Whispering Pines Golf Club is located some 90 miles to the north of Houston and the course opened for play in 2000.
Since opening, Whispering Pines has regularly been rated the No.1 course in the Dallas area by the local press and its pristine conditioning is a credit to the club’s passionate staff, helped also by being closed for play for fifty percent of the year. With a mere 160 members playing Whispering Pines in spring, early summer and autumn, the course hardly gets overplayed.
The 7,480-yard Whispering Pines course is set within a 400-acre property bordered by lakes and meandering creeks. It was a Nicklaus design project led by Chet Williams and he used the natural lie of the land to great effect, especially the last six holes which play alongside Caney Creek and Lake Livingston.
Home to the Spirit International Amateur Golf Championship, Whispering Pines is rapidly gaining a reputation for turning amateur golfers into professionals. In its short history, the championship has hosted more than 300 amateur golfers, of which 54 went on to play professionally for the PGA, LPGA and Men’s and Ladies European Tour.
It’s hard to understand how the club make ends meet as half the membership fees are benevolently donated to charity.
Whispering Pines is a get away private club based on the Augusta National model and was developed by coal magnate Corby Robertson. The club is roughly 90 miles north of nearby Houston and 175 miles northeast from the Texas capital Austin.
The club is situated in the small community of Trinity and the ride there provides a clear break from the daily bombardment of life that clearly has accelerated in so many ways. As you enter through the gated entrance at the end of a long public road -- you are whisked away onto grounds prepared with the utmost care. Interestingly, you don't see any of the golf holes right away. The transition is truly something to enjoy.
One of the clear advantages with such clubs is the desire to avoid the claustrophobic invasion of homes that far too often dot the perimeter of courses. Whispering Pines is truly a way to rejuvenate your mind and body. The course is located across 400 spacious acres on scrubby woodland terrain with a bit of elevation but nothing significant. The routing does take into account Caney Creek and Lake Livingston.
Whispering Pines provides an array of creature comforts when on the property. For many -- staying overnight is usually part of the agenda and the lodging is clearly geared to providing total comfort. There's also the expansive practice area and par-3 layout which are fine additions. But, there are a number of people who will lump all of the amenities as being of equal importance to the design of the main 18-holes. Some will argue such elements are part and parcel of one's visit and therefore those aspects need to be included into any total overview.
I see it differently.
The main focus, in my mind, rests with the main 18-holes. The other features are simply "extras" and while they clearly have an impact those non-core inclusions must be held outside the main focal point. This applies not just to Whispering Pines but all other clubs - both those with all the bells and whistles and those with far less so. The best analogy I can provide is from the food industry. Reviewers of restaurants can easily get caught up in assessing the ambience, décor and all the other non-direct-food elements. The item of pivotal importance rests with the food first and foremost.
I don't doubt others may have a more expansive view and a desire to include the "entire experience" into their equation. I view such non-golf contributions as "extras" and clearly they have a role and can be appreciated. But the central focus for me rests squarely on the 18-holes.
So how good is the golf at Whispering Pines? It's very good and clearly beyond so much of the golf offerings found throughout the State. But being at the top of Texas is one thing -- sitting among the top 100 for all of America is a very debatable point in my mind.
The opening hole is patterned after the 1st at Pine Valley -- but the Texas hole goes left --not right. It's a quality starter in stretching the muscles and getting into the flow of the round. The 2nd is a superb par-5 -- plenty of challenges abound starting immediately with the tee shot. The player must execute correctly to be in a position to have a quality birdie opportunity. Really done well for both the "look" and how it plays factors.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the outward side while good doesn't really leap out with compelling architecture of the highest order.
The inward side also starts off in a benign fashion. Where matters pick up is when you arrive at the long par-4 13th which is beautifully situated with a massive long fairway bunker on the left side.
The final five holes at Whispering Pines is the strongpoint for the layout. The par-4 14th turns left in the drive zone and strong players will opt to cut off the corner of the water up the left side and for those who can marry prodigious length and uncanny accuracy it's very possible to be putting for eagle. For all other mortals the hole still holds up well because of the manner the green is contoured into several different areas.
The par-3 15th that follows has been mentioned as being comparable to the 10th at Pine Valley. That's not a good reference point -- think more like the 17th at TPC / Sawgrass. The difference is that the 15th at WP is even more challenging. You commence from an elevated tee and the green runs long and narrow. It's quite easy to push or pull the shot and at that point any number is possible. Winds can vary and therefore commitment to club selection is crucial. Best of all, the 15th has various different tee boxes that allow for appropriate challenges for higher handicap players I saw the hole in photos prior to my visit -- seeing it in person is truly special.
