As Austin explodes with people, music and golf, the four-star resort amenities at nearby Horseshoe Bay hold even greater appeal
By Chris Duthie
I first discovered Austin in 2008. The city was celebrated for its college football team, sun-splashed recreation, winter-getaway climate, burgeoning live music scene, spicy Tex-Mex and barbecue, and a smattering of stay-and-play golf resorts that accentuated the seamless natural splendor of the Texas Hill Country.
Flash forward 15 years. Austin’s alluring attributes are still here, albeit they’re a bit more hidden and increasingly harder to access. Explosive development—led by a runaway-stagecoach influx of tech titans like Apple, Meta, Google and IBM—has helped the Texas state capital become America’s fastest-growing population for 11 consecutive years. A survey of the city’s widening skyline is an evidentiary clue that this once laid-back community has taken a sizable step away from its Stetson, Wrangler and Lucchese upbringings.
Nonetheless, Austin remains an attractive hotspot—or at least a comfortably warm spot—for Coloradans. When the temps drop below freezing here, Central Texas’ mid-60s sweater weather gets mighty tempting.
Choices abound: the 72-hole Omni Barton Creek, the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines and, if you can get on, Harvey Penick’s Austin Country Club. Plus, there’s an enviable roster of city-operated layouts led by the century-old Lions Municipal Golf Course. affectionately known to Austinites as “Muny.”
In 1950, Muny became the first desegregated public golf course in the southern U.S., but encroaching development has imperiled its existence. So Ben Crenshaw, who grew up playing the course, has led “Save Muny”, the Muny Conservancy initiative to preserve it.
But for those taking the two-hour flight from Denver, there’s another option. It’s a tad off the radar, but that’s a good thing if you like avoiding metro traffic, Uber driver shortages, long check-in lines, crowded restaurants, construction noise and wait-list tee times.
I’m talking about one of the Southwest’s quintessential destination properties, the AAA Four Diamond-rated Horseshoe Bay Resort and Club, located less than a 90-minute drive from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
Upon arriving at the resort’s seven-floor hotel, guests are escorted to one of the 400 recently renovated rooms, suites and villas that offer resplendent vistas of the 7,000-acre property. Views include a full-service marina fronting the 6,449-acre Lake LBJ, four expansive swimming pools, a top-notch spa and fitness center, 14 tennis courts (hard and clay), eight pickleball courts, an exceptional stand-alone kids club and an 18-hole putting course. Multiple exterior meeting venues testify to a sizeable events and conventions business.
Then there are the premier golf amenities: Four courses, with the three designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., available to resort guests, and the fourth, routed by Jack Nicklaus, a members-only layout. While the resort courses could use a bit of updating and refurbishment, all are immensely pleasurable and competitive, each a living tribute to one of the game’s most respected and prolific golf architects.
Apple Rock, Horseshoe Bay’s most scenic layout, leads the pack. Named Golf Digest’s “Best New Resort Course” of 1986, this 7,000-yard, former Texas State Open venue mimics its two siblings—Slick Rock and Ram Rock—with gnarly Hill Country landscaping, bold water features and picturesque lakeside greens but differentiates itself with high elevation changes, rock-filled barranca and strategic, “hard par, easy bogey” bunkering.
To ease into your game, play the more amenable and wide-open Slick Rock. Opened in 1971 and playing nearly 6,900 yards from the tips, Horseshoe Bay’s oldest course earns its accolades with thick oak tree canopies, expansive fairways and greens, and a seductive “Million Dollar Hole” that features a breathtaking, carry-the-waterfall gut check from the 14th tee.
Rounding out the trio, the brutish Ram Rock is a 6,885-yard par-71 that’s defined by small greens, water- and tree-lined fairways, and a risk/reward style that prizes from-the-hip shotmaking. The course proclaims itself both beauty and beast—a boast embodied on the 186-yard fourth hole, a wonderfully crafted par-3 with a mettle-testing island green.
After all that activity on the fairways, it’s nice to know the resort is no stranger to fine dining, Texas style. Seven restaurants ensure no one goes wanting. Don’t miss the delectable Bad Donkey Barbecue at the hotel-sited J’s Restaurant & Bar, the diet-dinging ambrosia of the Yacht Club’s chicken fried lobster or the sublime Akaushi skirt steak at the marina’s Waterfront Bar & Grill. The restaurants in the resort’s three golf clubhouses also deserve a turn.
Looking for a break from the links? Horseshoe Bay delivers with a litany of options (page 63), plus a brand-new guest amenity, the Bronco Off-Roadeo four-wheel-drive park at Grey Wolf Ranch. Crafted originally for top Ford Motor Company executives to debut the all-terrain capabilities of the 2022 Bronco SUV, the resort soon will offer adrenaline-infused romps into the Hill Country’s infamous steeps, barrancas, outcroppings and tree-lined mazes.
Next on tap: Go full speed on Lake LBJ—a constant-water-level reservoir with regional hydroelectric significance, making it practically impervious to drought. With boating, jet skiing, SUP, fishing and sunset cruises among its four-season recreations, Lake LBJ also will see a new Horseshoe Bay Resort amenity in 2023: the first-ever floating swimming pool in the western United States. The 75-foot-long pool will offer a surrounding 15-foot deck that’s ideal for sunbathing and sunset receptions.
Off property, Horseshoe Bay is a short drive from the Spicewood and Frederickburg areas, where you can tour more than 30 wineries, including the 400-acre Fall Creek Vineyards— the region’s very first winery, which opened in 1975. Other stalwarts include Pedernales Cellars, Stone House Vineyards and the William Chris Vineyards.
Wine also takes center stage every fall during the resort’s annual Wine, Dine & Jazz Festival. This signature event welcomes celebrity chefs, jazz artists and creative culinary experiences throughout the weekend. The itinerary includes a five-course seated dinner and wine pairing followed by celebrity-chef cooking demonstrations, Hill Country wine tastings and food samplings prepared by the region’s most notable chefs and restaurants.
Chris Duthie is a Durango-based contributor.
This article can also be found in the Spring 2023 Issue of Colorado AvidGolfer.