James W. E. Glenn takes a Texas road trip – exploring the ‘Lone Star’ State and its love for golf and good times – from Austin to The Alamo
- Texas: Golf but not as you know it
- Price-friendly public courses from Dallas to San Antonio
- Austin’s 6th Street – bar crawling away the bogeys
- Time out on a river Tube in New Braunfels
- Scintillating street food – from banging BBQ to tantalising Tacos
A place synonymous with giants. Think Dallas Cowboys, Friday Night Lights, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson to name just a few.
The idea of Texas is rugged.
It’s a land often portrayed by arid prairie, desert, rolling tumbleweeds and brooding cowboy-tunes set against the dramatic backdrop of rocky plateaus and canyons.
A lonesome cowboy, perched atop his trusty steed, watches over the ranch while a burning orange sunset dips behind him. The clink of spurs on the heels of worn calfskin boots echoes against hot dusty wind.
That’s silver screen Texas. Much of the ‘Lone Star’ state is completely different.
East Texas is painted with a palette borrowed from Augusta.
Pinewood forests lay over a beautiful rolling canvas of hills, creeks, and streams splashed with bluebonnets and orange wildflowers.
South and Central Texas are jagged, breath-taking in earthy rocky beauty and intersected by rivers twisting and turning from the Rio Grande to the Gulf of Mexico.
The heat in Texas is closer than a hug that lasts too long. In August, you’ll sweat from the front door to your car at 7am.
Still, there’s more than enough cold beer, frozen margaritas and air-conditioning to keep you chilled.
It is here, beyond the “wild west,” the oil derricks, and the “cowboys” that you find the rich pulse of an understated love for having a good time – and playing some great golf.
Courses are packed with golfers sloughing off the pretentiousness: playing in five-somes, gambling, hailing the beer cart, pumping country music on a bluetooth and loving it.
Sure, the highly-rated golf courses of California, New England, and the Atlantic Coast are few and far between in Texas. Those that are here are mostly inaccessible.
That certainly doesn’t mean public courses in Texas aren’t up to scratch.
Quite the opposite. Being under the radar and easier on the wallet, I say they’re even more fun.
While you might not be able to get a time at Dallas National, Preston Trail, Lochinvar, Whispering Pines or Austin Country Club – there’s plenty of great golf to be played in Texas, from Austin to San Antonio.
In fact, as a native Texan, I would argue that avoiding those types of venues will provide a better, more enjoyable and authentic trip.
Texas also compares favourably to other, more popular, busier and well-traveled destinations in America.
● Texas has a younger demographic than Florida, South Carolina or New England
● Most courses are immaculate, even municipals
● Tee times will be less expensive, if you can brave the heat
● Food is consistently excellent, particularly BBQ and Mexican
● Texas has thriving music, indie, and art cultures to enjoy in the evenings
● Texans (natives) are overwhelmingly friendly and curious
There’s good reason why Texans love being TEXAN.
Inside the Ropes of a Texas Golf Road Trip
Unlike the pre-pandemic ease of travelling to Turkey, Spain, Costa del Sol, Portugal, or Florida, Texas demands you come with clubs and ready to roam.
This is not all-inclusive comfort and playing 5-6 rounds of resort golf.
Golf in Texas demands that you hire a car, take to the open road, drink the beer, eat the brisket, float the rivers and put miles on tyres.
These trips are the ones I love.
So Texas is far from a desert, or a tumbleweed strewn dust bowl, Texas is one heck of a golf road trip.
Broadly, you’ll want a few nights in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, several nights in and around Austin, and then a few nights in San Antonio.
The concrete jungle of Houston has a problem (pun absolutely intended), so we left it out.
It takes two and a half hours to drive from east to west and that’s in light traffic.
We leave out deep East Texas, as it doesn’t offer much in after-golf entertainment though it is littered with fantastic local and semi-private golf courses like Crown Colony in Lufkin or Twin Lakes in Canton).
I just always end up driving to Dallas.
Dallas has serious golf star power.
