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."
Tom Doak commented as follows in his January 2020 newsletter:
“I haven’t been back to Lubbock since Bobby Knight was still coaching at Texas Tech – it’s not really on the way to New Zealand or even Houston – but Eric Iverson got back for a couple of days last summer and fall to help them sort through 15 years of tree growth, wind erosion, and maturity. It’s a first step in reaching out to all of our older courses and being a little more proactive in how they mature.”
After tropical storm Beto forced me to cancel/postpone my rounds at Bluejack National and Champions Cypress Creek, I departed the Cedar Crest municipal golf course for what became a detour drive of eleven hours to Lubbock to find the dry/sunny weather on September 22, 2020. (By the way, the Cedar Crest course, site of a PGA in 1927 won by Walter Hagen and designed by A.W. Tillinghast, is almost a “hidden gem” if it was restored as the land and many holes are good).
I had always been curious about The Rawls course at Texas Tech due to it being designed by Tom Doak as well as it being one of the more highly rated college golf courses in the USA. Yet, due to its remote location, I never thought I would actually go.
I am very glad I made the drive. The course is very good.
I was paired with a local couple with a membership at the Rawls course who had recently retired, sold their house, disposed of nearly everything, bought a 750 square feet RV and were two days away from beginning to travel the USA to visit state parks and play public golf courses along the way. They had played the Rawls course over 250 times and helped me better understand it.
We teed off on the back nine due to maintenance occurring on the front nine.
I had heard that Mr. Doak found a piece of land where the elevation change was only 2 inches although there are some ravines, streams, and ponds along on the way on lower ground. I do not know if this is true or fiction, but what is true is that Mr. Doak did move a fair amount of ground here to block out views of the nearby massive hospital complex as well as to create some very interesting holes due to his efforts to contour the land.
The result of Mr. Doak and his team’s efforts is a very good course with some strong/memorable holes, good holes, and a couple of weaker holes that do lessen the overall rating of the course. The course has what you would expect from Mr. Doak – wild /irregular-shaped bunkers, generous fairways, some bunkers in unexpected places, a course that fits naturally into its surroundings, raised greens, forced carries, heroic shots, and sloped, large greens. What is missing from this course that one will find on his other courses is overly undulating greens. That is a good thing as the course does not need greens that are overly contrived; there is adequate difficulty, decisions, and fun throughout.
The course is a mixture of joy and terror with the stretch from the thirteenth hole through the finish having the best holes. It finishes with consecutive par 5’s that are very different. Holes 1, 2, 4, 7, and 11 are the weaker holes on the course although the second is visually appealing.
The course is 7349 yards from the Black tees, par 72 rated 75.3/139. The Red tees, which I played are 6825 yards rated 72.4/129. There are two sets of lesser tees. I had perfect weather with only the slightest of breezes. The lack of a strong wind is not “normal” for this area as the area is known for its breezes. I wondered whether I missed out on some of the expected experience.
Since I started on #10, I will start my review there.
10. Par 3 220/189. The 220 yard tees play fully across a pond whereas the 189 tees play with the pond more on the right side. As is typical for me, I rushed to the tee when I found out I could go off earlier since I had a seven hour drive following the round, thus I did not go to the practice range. The hole is a difficult one with a very tilted large green both back to front and left to right. Unfortunately I hit my tee shot left of the left greenside bunkers on higher ground than the green sloping steeply away from me towards the water and faced a near pin which I did not come close to as I nearly ran through the green. As I did not know yet the speed of the greens I left my first putt ten feet short of a slight back left plateau and had a double bogey. The hole has a bunker on the right in addition to the two on the left. Whether as a starting hole or the tenth, this is a very nice par 3.
11. Par 4 – 369/352. This hole plays straight with good mounding down the right side of the fairway with a rise that the bigger hitters will easily carry and have their balls run very close to the green which is slightly uphill. There is a deep bunker on the right that begins about 20 yards short of the green edging up to the front edge. Four bunkers are on the left side with the final one left middle of the green. These bunkers are not quite as troublesome as the one on the front right. The green is fairly level compared to some others on the course. It is a nice, fun short par 4.
12. par 4 – 416/378. The Black and Red tees play from an angle making this a dogleg left while the two other tees play the hole straight. The approach shot needs to favor the right side to have a view of the green that sits behind two mounds on either side. Go down the left side of the wide fairway and you will have a blind shot to the green and possibly have your ball run into rough on the hill. If one knows where the green is, they can play over the hill pretty easily to an oval green with fall-offs front and right. There are a couple of bunkers placed on the left side of the hill and one on the right side of the hill that help to frame the opening to the green. It is a clever and fun hole.
