By David R. Holland
Transforming a crappy golf course into a beautiful experience can be done. Just take the drive to East Texas to Tempest Golf Club and see for yourself.
The feast for your senses will be immediate. A rolling landscape of green is a backdrop for a beautiful upscale clubhouse. A massive American flag rustles by sight and sound sitting atop a 205-foot pole and this Stars and Stripes is the third largest in the state measuring 80 feet long and 40 feet high. You can see it from any point on the golf course.
Then there’s Shallow Creek running like a ravine through the rolling property with a lining of iron ore landscape rocks – something that is unusual for East Texas’ normal sandy soil. There are lakes, creek carries and a couple of long wooden bridges.
Sitting in the middle of a putting green is a monument and plaque to honor four local golf legends – Homero Blancas, Jacky Cupit, Buster Cupit and Roy Pace. It reads: Legends of East Texas Golf.
Goodbye to Southern Hills Golf Course
It was back in 2016 that Arlington, Texas based golf course architect Jeffrey Brauer was given the project of transforming this location, named Southern Hills Golf Course, into a travel golf destination.
“I’ve never seen a worse golf course on such a great site,” Brauer recalls. “I saw where a land planner attempted to lay out a golf course, but it was the worst golf course I’d ever seen. In essence it was a mess.”
Brauer noted: “No one wants to lose five $5 dollar golf balls during a round so I wanted to deliver a country club like golf course for a more municipal golf course price point and playability.
“I was given that task while the owner, Joe Bruno, a New Orleans attorney, wanted to fiddle with the clubhouse and a restaurant (Neptune’s Grille and Bar). He wanted to develop a menu better than just hot dogs. He also wanted a membership experience where an event didn’t shut out a day on the course for non-members.”
Brauer also noted that 100 acres were designated for residential lots and off-course lots. “The owner agreed with me when I saw a potential for some great holes where home lots were. Six new holes were created and it made for some lots on high points that added the real estate value by millions.”
Randy Wade, Tempest’s affable Director of Golf, is proud of multiple golf course characteristics.
“Man, I love the layout Jeff created here. I think the rolling hills, not usual for East Texas, draws golfers back. You have it all. There are some blind shots that require creativity, the elevation changes are fun, the greens are challenging but not crazy, and a Piney Woods experience is something you can’t get in Dallas.”
Speaking of that draw of travel golfers, Tempest is close enough for Louisiana golfers, like from Shreveport, and Dallas is only 90 minutes away.
“I have to chuckle,” said Wade, when thinking about pandemic golf. “There was a time when Louisiana travelers weren’t supposed to come over the border, but some told me when the Texas Highway Patrol stopped them they’d just say they had business at Tempest Golf Club and they got to journey on.”
Word of mouth has been Tempest’s best method of getting golfers to visit. “We believe Tempest has an upscale feel to it but it is priced accordingly. If golfers enjoy the golf experience they are going to come back and they will tell other golfers to come.
“We are designed for private membership but semi-private is also encouraged. There’s a real estate opportunity for golfers who want to live on the golf course and we are going to aggressively move for more members and for the lot sales,” Wade said.
The layout: fun and scenic
The opening hole presents a carry over one of those Shallow Creek ravines, but it’s only about 370 yards from the upper tees with a dogleg left. Go through the fairway long and three bunkers could catch your tee shot. The elevated green isn’t that difficult with a wedge shot remaining.
From the back tees it measures 7,057 yards at par 72 and my favorite holes were the par threes and the finale.
The fourth hole is a drop shot of 157 yards from the back to a sombrero-shaped green over water and reeds with two bunkers back and left. If you pull your tee shot and the pin is right you have a lengthy putt.
High Bridge takes you to No. 12, a very scenic par three of 186 yards from the tips over the creek, heavily wooded and uphill. Even with a little wind in your face the challenge is to get it there and the green has two levels making it even more of a test. Take plenty of club because you will need it.
The final par three, No. 17, is another fun drop shot of 173 yards with the most difficult pin position just over a front right bunker. With the wind in our faces my group discovered it was tricky to get the right distance, but you should make par here.
I really like the final hole. My group played it at about 400 yards downhill over a lake and you could have put a blanket over our tee shots. We made two pars and a birdie, but if you are hitting from the back tees it is 503 yards at par four.
Tempest has also announced it will host the First Tee of the Piney Woods with details coming soon. Junior programs are also available with summer camps.
The verdict: Don’t miss this golf course
The result of the renovation is a brand new golf course with 12 rebuilt holes and only six in the original fairway corridors. “I tried to design a golf course that’s a little easier than what I would have done back in the ‘90s,” Brauer said.
The team decided to go big or go home. “This had to be good enough to attract golfers from surrounding cities such as Dallas, Houston, and Shreveport.” It’s just a couple of miles from I-20.
This is definitely a must play in Texas. Make the drive. You won’t be disappointed.