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 John, a member at Spanish Oaks, 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.
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