13. par 4 462/398. I was glad not to play the Black tees on this difficult hole. The hole plays essentially straight with the green set off a bit to the right. There is a center-line bunker that is very well placed. Near the green is a bunker on the right fifteen yards short of the green and another center right of the green. There is a bit of short grass left and behind the green to miss. For me, this is one of the standout holes on the golf course.
14. Par 4– 506/482. This hole feels like a par 5. It is the number one index and deserves to be. I do not have the length to par this hole unless I one putt or have the wind behind me. The hole bends a bit to the left due to two bunkers on the right that are in play for the longer hitters. The second bunker is about 60 yards apart from the first one and can come into play for shorter hitters on their second shot. At the green are two bunkers places left middle and back left with trees near them. There is good land movement to the fairway as well as higher ground on both sides of the green that hides it. I thought I hit a great second shot but was caught up in the hill on the left side of the green but was able to get up and down. The hole is difficult, but fair.
15. Par 4 – 468/442. This is a really fun and clever hole. There is a collection of three bunkers on the right that bigger hitters will clear but average hitters need to stay left. Those driving their ball a bit too far left could find a bunker set next to a line of trees. The fairway rolls and dips although never so much as to disguise the sight of the green. There is another small center bunker about 20 yards short of the green which has a long irregular bunker placed on its right side. There is short grass on the left but the green runs away from you towards that right bunker.
16. Par 3 -239/209. The green plays uphill after an initial rough/taller area of grass. There is a bunker left 50 yards short of the green which is unnecessary. There are two large, irregular bunkers on the left which are very troublesome but the sneaky bunker is the small one on the right middle of the green. I topped my tee shot but thankfully the green is relatively easy to read with the pin location I had on the right middle and I escaped with a four.
17. Par 5 – 630/578. My “host” couple really helped me out on this hole although I squandered their advice with a poor chip. The hole plays to a very generous fairway that bulges out to the left. One then has a decision to make as to hit a lay-up shot of perhaps 150 yards or to carry the ravine/stream. Because one has likely hit down the left side of the wider part of the fairway, Mr. Doak placed two bunkers on the other side of the ravine/stream on the left side thereby lengthening the carry. The ravine/stream is somewhat blind for this shot. For those taking the shorter line off the tee down the right side of the fairway leading to a slightly shorter shot across the ravine/stream there is another bunker placed halfway to the green on the other side. This bunker has two long fingers stretching out. While I managed to avoid all of this trouble, I hit a poor chip and found the only bunker near the green just off the front right. It is a well-conceived golf hole and takes perfect advantage of the natural hazard.
18. Par 5 – 578/554. The tee shot plays slightly flat but the fairway does tilt to the left towards lower ground and taller grass where a ball can get lost. The fairway to the right offers the higher ground. For bigger hitters there will be a temptation to try to reach the green in two but this requires a carry over a large pond to a green set right against the water with no relief behind it other than two irregular, craggy bunkers and tall grass. The safer plays is to play to the fairway on the other side of the pond and hit a short iron into the green with a much better angle. One then has to only avoid a front right bunker and those two bunkers now to the left of the green. The green does tilt towards the water with various inner rolls in it. It is a fine finish to the round, although in my case I still had the front nine to play.
1. Par 4 368/354. A gentle starting hole. Bigger hitters will try to drive the green as the fairways are generally dry and the ball will roll out. The fairway has a fair amount of roll to it. There is a small bunker left of the fairway and then a center front bunker at the green with a small one at the rear right. The green is one of the smaller ones on the golf course.
2. Par 5 – 524/496. This slight dogleg right is one of the easier holes on the course. There are trees down the left side and a series of four bunkers down the right side. If one finds the fairway the play into the hole is pretty easy. There is a dip in the fairway with two more bunkers on the right about 100 yards from the green. The green is set against a slight slant in the land leading to a multi-tiered green sloped back to front with the biggest danger being two bunkers on the left.
