Former apprentice to Pete Dye and PGA Tour in-house architect, Bobby Weed, designed Spanish Oaks. Weed’s highly acclaimed, sensitive design was considered to be the most environmentally friendly in Texas.
The short par four 6th and 189-yard 7th are highlights on the front nine whilst the back nine positively bristles with standout holes such as the par fives at holes 11 and 17 and the extremely long closing hole where the home green is protected front left by water and a sentinel tree.
Unfortunately, the downturn in the real estate market led to the course and unsold lots on the 911-acre property being reclaimed in September 2010 by the bank that originally loaned developers nearly $35 million for the project. The plan was to have 436 homes built around the course by 2012 but with only 125 houses built at the start of 2010, the lender decided to protect their asset and seek foreclosure. The future of the golf course became uncertain and for a while it closed.
Happily we heard from a local Spanish Oaks member, who told us that the course has now reopened with more than one hundred new members having joined. The course and neighborhood are now doing well... very well, in fact. The club now boasts a number of high-profile members including Sergio Garcia and Nick Watney.
This is one of the hilliest golf courses I have ever played, making me glad that I took a riding cart. My member informed me that it is rare that anyone walks here and even rarer that someone would walk and carry their own bag. While I consider the inability to walk to generally be a negative for a golf course, the hills at Spanish Oaks result in a course that has tremendous views and several wonderful or dramatic holes. Bobby Weed did a very nice job of routing the course through the hilly terrain. I have played other hilly courses where the designers did not get it right, but as I played Spanish Oaks and looked at the surrounding land, it is clear that Mr. Weed found the best spots for each hole.
It is a course where the primary emphasis is on fun and drama. There are preferred paths to the greens, but if one is slightly off-line, it does not seem to bother you here as much. The course does not return to the clubhouse after the front nine, instead there is a halfway house (before seven) well stocked with a wide variety of libations and various made-to-order food. One is encouraged to spend a few moments here consistent with the relaxation and fun theme of the club.
I do not know if a low index player will enjoy the course as much as a mid to high handicap player. The sight lines can sometimes be confusing as to the length or type of shot to hit, but again this makes the course have a bit more mystery which adds to the enjoyment.
The bunkering is curious and I do not mean that as a negative comment. Some holes have very few bunkers where one might expect more, while other holes seemed to be lined with sand where one might expect less. The holes with more bunkers are as much for the visual as they are for defense purposes. I counted only two bunkers that I felt were inappropriate.
The course is a par 71. The Black tees are 7155 yards rated 74.5/147. The Gold tees are 6851 yards rated 73.7.144. The Blue tees are 6497 yards rated 71.6/39. There are two sets of lesser tees and combinations starting at the Gold tees and lower.
1. Par 5 – 575/575/554. The opener is a long downhill par 5 with the fairway tilting to the left towards a long bunker on the left. Bigger hitters will not think about this bunker since it is 200-250 yards out to clear it. Two trees front the bunker providing a driving corridor. I felt the two trees should be removed as they detract from the long bunker. As one near the green there is a fairly wide area of taller grass and uneven land. For those trying to hit the green in two or to drive their ball as far as possible, they might either have a downhill lie to the green or end up in the taller grass. The green likely sits above you for the third shot and is long and angled to the right. It is well protected with four bunkers placed on the right side and one on the left. A tree also hangs over the right side. The green is sloped right to left and back to front. A par is a good score here.
2. Par 4 – 440/425/405. This hole has a forced carry from an elevated tee to a fairway where the tee shot must be well placed on the right side due to a single bunker right and three on the left. If one does not hit a long enough tee shot, they will have a semi-blind shot to the green. The green is angled again to the right, consistent with the terrain with fronting bunkers on the corners and one at the back right. Due to the angle of the green, the right front bunker is very much in play as is a substantial false front. At the tee, this hole offers a lovely vista.
3. Par 3 – 176/176/160. The third green angled to the right and it is long, possibly three clubs depending on the wind or the pin position. The hole plays uphill and has all of the trouble on the right side with three bunkers and trees. The final bunker hugs nearly the entire right side of the green which has a fair amount of slope back to front.
4. Par 4 – 509/455/430. I think this is the most difficult hole on the front nine. The hole plays downhill so it lessens the yardage but one must avoid six bunkers of various size down the left side that begin at 200 yards and end at 325 depending on the tee that is chosen. There is a chasm acting as a cross hazard between 110-80 yards from the green. Before this ravine it is steeply slopped. The ground pushes balls to the left short of the ravine where there are trees that can block the attempted recovery shot. The green has a front right bunker and the left side has four bunkers including a small one wedged between two large bunkers. That green is steeply sloped to the left consistent with the slope of the land. A par is a good score on a good hole that takes natural advantage of the land.
5. Par 4 – 434/409/385. This dogleg right requires a forced carry of 150-180 yards from an elevated tee although it does not seem as daunting as the second hole. A creek runs down the right side of the fairway but I feel the bigger danger are the trees on the left which can pinch the opening to the green. There are four bunkers placed down the right side at various spots but the second one is more for visual effect. I think this is an easier hole than it appears and it maximizes the fun factor because the green is accessible. This is another hole with a lovely view from the tee.
