Remember Old Brack!

San Antonio’s municipal masterpiece is a must-play.

Given the Lone Star State’s unofficial motto – “Bigger is Better” – it perhaps shouldn’t come as too big a surprise to learn that four of its cities are listed among the 11 most populous in the United States. But did you know that San Antonio is actually the seventh largest in the nation?

Not only is it bigger than Dallas which, since the days of J.R. Ewing and the hapless Cliff Barnes, has always been the place I associated with oversized everything (hats, cars, offices steaks, hair), it’s also significantly more populous than more recognizable cities like San Francisco, Detroit, Boston, Seattle, and yes, Denver.

What’s also a little unexpected perhaps is the variety and quality of the golf on offer. It might not be considered quite as well off for public courses as near neighbor Austin, but there’s more than enough good golf in San Antonio to fill a week.

If magazine-friendly courses with gps-enabled carts and Nordstrom-like pro shops are your thing then you’ll find what you’re looking for at the Westin La Cantera, Hyatt Hill Country, TPC San Antonio, The Quarry, Briggs Ranch and one or two others, but if budget is your main consideration you have a number of options on the Alamo City Golf Trail, including what I reckon is the city’s most interesting and enjoyable round – Brackenridge Park.

To be honest, if I had $120 in my pocket, I’d play this municipally-owned course twice rather than a flashier course once.

Just two and a half miles from downtown and part of a 343-acre park donated to the city by banker, philanthropist, and University of Texas Regent George Brackenridge, “Old Brack” was designed by the great A.W. Tillinghast and opened in 1916. In 1968, the heathens in the road-planning department decided to take US 281 right through the back nine meaning ten acres were lost and sections of the San Antonio River that flowed through the course filled in. Parks and Rec employee George Hoffman and course manager Murray Brooks redesigned a shorter, and altogether less appealing back nine.

Sometime in 2006-7, the City of San Antonio and its Municipal Golf Association (MGA) decided to form the Alamo Golf Trail with Brackenridge Park as the main attraction. Ten architects were interviewed to modernize the course, and in the end Texas native John Colligan and associate Trey Kemp were awarded the work. The MGA asked Colligan for a renovation, but Colligan thought the course, and Tillinghast, deserved better.

“We felt it was our duty as stewards of the game and its history to do more,” he says. “So we presented the MGA with a plan to restore the course to its original luster with the help of the old survey showing the position of the original greens, tees, bunkers, and fairways, and which Trey laid over a 2006 aerial of the course.”

Thankfully, the MGA saw the merit of Colligan’s proposal and gave him $7.5m to bring about the transformation. The river was reinstated, old bridges re-opened, and 15 of Tillinghast’s 18 holes revived, six of them with square greens that were quite popular during the early part of the 20th century.

Brackenridge Park reopened for play on December 1st 2008 and drew praise from all corners. Don’t leave San Antonio without playing it.


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