When Tom Doak and Jim Urbina constructed the Rawls Course at Texas Tech in 2003, they shifted more earth on a dead flat site than had been moved in ten previous Renaissance projects combined.
“The Rawls Course was by far the most aggressive earthmoving project I’ve ever attempted,” wrote Tom Doak in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses Volume 2. “It’s a shame that so much of the work had to be wasted on hiding surrounding buildings and making it look like we hadn’t. Still, the combination of an interesting design and the extremely windy Lubbock climate makes it a course to be reckoned with, and at the same time, there is so much short grass out there that any class of golfer can get around it.
The Rawls Course is not links-like, exactly, but it is a difficult course where being out of position can leave you no chance of getting your next shot close to the hole. The men's coach, Greg Sands, told me it takes a while for their new players to figure it out, but they do feel like they have a big home course advantage."
Not long after Tom Doak finished the acclaimed Pacific Dunes he went in a completely different direction in being the architect for what would be eventually called The Rawls Course at Texas Tech. It's important to keep this in mind -- Lubbock is literally in the middle of nowhere. It's also one of the windiest cities in the USA and the site Doak was going to work with was truly featureless and that's being quite charitable.
Lubbock is just over 3,000 feet in elevation and the course was designed to deal with both the daily winds and elevation change.
Doak's team literally created a golf course from nothing -- no less than 1.3 million square yards of material was moved to create the course. The Rawls Course would certainly not be a minimalist effort and Doak himself said, "probably the most complicated we've done to date."
Ground was broken at the end of 2001 and the 268-acre site -- a former cotton field -- had no more than 18-inches of elevation -- no misprint here. To the considerable credit of the founder and benefactor Jerry Rawls -- the course is located just minutes from the center of where the university is located.
Doak did the project because he had always wanted to create a top tier university related course. The 7,349-yard par-72 course carried a hefty 75.3 and 139 slope from the championship tees and has
The golf course is bolstered by a top tier practice facility where players can hit from different sides to maximize the impact of what wind is blowing on any given day.
The layout starts out slowly -- the first hole being a benign short par-4 and the follow-up hole a tame short par-5. In both cases, the general prevailing wind comes from the south to southwest and both holes play downwind. The key is getting off to a good start because when you approach the par-3 3rd you turn back into the wind. The 177-yard hole features a challenging putting surface -- both to hold and hit. There are falloffs and the far left side is extremely finicky on any approach shot that is not well executed. The short par-4 4th that follows is also back into the prevailing wind. The preferred left side gives the best approach angle into the green.
To make sure players don't get into a routine Doak inserts a long par-4 back into the mix at the 5th. The 460-yard hole generally plays downwind and the key is getting down the left side for the best view of the green.
The par-3 6th is a solid counterpoint to the other holes -- usually played in a tough cross wind from the left and when the pin is cut in the far left side of the green makes for an exacting shot.
At the 7th you encounter another bedeviling short par-4. This time the wind comes from the right and the key from the tee is attempting to get over a fairway bunker protecting that side. Those able to do so will have either a very straightforward pitch or for those capable in hitting it much longer can get near the green. If you bailout right you're left with a very problematic pitch over bunkers
The final two holes on the outward side make you earn what you've reaped. The long par-4 8th plays back into the prevailing wind and it requires two stout shots to get near the green. The slight dog-leg left par-5 9th has a trio of bunker at the inside turn point in the fairway. Strong players can get home in two shots but no easy birdie is given away. The green is open on the right but when in the back left corner is a tough location to access.
The inward side is even better than the front with more hole diversity and movement.
The 10th is a difficult hole not simply because of the 220-yard length but because when downwind it's very hard to flight the ball so that you can stay on the elusive target. Water is on the right side and when the pin is placed near it the wherewithal to hit a shot close to that side can be daunting for nearly all.
The 11th is a short par-4 but when generally played downwind does provide a real opportunity to net a birdie. The key is not getting lazy and hitting an indifferent tee shot. Strong players need to keep an eye on two distance fairway bunkers which effectively narrow down a tight alleyway entrance into the green.
The 12th is likely the most disappointing hole on the back. It follows the same direction as the 11th and there's really not much to differentiate it. I recommend you seize the opportunity because the final six holes truly dial up the challenge.
The 13th and 14th are both stout par-4's playing back into the prevailing wind. In both cases -- the greens are demanding targets -- with fall-offs to either side and never leaving a simple recovery.
The 15th is the last of the long par-4's and even though played downwind generally -- the landing area is fiercely protected on the preferred right side by a trio of pesky bunkers. Working a left-to-right ball flight is essential here. There's also a small bunker placed a number of yards in front of the green and for those who opt for a low approach it's a must to avoid.
Doak switches gears with a lengthy par-3 at the 16th. Playing 239 yards and if into the prevailing wind can be driver for many players. The green has enough room for a low shot to run on but the accuracy in doing so is a must.
Interestingly, the final two holes at The Rawls Course are par-5's. There is certainly an opportunity to make-up lost ground but neither hole assures an easy birdie possibility. The 17th plays downwind and the fairway area does taper down considerably with the longer tee shot. The 18th is brilliantly crafted in going the opposite way so that wind direction, no matter which way it is blowing, can assist players consecutively. The closing hole does have a pond in the distance which really impacts decision making on the 2nd shot. When the pin is on the right side those looking to get home in two shots will need to skirt the water and attempt to keep the ball on a green with fall-offs for those shots hit with too much gusto.
The key in playing The Rawls Course is knowing how to handle the impact of the wind. It is almost always a major part of the storyline when playing here. Golfers who cannot shape shots -- both for direction and trajectory -- will find out rather quickly that the course has little patience for such one-way oriented golfers. If you want to know why Texas golfers have done well at The Open Championship spend some time in Texas and you'll quickly understand why.
Many people will likely not ever get to play The Rawls Course. There's really no other comparable course nearby till you reach New Mexico. Credit Doak, his design associate at the time Jim Urbina and to Jerry Rawls for putting the money and vision forward in creating the facility. Keep in mind, The Rawls Course is rightly rated among the top five university courses in America by Golfweek and is quite affordable to play for those not affiliated with Texas Tech.
by M. James Ward