6. Par 4 – 318/318/299. Another fun hole follows the fifth with the sixth hole. This is a very pretty hole with a pond at the beginning that should not be in play. This risk-reward hole requires an accurate, long drive in order to avoid the seven bunkers on the right and two on the left. The green has a narrow front before a wide back. I do like this hole.
7. Par 3 – 189/189/175. The hole plays uphill over a pond that should not be in play. The safe play is to be short but avoid the two large bunkers on the right placed on the side of the hill. There is a single bunker left on a knob backstopped by a tree. Balls going long or to the left will face a speedy downhill slope. The green has interior plateaus in addition to a back to front slope.
8. Par 5 – 575/562/540. This is a fun hole with a blind tee shot where you aim over the tree in the middle of the fairway. For shorter hitters the tee shot is uphill. The second shot will go substantially downhill and the green is placed off to the left like a fish hook with trees blocking the line. The second shot for most players must get to the right corner of the hole. Go too far left with the second shot and your approach shot will be blocked by trees. Longer hitters can likely get within 200 yards of the green due to the downhill fairway, but they must stay to the right. There are no bunkers until the green which has a long bunker left followed by two small ones and a long bunker on the right. The stream crosses the fairway just before the green which is sloped back to front with several interior bowls. This hole is beautifully routed into the land. If Mr. Weed had placed a long par 4 here it would have been disappointing; he obviously knew what he was doing.
9. Par 4 – 458/422/394. The front nine ends with a longer uphill par 4. There is an early bunker 100 yards off the tee serving as a guide to this dogleg right. Trees pinch in from the right side of the fairway. Assuming one makes the turn in the hole, they are left with an accessible green with five bunkers on the left side and two on the back right corner. For whatever reason, I found the tee shot to be very inviting.
10. Par 4 – 388/388/381. This is a fairly benign hole but perhaps that is because the wind had died and this hole is meant to be played into the wind. The hole plays downhill with two early bunkers at the beginning of the fairway which do not add to the defense of the hole. There is a left bunker 310 yards out in play for the longer hitters but not a difficult one to advance to the green. The bigger danger on the hole are the trees on the right that shrink the fairway. The green has bunkers down the left side and continuing behind. The most interesting feature of the hole is a spine in the green running from front left to the back right.
11. Par 5 – 547/505/495. This hole is a dogleg left with a small and long bunker down the left side where a tee shot could run into it. There is a set of cross bunkers about 80-50 yards from the green. Bigger hitters will likely try to reach the green in two. I saw no reason to try to carry the cross bunkers. The hole has a stream down the entire left side but I do not think it is in play until nearer the green. At the cross bunkers there is a large tree so the layup shot must stay to the left of it. The green complex has three bunkers left and two bunkers set well off to the right side. I like that the green is angled right to left consistent with the shape of the hole as it makes for an inviting target.
12. Par 3 – 210/210/189. I like this par 3 which requires another club as it also plays uphill. There is a long waste area that should not be in play followed by a thin bunker before the green. A stream crosses diagonally about 20 yards short of the green and then continues hard against the right side of the green. If one tries to play too conservatively away from the water, there are two bunkers on the right side. Fortunately this green is somewhat flat given all that is going on.
13. Par 4 – 519/473/445. The longest par 4 on the course is next. The hole is downhill so it is not as “long” as the fourth, especially since the prevailing wind is meant to be in your favor. There are no bunkers until three spotted behind the green. The green is very accessible to allow someone to run a ball onto this wide green. The biggest defense are two flanking trees about 20 yards short of the green acting as goalposts.
14. Par 3 – 173/173/155. This hole plays slightly downhill so one less club is a likely choice. The pond is set hard against the left side of the green with a stream preceding it. There is a knob on the right that holds a tree and a couple of bunkers. You can see the bunkers in the rear. What you cannot see is two of the bunkers between the green and the knob which I felt to be unnecessary. There are a total of eight bunkers to one of the most well defended greens one will play. If you carry the hidden bunkers on the right the ball has the possibility of bouncing left onto the green due to the slope of the hill.
15. Par 4 – 348/332/332. This is another risk-reward although I do not think the risk is worth it even for the longest hitters. There is a long and wide waste bunkers beginning about 150 yards from the tee on the left. There are seven bunkers, some large and some small surrounding the small triangular shaped green. A ravine crosses the fairway about 60 yards from the green. I feel the better play is to hit a short approach shot and try to make birdie.
16. Par 3 – 234/207/189. I feel this is the weakest of the par 3’s from a visual standpoint. It has a substantial bunker complex of four bunkers off the left side set well below the green.
17. Par 5 – 575/545/518. This is one of the prettier holes on the course, bending to the left around a pond. The stream is down the entire left side until it becomes the pond. There are fairway bunkers on both sides with the left two being fairly deep. For those tempting the pond on the left there are a series of bunkers that can prevent a ball from entering the water. Finally there is a bunker at the front left and middle right. One can hit a ball to the right and it has a chance to get onto the green. This hole blends beautifully with the land and the landscape.
