By Bill Nichols
Courtesy of Dallas Morning News
After its sixth year as the No. 1 course in Texas, Whispering Pines Golf Club underwent significant changes. New bunkers were installed, three pot bunkers were added, and a new 9-hole short course greeted members when the course opened for its spring season on March 21.
Being the best apparently isn’t good enough.
spering Pines, change has been critical to staying in first place. The course tucked in the piney woods of Trinity was voted No. 1 by The Dallas Morning News for a record-tying seventh consecutive year.
Fort Worth’s Colonial Country Club was No. 1 from 1989-95, the first seven years of The News’ rankings. Crown Colony held the top spot for three straight years (1996-98), and Colonial, which holds the record of nine years atop the rankings, has the only other multi-year reign (2003-04).
Just when the 160 members think Whispering Pines can’t get any better, owner Corby Robertson Jr. is ordering improvements. Changes are made every year, similar to Augusta National, home of the Masters.
“I come through the gates every day saying, ‘I can’t believe this place,”’ head professional Chris Rowe said. “We’re expanding. Right now we’re in talks for another restaurant and kitchen.”
Whispering Pines was constructed on a 660-acre timber plantation owned by Robertson, chairman and CEO of Houston-based Natural Resource Partners LP. He did the original routing and then hired Chet Williams of Nicklaus Design in 1998 to put the brush strokes on canvas. The layout measures 7,480 yards from the back tees.
The club’s 160 members make donations of about $10,000 to charity, primarily Robertson’s non-profit World Health & Golf Association. Only about 5,000 rounds per year are played on the course, which is closed in summer and winter.
The course has hosted The Spirit International Amateur Golf Championship, an Olympic type biennial competition, since 2002.
Whipering The course debuted in The News’ rankings in 2002 in the 30s category. After jumping to No. 12 in 2003, Whispering Pines was fourth in 2004 and sixth in 2005 before landing the No. 1 spot in 2006.
“The ranking means a lot to us,” said Rowe, a former assistant pro at Colonial. “There are a lot of great courses in Texas.”
The new short course, designed by Williams, has eight par-3s and one 300-yard hole that can be played as a par-4 or par-3 depending on the tee. Among the highlights: A 50,000 square-foot double green that exudes a “St. Andrews” feel. The layout was made to be challenging with at least three tee boxes for variance. The greens will be cut to roll the same as the main course.
It will be a year before we know if the changes affect Whispering Pines’ position. Regardless, changes will be made.
“At our staff orientation last week I said, ‘We’re No. 1 and everybody’s gunning for us,”’ Rowe said. ““One little mistake and somebody will jump past us. Our motto is “dedication to excel.”