Major champions Jordan Spieth, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Leonard and Corey Pavin all live or have lived in the city, which is regarded as one of the most cultural, diverse and attractive places to call home in the U.S.A.
Whether you want big championship golf courses, smaller intimate layouts, buzzing night life for post-round shenanigans, or a chilled out funk-jazz bar — Dallas has everything to kick-start this Texas golf road trip.
Staying in Deep Ellum makes your meals and entertainment choices a snap and keeps you surrounded by authentic experiences rather than chain restaurants and retail.
Head to Maracas Cocina or Pepe & Mito’s for great Tex-mex, Pecan Lodge for BBQ, and Brick and Bones for what might be the best fried chicken you’ve ever put in your mouth. I recommend tackling the morning after your first night with huevos rancheros (Mexican Eggs).
From Deep Ellum, you are also central for affordable quality golf courses in Dallas.
A low budget 3 rounds in Dallas looks like this:
● Bridlewood Golf Club ($60/per for prime mid-morning)
● Tangle Ridge Golf Club ($48/per for mid-morning)
● Buffalo Creek Golf Club ($54/per for mid-morning)
If you want to pay even less, you can get times in the afternoon for as little as $16 but you will have to brave the heat.
Trust me, buggies, ice-cold water and chilled Miller-Lite will get you through. Buffalo Creek is an excellent value inclusion here. They have recently renovated their greens, reacquired their talented former Course Manager and the fees haven’t yet caught up. The Director of Instruction is a friend and one of the most refreshing, laid-back instructors you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting.
For the higher-budget trip, look to the following for more facilities and consistently good course presentation:
● WildHorse Golf Club (from $50)
● Skycreek Ranch Golf Club ($65)
● Cowboys Golf Club (from $70 at twilight)
There are exceptional private clubs in the area, foremost Bent Tree Country Club and Dallas Country Club but you need to know a member or be invited to be able to play them.
This Texas golf road trip focuses on public courses, making access and booking tee-times as easy as possible using tee-time booking platforms or direct with the courses.
Once you’ve spent a few days in Dallas familiarising yourself with Texas, the fantastic barbeque and craft beers, head down Interstate-35 to Austin.
Austin is home to arguably the best live music scene in the world and spectacular golf courses across any budget to boot.
The traditional “6th Street” bar crawl is unmissable. The venues are all uniquely themed creating spontaneous and unforgettable atmosphere as the sun goes down.
You’re just as likely to catch the bartender who served you that St. Arnold’s Rodeo Clown IPA the night before as a spontaneous low-key Chris Stapleton gig in his favourite bar.
Austin’s venues and music scene are truly authentic and a far cry from formulaic Nashville.
It will be a struggle to find only one show or bar you want to visit each night and shows are usually accessible for a small door-cover.
You should stay near Downtown if you can but if that option isn’t for you then head South or Southwest of town for your digs.
The terrain becomes increasingly dramatic and you really begin to feel like you are getting deeper into “Texas” — the Hill Country comes alive as you roll towards San Marcos.
You will still be well within shouting distance of the city and can service those food cravings at local favourites like Slab, Little Ola’s, and the East Side Tamale House – run by the Vasquez family for four generations.
When it comes to golf courses in Austin that you can play, you are spoilt for choice:
Avery Ranch Golf Club is a fantastic layout, set amongst the dramatic hills with wonderful views, smart bunkering, meandering streams, creeks and generous fairways.
The green complexes are particularly fun with rarely a flat look at an out-of-position birdie.
The budget here is similar to Dallas.
You can get 3 days of quality golf squeezed in for less than $150.
Like Dallas, more exclusive clubs such as Austin Country Club of recent WGC Matchplay fame or Barton Creek (a sublime Fazio design) will require a member to help get you on.
If you do get the opportunity to play Austin Country Club the holes along Lake Austin, underneath the picturesque Pennybacker Bridge, are a spectacular display of risk-reward architecture and bring an air of links golf to hill country.
