By David R. Holland
HORSESHOE BAY, TX – If you are a Texan not living in the celebrated Hill Country you cherish and remember the times you visited, discovering the next granite dome, field of bluebonnets and rocky, prickly-pear climb to a summit to observe a sunset.
At Horseshoe Bay Resort you can do all these things. And you don’t need to be a Texan to book a world-class travel golf trip.
It’s such an inspiring, fun trip that I’ve visited over the years teeing it up with friends, a cousin, a college roommate and even with a Texas Sports Hall of Fame football coach.
“I didn’t know much about Robert Trent Jones when I moved here, but I love the natural areas. They just cleaned out some trees and put in some golf courses. It’s very peaceful. And I love the spring when the creeks are running like crazy and there are wildflowers all over the place.”
That’s what former Texas Tech football coach, the late Spike Dykes told me one beautiful day at Horseshoe Bay Resort. He’s the father of Sonny Dykes, who coached TCU to the 2203 national championship game.
“I know of no area that has a more interesting variety of golf than Horseshoe Bay. I rank this among the best in the world,” the late Jones said back in his designing days.
The “rocks” can be small or massive. Rocks are so prevalent that the names of the golf courses are classic — Slick Rock, Apple Rock, and Ram Rock are open to the public. The newest course, Summit Rock, is a Jack Nicklaus-designed private layout.
The landscape is impressive but so is the dedication of the resort to keep on improving. For decades, Texans have known the charms of this lakefront oasis, and now a four-year, $100-plus-million renovation is complete.
Only an hour northwest of Austin, Horseshoe Bay is an easy trip, deep in the heart of ruggedly beautiful Central Texas, by air or land. Once inside the oasis of the 2,400-acre resort and community by the shores of constant-level Lake LBJ, you’ll find a lush, tropical and inviting outdoor paradise.
Horseshoe Bay Resort has been revitalized with updates to guests rooms, a renovated yacht club that boasts a 100-seat waterfront beach bar and a new in-pool bar and improvements to all golf courses.
“We’re seeing more and more purpose-built golf trip bookings from places from all over,” says general manager Bryan Woodward.
“As times goes by, I think Texas is going to be competitive with markets like Florida, Arizona and California as a genuine golf destination and I think Horseshoe Bay Resort’s going to be a huge part of that.”
Vacation families will see palm trees, water and rock features throughout and Hawaii-like colorful vegetation. Today visitors can also venture out for winery tours and Texas BBQ.
“Everything traveling golfers’ value, you’ll find here in a truly distinct and elevated presentation. The investment we have put into these renovations have elevated the quality of our golf to a national level and has made the overall golf experience more fun for our guests.
“People know desert golf, mountain golf, links golf and parkland golf, but if you’ve never experienced golf in the rocky, panoramic Texas Hill Country, your bucket list has another line to check,” Woodward says. “Once you play golf in this setting, it just stays with you.”
What is new at Horseshoe Bay?
The Cap Rock Clubhouse is new and very upscale. It is an architecturally stunning showcase that sits on an elevated limestone plateau with a 60-mile view of the Texas Hill Country and just might remind you of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Opened in 2021 it serves Apple Rock and Ram Rock with its native stone, angular, sharp lines and upscale dining, post-round refreshment, Sunday Brunch or sunshine fun with its Pool Cabana.
The restoration of the golf courses has been led by Director of Agromony Ken Gorzycki, who has been working since November 2015, when Slick Rock, the original course built in 1971, was given all new greens, bunkers, irrigation and extended cart paths.
That same process continued on Ram Rock, which closed in August 2017 and reopened in May 2018, and then AppleRock, which shut down in August 2018 and reopened July 2019.
Character of the layouts
Ram Rock, with its rock gardens, granite outcroppings and blind tee shots, was designed to be one of the most difficult courses in the state. “There’s no doubt it is the toughest I’ve played,” coach Dykes said. But the recent renovation has softened some design aspects, increasing green size, reducing bunker acreage by 40 percent and expanding landing areas. It’s still plenty tough from the tips but more playable for guests and members as shown by increased play.
Slick Rock is best known for its spectacular “million-dollar hole”, the 14th, where one aims over a beautiful waterfall then the cart ride takes you up close and past the rumbling water. It is considered the most playable of the three courses with 170 acres, 70 bunkers, 12 water hazards, granite outcroppings, pampas grass, native oak, willow and Eldarica pine trees.
Apple Rock is touted as one of the most scenic and breathtaking championship golf courses in Texas. Spanning 147 acres, Jones, Sr. used some of the highest, most picturesque land in Horseshoe Bay for the layout.
The 18-hole, par 72 course begins in high, rocky terrain and finishes along the shoreline of Lake LBJ, boasting dramatic elevation changes, high-quality Bermuda fairways and bent grass greens that offer faster and truer putting surfaces.
Upon opening in 1985, Apple Rock was named among the “Best New Resort Courses in America” by Golf Digest, and has hosted the Texas State Open, USGA Qualifying events and other regional professional tournaments. With more than 50 bunkers, and water coming into play on seven holes, it will challenge even the most skilled players.
Summit Rock, the Jack Nicklaus-designed private course, is a 200-acre, par-72 course that contains a lower, level playing area and an upper, more rugged terrain.
Summit Rock has earned many accolades, including Golfweek’s Top 100 Resort Courses in America. Nicklaus said each hole of Summit Rock is a “Signature Hole” as he blended the course layout through the scenic land and stands of Texas Live Oaks. Holes one and two play through a wide-open, level-playing area and afterward players are rewarded with a 30-mile Hill Country view from the elevated tee box at the famed 3rd hole. There are elevated tee boxes with views through holes 4-12 before heading down the ridgeline on hole 13. Most of the greens are large, raised and guarded with slope and undulations.
“The Hill Country is beautiful and creates opportunities for unique and interesting golf course designs,” Nicklaus said. “If you look at all the courses we have done in the Hill Country, the properties are fairly rolling, with an abundance of rock features and outcroppings, little ravines, and a lot of gorgeous, mature trees. You have all of these features at Summit Rock, along with nearby LBJ Lake and beautiful vistas.”
After your round of golf
Take a boat ride around the lake to gawk at the pricey real estate or go fishing or water skiing. Don’t miss the Whitewater putting course at the Whitewater 360 Sports Club. The club has indoor and outdoor seating and can set up stations for delicious barbeque, seafood and more, or the club’s regular menu has tasty sports bar food. The Yacht Club offers chicken-fried lobster! The Lantana Grill has its steaks and the Cap Rock Clubhouse has a sophisticated modern menu and upscale experience.
Horseshoe Bay Resort has swimming pools, hot tubs, clay tennis courts, video arcade, bikes and trails and a series of elevated walkways through a wetlands area.
For those who may be interested in more than a vacation, Horseshoe Bay is also a community where thousands live and work or have second homes.