Like Cypress Point, Whispering Pines follows the 15th with another par-3. The 16th plays 228 yards but can play even longer when a back pin is used. The hole is difficult but I didn't see the architectural heft.
The long par-5 17th sits in the penultimate role and delivers in a big time way. The hole turns gently to the left and the fairway does taper on both sides as the length of the tee shot increases. The green sits ever close to a water hazard so those opting to reach the green in two blows had best have eaten their Wheaties that morning.
The concluding hole is simply grand stuff. The tee shot must carry roughly 240-250 yards from the rear championship position. Fortunately, there are other forward tees to keep playability alive and well. But, keep this in mind, it's a daunting shot and the psychological hurdles can prove vexing to overcome. The green is situated over another water hazard and the green is simply grand stuff. The putting surface has plenty of contour and should the pin be cut in the far right corner it takes nothing short of a Herculean effort to nestle a shot into that tight landing area.
Overall, Whispering Pines is miles beyond much of what calls itself golf in Texas. The level of detail and architectural brilliance is clearly there on quite a few of the holes. However, there are lulls in the overall presentation, as I've stated, and it would have been a real positive to have included a top notch short par-4 into the mixture.
For those fortunate souls who get the invitation to play I certainly recommend hustling there and seeing what's provided firsthand. Whispering Pines is now the new bar for how top tier design will be analyzed in The Lone Star State. It's taken some time for that to happen but the dream of Mr. Roberts and the design skills of Chet Williams have clearly changed forever the conversation.
M. James Ward
What an amazing track, thanks so much to Mr. Robertson for allowing myself SFC Zachary B Conklin, and CPT Jared Kuth from FT Polk La to enjoy a day playing the 9 hole executive course, and the amazing Championship course as well. No question why this course is ranked so high in the top 100.
The town of Trinity, TX is not easy to get to from Boston, MA - but after experiencing the club - I would happily walk the 2000 miles for my next invitation. In the state of Texas, this young club is spreading it's wings and flying above the legendary Colonial Country Club. Having played the top 100 golf courses in USA, I'm putting Whispering Pines in my top 5 in every category. It went from being "Whispering Where?!"....to "this is the best golf course you've never heard of".
You'll experience rolling terrain, a routing in every possible direction, commanding pine trees lining the fairways and a finish which would blow your imagination. Even if you had never seen a golf course before, you would find yourself appreciating what you were looking at. The 15th is a long par 3 to an island green, with a bunker running the entire way around the green. It would rival any par 3 Harry Colt ever designed in Surrey, UK. The 15th at Whispering Pines is like a longer version of the 10th at Pine Valley, just with water all around it. The 16th is an even longer par 3 through a tunnel of trees with a huge pond in front of the green. It's relentless! It's a good thing this Irishman had a 1 iron in his bag, because this hole is as demanding as Cypress 16.
Golfers don't enjoy having the stare down their ball until it comes to rest, but you'll find you do that alot at this venue. The 17th is a par 5 with a beautiful river running up the left-hand side, and the hole progressively moves closer to the river as you approach the green. You actually lose your breath just trying to focus on keeping the ball in play while enjoying the surroundings. The 18th will put manners on any professional golfer. You must carry 240 yards to the fairway from the tips, then after hitting your Sunday best, you're left with 200 yards into a plateau green well protected with bunkers & a pond, and to add to the excitement, it's as if Donald Ross adding the false front just for fun. It's an architectural masterpiece which is hidden away from the world. If there's one phrase in golf which I hate hearing, it's "this place has the best finishing holes in golf". Well if more people played Whispering Pines, then this phrase would be removed from golfing vocabulary, because the debate would be over.
I can't count the number of times I whispered "wow" to myself while standing on a tee box. This is the most under-rated golf course in America and deserves so much credit not only for the layout, but the charity work that the club promotes. As with most American clubs, the hospitality, the clubhouse and the service was 5 star. You'll even find music being played on the driving range, which once you get used to it, it actually makes you smile with the novelty.
Texas isn't known for many top rated golf courses outside of Colonial and the relatively new Dallas National, but Whispering Pines is in a class of it's own. I hope you can discover the secret amongst the pines.