Austin shines in the Lone Star State.
Dust off your boots, tune up the guitar and lay a fire in the pit. We’re going to Austin. Oh, and don’t forget your sticks.
Dallas may be the business center of Texas. Houston may be the gateway to and from the world. But Austin is the heart and soul of the erstwhile Republic. It’s a cultural center, a musical mecca and a thriving knowledge-rich exurb of the new tech and media economy. Beyond that, thanks to a history that boasts World Golf Hall of Fame members and major champions Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite—along with ample land featuring a range of open spaces and interesting topography —Austin and its surrounding areas are home to some great golf.
“Relax, you’re in Austin.” That’s the tag line that greets you when you step off the plane and into the Austin-Bergstrom Airport. Pause before heading to baggage claim to enjoy a few bars—of tunes by local musicians—and grab a representative barbecue sandwich, as many of the local restaurants have branches at the airport. It’s a far cry from the sterile rush of most hubs, and a hint of the “Keep Austin Weird” pride informs the Austin region’s personality.
Located just 20 minutes east of the airport in historic Bastrop County, the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort is the perfect home base for your visit.
Opened in 2006, the Hyatt Lost Pines delivers a modern take on the classic family “camp” of yesterday. Yes, there’s golf—Wolfdancer Golf Club, a rollicking Arthur Hills layout that showcases the resort’s dramatic terrain—but golf is just part of the Lost Pines experience.
Separated from east Texas’ famed pine forests by some 100 miles, the Lost Pines region has intrigued and fascinated visitors for cenuries. Nearly all the pines grow in a thin, 13-mile band east of the Colorado River, although a 40-acre stand graces the McKinney-Roughs Nature Park, which abuts the Hyatt property. The most romantic legend, according to Eric Claxton, Wolfdancer’s director of golf, is that fleet Native American runners carried the seedlings from east Texas to provide comfort to a homesick tribal girl who had married and moved far from home. Scientists, in far less poetic fashion, credit the disconnected pine forest to ancient glacial soil deposits.
“But here at Lost Pines, we prefer a good story,” Claxton says. “That’s one of the things you will notice during a stay here—there is a story behind just about everything.”
The Hyatt Lost Pines Resort bills itself as a luxury Texas wilderness escape. The Texas colonial- style hotel sprawls out from a majestic stand of oak trees. With 491 rooms, the fullfeatured Django Spa, working gardens complete with livestock (including two Longhorns cryptically christened T-Bone and Ribeye), extensive pool area complete with waterslides and a lazy river and riverfront parks—along with the Renegade Trailhead equestrian facility— the resort is long on interest and activity.
Claxton is eager to show off the 7,205- yard Wolfdancer course, designed by renowned architect Arthur Hills. The course takes its name from a Native American rite of passage for young men, and layout reflects the “journey” theme. “Wolfdancer is not your standard resortstyle golf course,” Claxton explains. “The property has a lot of elevation and variety, and we didn’t want to move a lot of dirt, so we let the land determine a lot of the approaches.”
The result is a golf course that traverses three distinct environments. The first four holes play over a high bench of relatively open land, highlighted by the magnificent par-5 third hole, a 603-yard behemoth with bunkers scattered across a wide expanse of fairway seemingly at random. The view from the tee is a classic Texan meld of land and sky. Another heroic hole follows, the 233-yard par-3 fourth, fronted by a colossal bunker that dominates the eye and distracts from the safer and more navigable left side.
From there the course wends into a rolling stretch of holes marked by deep gullies, specimen trees and demanding shot requirements. A long three-shotter, the fifth calls for carries over steep ravines on both the lay-up and approach. The par-3 sixth feels a little forced, with a water feature abutting the left side of a severely sloping green. Perhaps Hills tried too hard to create a “signature” hole here when, actually, the land itself provides all the scenery necessary. An awkward short four follows, with another fronting ravine.
A behemoth 483-yard par-4, the eighth is the toughest test on the front nine. Though the hole works left, you need to be on the right side of the fairway in order to have a look at the green as you ponder your long-iron or fairway-wood approach to a plateau green benched into a steep hillside. The final two holes on Wolfdancer’s middle section use elevation to great effect.
At just 345 yards, the 11th may look like a breather on the card. It’s not. You may be tempted to go with a fairway wood, but driver is the play, as the uphill carry over a creek and to the fairway is longer than it looks. A good drive to the right side offers an unfettered view of a small green. Hit it and have a chance at birdie. Miss it left, and double-bogey comes quickly into play.