18. Par 4 – 487/487/460. The course ends with a difficult hole. Two bunkers on the right begin at 180-245 yards from the tee. The fairway slopes to the right. There is a pond about 85 yards short of the green on the left and then flanking bunkers at the green, with three on the left and two on the right. Trees fronting the green also act as goalposts. It is a difficult, but fun finishing hole very much in keeping with the rest of the golf course.
Bobby Weed did an excellent job in routing the course as well as in his usage of bunkers. He also did a very fine job of determining how many trees to keep and where to keep them. The course has a wonderful mixture of long and short par 4’s as well as uphill and downhill holes. It is a course very much worth playing and one that a member will enjoy over and over.
Selling real estate can be a difficult chore but years ago someone figured out that tying residential sales to golf would be a win on all fronts. The key with having housing is to be both close enough and far away from interfering with the atmospherics tied to the playing golf as game the way it should be.
Spanish Oaks accomplishes this delicate balancing act in a big time way. Creating a routing plan that maximizes the golf footprint is always a major concern but often developers will leave the golf dimension struggling to be fitted into what often is the lesser of the land options.
Architect Bobby Weed created a top tier routing plan and he had the good sense in not short circuiting the potential of the golf course with forcing players back to the immediate clubhouse area after the first nine holes. Spanish Oaks only returns when the round is completed.
The club opened in 2001 and there have been recent upgrades carried out by Weed. The turf quality is also top shelf and kudos are clearly merited to superintendent Scott Hamilton and his talented staff.
You can tell the details are correct as soon as you step on the 1st tee. It constantly amazes me how so many facilities will spend countless hours in having the grounds immediately near a clubhouse looks spectacular but as soon as you step on the course you find the tees are anything but level and not sufficiently cut tight enough to really work one's feet into the shot. The key details are to take care of the course -- at Spanish Bay the key priorities are clearly tended to with surgeon-like precision.
Another hallmark of Spanish Oaks is how the experience of the golf is centermost. So many times housing developments bombard players with inane clutter. The landscaping of the entire property is done with great care. There are closely mown areas -- but there are also natural grass growths which provide a refreshing contrast to the verdant tees, fairways and greens. In a word the setting is striking.
In regards to the strategic qualities Weed is no stranger to design and his effort at Spanish Oaks is truly top tier. The routing plan is quite comprehensive -- and the range and diversity of shots and holes is also done to keep players on their toes throughout the round.
It helps having a piece of land that provides sufficient movement with the holes working within, rather than apart from the characteristics found on the property.
Another element that Weed was smart enough to consider is making sure the course plays at a high level no matter what type of wind pattern develops. Normally, the 1st hole -- a par-5 of 575 yards -- plays into the prevailing southwest wind. However, even if the hole plays downwind the other holes are exceptionally routed so necessary adjustments have to be constantly made by the players.
Among my favorite holes on the outward side is the short uphill par-4 6th. Plays just 318 yards but requires serious thought on how aggressive or cautious one plays. The green is small and when placed near the front can prove to be a daunting play with a short iron in hand. The par-5 8th is also a gem of a hole. At the tee you're hitting uphill to a blind landing area. You actually hit over a solitary tree placed in the center of the fairway. Players who can smash it long and straight will receive a bit of a turbo boost. The key decision rests on the 2nd as the hole moves downhill and turning left all the way. The green is positioned across a small creek and is well defended and appropriately contoured. Into the prevailing headwind the likelihood in getting home in two shots is not likely for all but the super long players. What makes the 8th so fascinating is the range of choices -- for all levels of players -- to determine. Sound thinking with execution included always provides results at Spanish Bay. You can also count on the opposite happening when not carried out successfully.
The only stretch of holes that doesn't really hit the highest of high notes is the 10th through the 12th. None is deficient in a major way but they are just fail to excite the emotions.
The 13th is the start of a series of holes -- right through the 18th -- that seals the experience. Weed smartly incorporates a slew of design differentials. The 13th is a fine long par-4 but players also encounter two uniquely different par-3 holes at the 14th and 16th hole respectively. The penultimate hole is a par-5 and here players have an opportunity to recoup what may have been lost on earlier holes. Once again, water is part of the strategic calculations and players will need to judge how much of a risk/reward dynamic they can handle.
The concluding hole -- a par-4 of 487 yards -- is a stout challenge. Finding the fairway is crucial as is avoiding two pesky fairway bunkers on the right side. Generally, this hole receives a favorable wind from the southwest but even with that assist the key is realizing how the fairway moves left to right and tapers down considerably as one gets nearer to the bunker complex. The green is another example of how Weed keeps players on their toes. The far left side of the green is a tree that can obscure pin locations to that side.
Given the range of Texas courses I have played in my lifetime -- Spanish Oaks comfortably secures a top ten position in The Lone Star State. The general Austin golf market is clearly a competitive one and given the sheer array of amenities and attractions available a visit to the State Capital is one core golfers should explore seriously.
Spanish Oaks shows how smartly the planning has been carried out so that housing and golf can exist without literally bumping into one another. Weed has masterfully provided a top tier effort and for those fortunate to garner an invitation to play it will be a day you will forever remember.
M. James Ward