By James McAfee
Country western singer and songwriter Mac Davis once sang “I thought happiness was Lubbock in my rearview mirror.” After a recent visit, I discovered this certainly isn’t the case anymore. Happiness is returning to Lubbock. There’s plenty to do now. Despite spending more than 70 years living in Texas, I had never before thought of the Hub City as a vacation destination, especially one where golf might be a reason for the visit.
The idea of Texas Tech alumni Jerry Rawls was carved out of a cotton farm more than 20 years ago to test the skills of the country’s best college golfers but also to provide another place for others in the college and the community to enjoy.
Rawls was able to reach out to renowned golf course architect Tom Doak, fresh off his Oregon masterpiece at Bandon Dunes, allowing him and his staff to rely on their imagination to move 1.3 million cubic yards of topsoil to create a challenging parkland course, with 30 feet of elevation changes. It’s defined by wide fairways with plenty of contours and uneven lies; bordered on the sides by wispy grasses where finding a ball is difficult; large undulating greens (average of 8,000 square feet) where three putts are common; and 97 craggy and deep bunkers of all sizes. There are not many trees either. The only water hazard is to the right of No. 10 and to the right of No. 18. Many locals say the design mimics the eroded features of the South Plains Caprock region, providing an appealing rustic look. I agree!
The course, managed by Troon Golf for the past 14 years, has been rated as the No. 2 best public course in the state and the No. 3 best campus course by Golfweek Magazine. It has hosted several Big XII Conference events, including the Big XII Women’s Championship, the National Junior College Championship, several American Junior Golf Association events, and qualifying for the U.S. Open and the U.S.Amateur.
The Dallas Morning News rated it as the No. 1 public course in the mid-priced range in the state. In the same annual rankings, it’s No. 3 among all public courses and No. 30 when you add all the private courses.
The Rawls can be stretched to 7,317 yards from the black tees. From the red tees, not the usual color designated for women, it plays 6,825 yards, still a challenge even for low handicappers. Others can move to the whites at 6,270 or the golds at 5,493.
Ideal practice facilities for the highly-accomplished Texas Tech Red Raider golf teams provides players with exclusive practice holes, diverse putting surfaces, sheltered hitting bays and the latest video technology. Local knowledge probably gives them an advantage.
As might be expected, remember you will be in Texas, wind adds to the challenges you’ll face. If blowing from the south as it normally does, you’ll get to start with a shorter opening par 4 followed by a par 5 where it is easier to get home in two shots. Don’t relax. It’s going to get more difficult, starting on the long par-3 third back into the wind,
PGA golf professional Jay Thomas says this wind certainly is the reason that the eighth, which can be stretched to 479 yards uphill, and the dogleg-right fourteenth, playing at 506 yards, are the most difficult. “Most players will likely be using fairway woods or hybrids for their approaches,” he said.
Following a long par-3 of more than 200 yards to a narrow green guarded by deep bunkers on the 16th, long hitters will like the fact they can have a chance to get home in two on the two closing par 5s. “A 4.5-acre lake that crosses the fairway and along the right side of the fairway adds to the risk-reward moment on the final hole,” said Thomas. A safer idea, one that I prefer was to find the fairway and position my second shot for a short iron into the green, but I failed to avoid the bunker on the left of the green and then failed to make a par.
There are also other golfing opportunities for visitors in Lubbock at the Meadowbrook Canyons and Creek courses and at Shadow Hills. If you know a member, golf might be possible at the newly-opened Red Feather Golf & Social Club, Lubbock Country Club, Hillcrest Country Club, or Lake Country Club.
Other attractions that I liked included the Buddy Holly Center, the Buddy Holly Hall of Performing Art, the National Ranching Heritage Center, wine tasting at McPherson Cellars, and the Llano Estacado Winery and Prairie Dog Town.
There are plenty of lodging options available close to the course, but don’t overlook staying at the Cotton Court, featuring a retro look back to the old motels with a modern twist.
Based on personal experiences, you can not go wrong by eating at La Diosa, Neighborhood F&B, The Fresh American, Cast Iron Grill, Evie Marie’s (barbecue), and The Nicolett.