tendencies and to make this a great golfing experience for the members. I’d also like to add that superintendent Riley Maxey has done a great job, both in playing a key role during construction and in establishing over 3,000,000 square feet of new turf. Landscapes Unlimited and shaper Steve Page were great partners in the process."
Oaks Hills has a storied past as the third course built in the San Antonio area. The club hosted the PGA’s Texas Open 23 times, and a Champions Tour event 9 times. It also hosted a US Junior Amateur in 2001.
The club opened for play in 1922, designed by A.W. Tillinghast. It was then known as the Alamo Club. It closed for a few years during the Great Depression and reopened as Oak Hills Country Club.
The original routing has been changed over time. The original course included a seven hole short course located in the middle of the property which is now occupied by the driving range and other practice facilities. The driving range was once located to the right of the first fairway but was relocated when the club sold off the land. The previous location of the driving range is now where several large apartment/condominium buildings are located going from the first tee finally disappearing after the sixth tee. The back nine also parallels housing and office buildings. As I waited on the thirteenth tee I watched a patient get either a cleaning or a filling at a dental office.
The course has water in play on several holes and the routing takes prime advantage. The club has restored the stream on six that fronts the green, replacing a pond that was killing the oak tree on the left side of the green. Both nine and eighteen play over a valley and a pond at the bottom. There is also a long pond shared on the left sides of both three and four. On the par 3 fourth hole this pond is very much in play whereas on the third one can easily play away from it.
Oak Hills is a heavily treed course, but the club plans to cut down 40 trees due to oak wilt, a disease that kills the oaks. The club will replace some of these trees with a different type of tree that is more tolerant of the region’s heat and humidity. Fortunately the tree in the middle of the fairway near the green on the fourteenth hole looks healthy as it adds to the visual attractiveness and strategy of the hole.
I do not recall another course I have played where both nines end on a par 3.
While the trees and smaller sized greens are defining characteristics of the course, there is also quite a lot of land movement, much more than I expected. The course is certainly walkable but it can be a little tiring pulling a cart the day after a heavy rainstorm. One goes up and down quite a lot as there are only three level holes.
The other defining feature of the course are the many doglegs. If the wind is up or one does not play the correct tees, the player will not make the turn of these doglegs and quickly one is thinking of trying to make no worse than a bogey. Many of the doglegs are sharp adding to the drama of being both far enough and long enough to make the corner as otherwise one will find themselves trying to play over a tall tree or under its branches. Combined with the land movement, turning the corner often reveals a beautifully located green such as on the first, eighth and seventeenth. However, the most beautiful turn is on the fifth hole as the green is on lower ground. I would also note that the fifth green has a very compelling almost hidden back left bunker.
The bunkering is good with an appropriate amount, size and depth. The par 3’s in particular are well defended by bunkers.
The greens, while somewhat on the smaller size, have a lot of subtle movement. They roll very true although picking up the correct amount of movement is difficult here. There are fall offs on several holes as well as many defined interior spines.
The holes vary in length for all of the pars although perhaps 9 and 18 feel a bit similar. However the green surfaces and green surrounds on those two holes are very different even if both are sloped steeply back to front.
The first and second holes feature very good green surfaces. The first has bunkers on all four corners. The second has four bunkers on this par 3 including a rear central bunker. There is a hump on the front left that can kick a recovery shot in multiple directions.
A highlight hole is the third, a long downhill par 4 that requires two good shots to find the green. The hole is so good that one does not mind the unattractive housing to the right of the fairway. There are no fairway bunkers. There is a two tiered green here as well.
The fifth is a long downhill dogleg right par 5 with the green revealing itself due to a late turn. The first bunker appears on the left side of the fairway about a 100 yards from the green. As mentioned, the second of two green side bunkers on the left is a clever placement of this bunker. From the back tees this hole stretches to 650 yards. We played it at 600 yards but straight into the wind.
The sixth plays slightly downhill with the stream running across the fairway, nearer on the left side to the green. The green has falloffs on all sides. The genius of this hole is that it can play as a double dogleg for shorter players despite it being a shorter par 4. For longer hitters they will fly the right side trees but perhaps risk going into the stream. Another attractive feature of this hole is that there are two bunkers on the right side of the green as well as a rear bunker. It takes a well played lofted approach shot to hold the green. I should include this as a highlight hole.
Another highlight hole is the seventh which is a very difficult uphill par 4 bending to the right. It is a toss-up as to whether the third or the seventh is the hardest hole on the front nine.
Eight is a short dogleg left par 4. Years ago this hole was more strategic as only the then-longer players could drive beyond the turn. Now, despite the hole being extended the longest hitters can drive the green. There is consideration to lengthen this hole.
Nine is a very picturesque par 3 playing across a pond and valley. The land rises steeply behind the green. There are also five bunkers surrounding this green of which two are at the rear leaving one a very delicate sand shot back onto the green.
Ten is a shorter dogleg right par 5 where thick trees line both sides a
Though the green is exposed.
Eleven is a dogleg left playing downhill to an elevated green. It is a lovely hole although visually somewhat diminished by the “halfway” house located on the hill behind the green. The green is steeply banked back to front with three front bunkers. The central front bunker is very much in play regardless of the hole location.
Twelve plays from an elevated tee with a pond down the left side. This was perhaps the least interesting hole on the course.
Thirteen is a long par 3 with the pond hard against the left side as well as two bunkers. There is also a bunker short left side and two more on the right The obvious safe play is out to the right or short.
Fourteen is another weaker hole as a par 4 playing straight uphill.
The par 5 fifteenth is one of the few level holes as well as the rare straight hole. It is defined by the large tree that sits about 110 yards out from the green right in the center of the fairway.
Sixteen plays uphill as a sharp dogleg right. One seemingly can never be left enough in order to avoid the thick grouping of trees down the right side. While I played the hole poorly as a slow fivesome allowed us to play through, I very much admired this hole.
Seventeen plays the opposite of sixteen, moving sharply left. It is another level hole.
Eighteen is a strong par 3 playing across the valley and pond to a green surrounded by four bunkers. It is another steeply banked green back to front with various smaller vertical spines.
The par 3’s are very good at Oak Hills as well as many of the par 4’s and one of the par 5’s. Technology has perhaps made the course easier for the best players but for the amateur mid-index or above, this is a course that continues to provide a compelling test.
Oak Hills is a must play for this area. I would add that if one is in Texas, despite the size of the state, that they should seek to play here. It is classic architecture and provides a stern test due to its strategy to play the many rises and falls and doglegs. The routing is nearly perfect for the change in terrain. This is a course for ball strikers as well as one with a strong wedge game. If one is a member here, one’s handicap will travel well to other clubs.