The pitch-shot 12th plays from a scenic perch high above the river bottom and the resort. Again, this hold uses deception to add challenge to what should be a simple enough shot. Take enough club—there is more room long than it may appear from the tee.
Wolfdancer’s final six holes play along a forested river bottom. The par-four 13th, clocking in at 470 yards may well be the most interesting hole on the course. A good drive leaves a slightly uphill approach to a deep green surrounded by towering pecan trees. The 333-yard 15th rounds out a nice collection of short two-shot holes. This one hearkens back to the days of famed Texas golf architect John Bredemus, featuring an old-fashioned push-up green and a chance for birdie.
The round closes with one more chance for heroics—a 535-yard par-5 that plays along a bluff above the Colorado River. Here, Hills makes use of an innovative series of cross bunkers to present a choice on the second shot—take on the risk and play to the right of the bunkers, leaving yourself a simple pitch to the small green if successful or take the safer route to the left of the bunkers and face a more challenging short-iron shot with parts of the green obscured from view. A fitting end to a round filled with decisions and shot-making demands.
Back at the Ranch…
Although the resort’s recreational opportunities abound, reserve some time for exploring its interior spaces, which tell a fascinating and inspiring tale of Texas arts and literature. One of the lobbies where buildings adjoin features an exhibit on famed Texas songwriters, including Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Lyle Lovett, Townes Van Zandt and the lesser-known but mightily influential Billy Joe Shaver.
The hotel’s library area, Scribes, pays homage to the lights of Texas letters. Grab a tome off the shelves and settle into a comfortable chair to savor some of the state’s most luminous voices.
The resort’s riverfront features a disc-golf course in case you’re in the mood for a new take on the ancient game. Boat rides and kayaks are also available. Enjoy a classic Texas-style steak at the elegant Stories restaurant, and then gather around the firepit for ’smores each night. If you’re lucky, you might catch a performance by one of Austin’s musical mavens at the hotel’s riverside amphitheater.
It’s All In Austin
The restaurants and clubs of Downtown Austin—the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World—are just a half-hour’s drive.
While away a couple of hours exploring the grounds of the beautiful Texas State Capitol, and educate yourself about the only state in the union that was once its own country at the nearby Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.
Enjoy lunch at the famed Stubbs Bar-B-Q for a true taste of Texas, and welcome the evening with modern Southwestern fare and invigorating margaritas at the IronCactus on Sixth Street while bands tune up to entertain you as night falls.
If you have never thought of Austin as a vacation destination, think again. Lose yourself at Lost Pines and discover a side of Texas that “those who know” have kept to themselves for far too long.
Tom Ferrell is CAG’s editor at large. Visit ColoradoAvidGolfer.com for more stories and become a follower of us on Facebook and Twitter.
After the Fires
Following record heat and dry weather in the summer of 2011, wildfires erupted throughout the Austin area in September. The region’s golf facilities survived mostly unscathed, although one blaze swept through the property of Austin Golf Club, home course of two-time Masters champion and Austin native Ben Crenshaw.
Thankfully, damage was limited, and the club resumed operations in October. Historic Bastrop, just east of the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort, was not so lucky. A 3,400-acre fire there destroyed more than 1,300 homes.
The Hyatt Lost Pines became much more than a resort getaway. For many affected employees, it became a temporary home and a refuge. The resort welcomed displaced residents and coordinated a massive relief effort. In Bastrop, the rebuilding process is well underway. Your stay at the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort will be a part of that process of recovery. —T.F.
••• Info To Go •••
In addition to the Wolfdancer Golf Club (lostpines.hyatt.com), Austin- area golf courses are as ubiquitous as juke and barbecue joints:
• Barton Creek Resort and Spa (bartoncreek.com): If the onsite Fazio Foothills, Fazio Canyons or Crenshaw Cliffside courses aren’t enough, travel west to the edge of Lake Travis to tackle the Palmer Lakeside.
• Avery Ranch (averyranchgolf.com): Situated on the edge of the famed Texas Hill Country, this Andy Raugust gem will alternately test your shot-making and your shot taking—as in, photographs of the surrounding scenery.
• Falconhead Golf Club (falconheadaustin.com): Fashioned by PGA Tour Design, this rollicking course west of Austin features rolling fairways, roiling waters and the region’s geologic signature, limestone cliffs.
• Riverside Golf Course (riverside-gc.com): Golf history buffs take note – Riverside was once home to Austin Country Club and is the track where Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite developed their games under the tutelage of famed instructor and golf mystic Harvey Penick.
For suggestions on what to do in Austin, visit
austintexas.org or call 800-926-ACVB.