3. Par 3 – 177/160. This was the only time I should have asked my host couple for information as the red tees were moved forward to another location resulting in me going long over the green into a back hidden bunker. You play over a valley to an elevated green that is steeply sloped back to front. The tee shot needs to carry to the green due to the steep hill with three deep bunkers fronting the green. Behind the green are two hidden bunkers. I did not realize I was in a bunker and had only taken a putter with me. Rather than go back to my bag, I took the putter in one hand to get out of the bunker, then one handed a putt from the back of the green to two inches for my bogey. This is a beautiful par 3.
4. Par 4 – 380/361. One needs to simply avoid the large, deep bunker on the left side that creates a cross bunker effect. There is a smaller bunker on the right more in play for the longer hitter. Ten yards short of the green is another bunker on the left but the more dangerous bunker is on the front right. This is a green shaped liked the upper part of an exclamation point. It is raised with a limited amount of short grass near it. This is an easy hole.
5. Par 4 – 460/415. This is one of the better holes on the outward nine. It plays relatively straight with three bunkers on the right set into a bit of a knob and a flanking bunker on the left. All of these should be easily carried. There are two bunkers placed short of the green on the left and then a sliver of a bunker front right and another off to the right. The green is placed a bit to the left side of the fairway with good contouring around it.
6. Par 3 – 182/162. This hole is perhaps a bit too similar to the third although the bunkering is different. There are four bunkers fronting the elevated green and a single large bunker placed behind it. Much like the third, there is a false front to the green which is tilted back to front. However, visually it is different than the third so despite the similarities in yardages and having a carry over rougher/taller grass, it does play as a different hole.
7. Par 4 – 355/335. Playing from an elevated tee out to the right offers the better line to the green. The land to the left side is higher and blocks the view of the green and also offers rougher/taller grass. There is a bunker right that is easily carried to a bulge to the right side of the fairway. A large bunker is placed atop the hill on the left. I hit a poor tee shot but found my ball just short of this bunker which actually led to a lucky break with a good view of the green. The green has two slivers of bunkers fronting it and on the right with a small one behind. The green is angled away to the right and has inner contours. The most confusing part of the hole is that I noticed a fair amount of land behind the hole and wondered why Mr. Doak would have a third par 4 on the front nine less than 400 yards as it looked like there was another 50 yards available to him.
8. Par 4 – 479/437. For most players this will be the most difficult hole on the golf course as it is both long and plays up a steep hill with the green atop this hill. The fairway has two bunkers to the right, one of which is not really in play. The fairway tilts to the left. Fronting the green are four bunkers placed well below the hill. Balls landing at the top of the bunkers nearer the green will likely see the ball travel to the bottom of these bunkers. There is a small hidden pond about 75 yards short of the green on the left. The green is large but anything hit short will not advance due to the hill or will be in those bunkers. The safer play is out to the right of the green to try to chip on and one-putt. However, the green is sharply slanted back to front with little inner swales. I like everything about this hole whether it was manufactured or not.
9. Par 5 - 539/507. This hole is a bit of a double dogleg first out to the right then back left. There are three fairway bunkers placed on the left side but can be carried by average length hitters. Once carried, the average length player will play between two mounds on either side of the fairway spaced about 50 yards apart with the mound closer to the green on the left about 50 yards shy of the green. This left mound has a disguised bunker fronting it. The green is shaped like an upside-down comma with bunkers at the front right and back left. There is a sort of bowl to the green.
The Rawls course at Texas Tech deserves its reputation as one of the better college golf courses in the country. Moreover, it is an outstanding value to play a good Tom Doak design as the rate was less than $50. The course is let down a bit by the front nine with the three short par 4’s and the par 3’s that feel a bit similar. The back nine is the much stronger nine holes with ten being a good hole and thirteen-eighteen being a nice finish. There is a lot of variety to the holes that offer a lot of visual appeal. I do not know if one really wants to make the long trip to Lubbock, but if you do you will not be disappointed. I wish I would have played it in some wind. It is clearly one of the best college courses in the USA. It is clearly the best course in the area, although not in the top fifteen in Texas, so the rating is 4.5 for the area although 4 for Texas.
As Roy McAvoy would tell you, bring that unfinished follow thru when playing in the winds of West Texas! An absolute gem of a links course is found at Texas Tech. Stunning greens, vast fairways, and deep bunkers bring incredible play into hard, fast greens. You will need that width, as during my 10-15 rounds here (I was a Texas Tech student for one semester after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina) I don’t think I ever got a day with less than 15mph sustained winds. Just a gem; so much fun, playable for all levels, and a massive challenge for even the best.
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