East Texas layout is king for the third year in a row, but there
are some newcomers ready to vie for the throne
By RICHARD DURRETT / Courtesy of The Dallas Morning News
Whispering Pines Golf Club founder Corby Robertson Jr. has a
theory as to why the course is on top of The News’ state golf rankings for
the third consecutive year.
“We keep looking at ways to make it a better place,” Robertson said. “I
notice they are continually improving Augusta National and Pine Valley, and
those are two of the best courses in the world. So you have to keep working
to stay current.”
Robertson’s layout, cut into a parcel of land in Trinity that includes Lake
Livingston and hundreds of tall, vibrant pines, remains exclusive. It’s closed
nearly half the year, which helps keep the course in great shape and allows
members to play it when the weather is at its best. The club makes minor alterations
each time the course closes, whether that’s a new tee box on No. 1 that gives
players a chance to hit driver without blasting it through the fairway, or
more flowers planted throughout the property.
“There are some great courses in this state, but Whispering Pines is
different,” head golf professional Chris Rowe said. “It’s a unique
piece of land. Nothing is manufactured. It’s just nature.”
Rowe and Robertson know staying No. 1 with the voting panel isn’t easy. Dallas
National was once again the No. 2 course in the state, .133 of a point behind
Whispering Pines in the voting. Colonial Country Club’s classic venue was fourth
and Vaquero Golf Club finished fifth. The top 13 courses were separated by
less than one point.
The top 20 saw a considerable shakeup as three courses graced the rankings
for the first time. That group included the No. 3 course in the state, Boot
Ranch, a golf village started by PGA Tour veteran Hal Sutton. The course, near
Fredericksburg, vaulted high on the list less than two years after the first
tee shot was hit on the property. Sutton said the course’s ability to challenge
good golfers and at the same time be fair to those learning the game is a big
reason for its success.
“I wanted to pat the golfer on the back, not black his eye,” said
Sutton, whose course opened in May 2006 and was among the best new courses
in Texas Golf 2007. “I wanted to teach him about golf.”
Sutton said he achieved that goal by paying attention to every detail, which
included climbing aboard the equipment and moving some of the dirt while the
course was built. Sutton wanted most of the holes to work subtly downhill.
“The worst evil in the game is a reverse pivot, and that happens because
golfers going uphill think they have to help the loft of the ball,” Sutton
said. “Hitting downhill makes it more comfortable for the golfer.”
Sutton staggered fairway bunkers so the landing areas were tiny from the tee,
but he put small greens with subtle breaks to make accurate approach shots
a key to scoring well. Sutton also limited the greenside bunkers, giving golfers
bigger chipping areas.
“Good players want to be in bunkers and average players don’t,” Sutton
said. “Chipping isn’t intimidating to the eye but challenges all golfers.”
Boot Ranch wasn’t the only challenging course to make the rankings for the
first time in 2008. Escondido, The News’ top new course in 2007, was ranked
No. 8 by the panel this year. The Tom Fazio-designed course (joining Dallas
National and Vaquero Club as his third course in the top eight) accentuates
the beauty of the Texas Hill Country. Fazio uses the oaks, streams and wild
grasses to provide a nice, natural setting for golfers.
“The overall condition is phenomenal and the layout is great for all
levels of play,” said Shawn Strohman, head golf professional at the course. “The
customer service is great and people are blown away when they get here.”
Miramont Country Club in Bryan made its rankings debut at No. 11. The course
was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. and is part of a 1,000-acre property
that includes luxury homes and a 95,000-square-foot clubhouse that looks like
a castle. The course is highlighted by undulating greens and several risk-reward
holes (two driveable par-4s surrounded by water hazards).
“I think our club and many of the more recent ones popping up in the
state have great courses and facilities, but also an attention to customer
service,” said Brad Lardon, Miramont’s director of golf. “That’s
an important part of making the experience a good one for everyone.”