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Week 3, Texas
Texas Is Full of History...both Golf and Otherwise Since my dad and mother were both from Texas, I grew up hearing stories about Texas for years and years. As an adult interested in golf I learned that golfers from Texas have become legends in the golf world. So as I left New Mexico and began my long drive to San Antonio, the next stop on my tour, I was looking forward to my visit to the Lone Star State. What I learned is that you don’t just visit Texas. You become engulfed by it...the vast miles from city to city, the blasts of wind blowing across its desert landscape, and the pride that its people have for the state and its traditions. I began to understand all the stories about Texas that my parents told me over the years. However, it wasn’t until I played the Brackenridge Park Golf Course in San Antonio that I became aware of what golf has meant to Texas and what Texas has meant to golf. Brackenridge is a public course only minutes from downtown San Antonio. But it’s not just a public course. It is one of seven municipal courses that make up the Alamo Golf Trail and is the oldest municipal course in Texas having opened in 1916. It has quite a history including hosting the first Texas Open in 1922 and 21 Texas Opens between 1922 and 1959. Brackenridge was designed by famed golf course architect A. W. Tillinghast who also designed Winged Foot, Beth Page, Baltusrol and the San Francisco Country Club courses. Before playing the course I visited the Texas Golf Hall of Fame which it houses; viewed the statue of Harvey Penick outside its granite clubhouse; and learned that golf legends Walter Hagen, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan all won Texas Open’s there and that Ben Crenshaw, Bruce Lietzke and Tom Kite all won Junior Championships there. Playing Brackenridge was fun. My 83 from the White Tees at 5807 yards wouldn’t have won me anything but it was thrilling just to think that I had been playing fairways and putting on greens that the greats of golf once played. At a little over 6200 yards from the tips, Brackenridge isn’t a long course. However, because of more than 6000 trees on its narrow fairways, and an abundance of fairway and greenside bunkers, plays much tougher than its 6200 yards. It was enjoyable playing a course that was designed in the past when shot shaping was more important than just bombing it from the tees as is the norm on many of today’s new courses. Position on Brackenridge is definitely more important than length, not only because of the abundance of trees, but because creeks and ponds comes in to play on eight holes, seven on the back nine alone. Since Brackenridge is only minutes from downtown, it was easy for me to drive back to my hotel, take a quick shower and still have time to walk over to the Alamo, which much to my surprise is located in the middle of downtown San Antonio. I watched the outstanding IMAX big screen documentary Alamo...The Price of Freedom and toured the historic site. It was a most interesting and emotional experience to understand how and where Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, William Travis and the other heroes of The Alamo fought for 13 days against overwhelming odds and eventually sacrificed their lives fighting for freedom. The Alamo pamphlet of the Daughter’s of the Republic of Texas says it all... “While the facts surrounding the siege of the Alamo continue to be debated, there is no doubt about what the battle has come to symbolize. People worldwide continue to remember the Alamo as a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds--a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the Shrine of Texas Liberty.” While in San Antonio I was able to do something I had wanted to do for a long time. I took a ride on the San Antonio River in one of the colorful river barges that you see pictured in travel books and on travel shows. The ride passed numerous restaurants with outside tables where tourists and locals were dining under brightly colored awnings. I enjoyed the ride and listening to the barge guide tell about the history of the river, how the lengthy River Walk was developed, and how the barge rides had become such a draw for tourists over the years. While in San Antonio a rain storm washed out one day of golf that I had planned. It gave me a good opportunity to do a bit of catching up, work on organizing the next stops on my tour, and do a load of laundry. Working in my rooms at my hotels, the Drury Plaza Hotel North and the Drury Hotel River Walk, was really quite pleasant as both hotels are all suites hotels with large comfortable rooms. Happily I was able to cut down on my meal expenses while staying at the Drury Hotels as all their hotels, and there are over 120 in 20 states, serve fresh all you can eat complimentary buffet breakfasts and complimentary cocktails and an abundance of hors d’ouerves each evening. The Drury Hotel chain is 100% family owned which is rare in the hotel industry. I think that is one reason it has been able to build its reputation on “giving the customer more than what they can get at any other hotel…cleaner rooms, friendlier team members and extras that don’t cost extra”. I found this concept to be not just a PR slogan but an actual fact. The Drury Plaza Hotel North in San Antonio is a new, sleek and contemporary hotel. The Drury River Walk is in a former bank which opened in 1929. Drury Hotels bought it in 2003, spent four years and over 70 million dollars renovating it, and opened it as a hotel in 2007. It’s stunning. You can check out the San Antonio Drury Hotels and the Drury Hotel chain by visiting their website www.druryhotels.com. When I left San Antonio, I headed northeast to Austin, the capital of Texas, where I was invited to stay one night at the Barton Creek Golf Resort and Spa, rated the #1 Golf Resort in Texas. It was easy to understand how it got its rating. It’s in a beautiful forest setting, has all the amenities you would expect in a world class resort and four outstanding golf courses, two designed by Tom Fazio, one by Ben Crenshaw and one by Arnold Palmer. I played the Fazio Canyons course and was fortunate to be paired with Matt Higley, an Assistant Pro at the Fazio Foothills course. Other than the fact that he was 45 years or so younger, had played pro golf until an injury caused him to give up life on the pro circuit, and that he hit the ball farther than I can even dream about, I found we did have one thing in common, he was from the San Diego area and had played my home course, Shadowridge Country Club in Vista. Matt was very helpful as we played. He gave me good pointers as to preferred fairway locations off the tee, where to hit my second…and third shots and sometime fourth shots, and helped me read the tricky breaks on the greens. I wish he had also been able to lengthen my drives, hit my fairway shots and sink my putts on the fast sloping greens. While breakfasting at the Drury River Walk, I met Dave Rollins and his wife who were from Austin. They told me a must place for ribs and breakfasts in Austin was Rudy’s Country Store and Bar B Q. Matt and several others confirmed this. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it for ribs but I did have breakfast there. I ordered the design-your-own breakfast burrito and was pleased with my decision. It was big and delicious. Rudy’s is a very down to earth place to eat with rather unique locations that combine gas stations, country stores and their restaurants. But don’t think of Rudy’s is like most gas station convenience store operations. It’s not. It’s a casual buffet style restaurant that has a gas station and country store as part of its operation. The one I ate at served good fresh food prepared by young enthusiastic crew members in a fun atmosphere with red checked tablecloths. Although mostly in Texas, there are Rudy’s locations in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona. I suspect there will be more to come if the rest of their operations are as good and highly touted by locals as the one I visited. After breakfast I filled up with gas and headed for another long drive across Texas to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.