Now that you’ve eaten your fill of BBQ, tacos, tamales, and biscuits, recovered from your 6th street fun and had enough of the gorgeous hill country golf courses – head down to San Antonio.
If you are travelling in the late spring or summer you must stop in New Braunfels for one night.
I cannot stress this enough, you must stop in New Braunfels.
This spectacular corner of Guadalupe County is famous for “floating the river” which is exactly what it sounds like.
You rent inner tubes, grab an extra one for the cooler and set yourself free on what will truly be the most relaxing, soothing and authentically Texan hours of your life.
Floating The River is as Texas as it gets.
It is hard to describe the zen one can achieve sitting in an inflatable rubber donut, holding a cold beer, as your feet drag through the cool water of the slowly winding Guadalupe river.
Intermittently you’ll cross a few little rapids, so keep an eye on that beer chest!
The drive from New Braunfels to San Antonio is a fairly short one, running you all of 35 minutes before you find yourself in the last stronghold before the border country.
The City of San Antonio, as it likes to be officially known, is rich with a strong colonial history dating back to 1718 when it first became a Spanish mission — and the first municipality in what would come to be Texas.
Long under the thumb of the Spanish Empire and then the Mexican Republic, San Antonio has forever been a place where you can almost feel “freedom” and “independence” on the air if you pay enough attention – an independence famously won at The Alamo.
Legendary American heroes Davy Crocket, Jim Bowie, and William Travis and their revolutionaries held out against the entire Mexican Army for 13 days.
Though they were defeated, their heroics directly inspired a decisive victory at the Battle of San Jacinto just 5 weeks later — Texas won its final independence in just 18 minutes.
But enough history, right?
The food and fun in San Antonio is well worth the drive.
Head to the River Walk for a more refined crawl than perhaps 6th Street offers, set along the San Antonio River and gently meandering through the city.
At some point, you might want to venture off the beaten track for your eats and drinks as you’ll find more authentic local food, secluded watering holes and lighter prices elsewhere. The River Walk does claim to be the No.1 visitor attraction in Texas and the prices reflect its popularity.
A few recommendations could be Tlahco Mexican Kitchen, Pancake Joe’s, and Pinch Boil House.
Remember, when you’re looking for great Mexican food and the menus are in Spanish – you’re in the right place. You can never go wrong with street tacos.
Pinch Boil House will give you a chance, depending on the time of year and crawfish season, to experience something exquisitely and tantalisingly southern — the crawfish/seafood boil.
Suck the heads if you want to but don’t feel pressured. You either love it, or hate it.
With golf here in San Antonio, just like Dallas and Austin, you’re absolutely spoiled for choice and the budget is the same or near enough; you can easily find three days of quality golf on quality courses for $175 or less.
All three are exceptional value recognised in TexasOutside’s with 9.0+ point ratings.
The golf will be similar to Austin, though the dramatic edges of the hill country are softer in San Antonio and you’ll find more rolling hillside golf than sudden elevation changes.
Fairways typically meander around complex bunkering with a mixture of waste areas and the odd cactus and greens protect themselves with clever ridges and sectioning.
It will also be hot, especially if you’re travelling between the end of April and October, so be sure to keep plenty of water in those ice chests.
Additionally, like all golf courses in Central and East Texas, and many in Florida and other parts of the southern United States, you’ll likely encounter Bermuda greens.
This is a superb grass to play on, though they have various severities of grain which will require your attention.
Quick Tip: if the grass has a shine to it you’re looking downgrain, whereas if the grass appears darker you’re looking into the grain. Downgrain putts are much quicker, and break less, than putts into the grain.
Now channel your inner Davy Crocket, get yourself some fresh calfskin boots and free yourself from the Resort Republic!
Texas is a wide-open road waiting for you to explore it.
Feel free to leave the coonskin hats and the spurs at home, though.
James W.E Glenn is a plus handicap amateur from Texas, now living in North East England. He played college golf in the USA and UK, competed professionally on the EuroPro Tour and now works in media and digital marketing.