Deep in the heart of Texas


Deep in the heart of Texas
Sean Dudley

Tom Mackin visits the new TPC San Antonio course, venue for this week's Texas Open.

The PGA tour will play 11 TPC courses in the United States during the 2010 season, but only one will be completely new: the TPC San Antonio, which opened this past January and hosts the Valero Texas Open this week. 

The Greg Norman design is located 30 minutes north of downtown and part of a massive facility owned by Miller Global Properties, the centrepiece being the world’s largest JW Marriott hotel (with 1,002 rooms). There is also the Canyons Course by Pete Dye, which is line to host a Champion Tour event, but the spotlight will fall first on the par 72, 7,435-yard Oaks Course.

Scott Henshaw, senior design associate at Norman’s company, describes the course as one built from the outside-in, or down-and-in, rather than from the pro tees forward. “The most important consideration was preservation of the oldest and most spectacular stands of live oaks and native plants, and protection of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone,” he says. “We adjusted the routing in the field as the clearing progressed in order to save the most valuable Hill Country vegetation regardless of the pro tee locations shown on our drawings.”

According to Henshaw, the original design called for wider clearing to accommodate the 20 inch thick clay and sand fairway cap (twelve inches of impermeable clay to protect the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone followed by eight of sand for the turfgrass rootzone). “Our intent was to minimise excavation of the limestone substrate by capping on top of the limestone and gradually sloping down to existing grade along each side of the clearing limits with runoff containment on the edges.”

“The fairways were cut into the limestone substrate to accommodate the 20-inch cap, contain and capture runoff to protect the aquifer, and preserve the narrow tree-lined corridors,” he added. “Greens were capped with about three feet of clay to allow for installation of the root zone mix and sub-drainage without penetrating the twelve inch clay barrier. Rock excavation was performed by a combination of blasting, ripping with D10 and D11 bulldozers, and shaping with D8 and D6 bulldozers. Many of the ripped fairways were excavated no more than 18-24 inches. On the other hand, some of the green sites were blasted as deep as 10-12 feet to accommodate deep greenside bunkers and collection areas. The average depth of excavation across the course was probably closer to three feet.”

In a supporting role as player consultant, Sergio Garcia visited the site twice during construction, specifically providing feedback for pin areas on both the par four twelfth and the par three sixteenth (which has a bunker in the middle, a la the sixth at Riviera Country Club) along with shaping of green contours on both the latter and the par five eighteenth hole. “He offered substantive comments and recommendations throughout the course and advised us on course playability and difficulty for the Texas Open,” added Henshaw.

Although Norman’s firm has used various bunker styles across some 70 projects, the minimalist versions used here stand out, reinforcing the “rugged character of the site with an equally rough and jagged bunker style,” says Henshaw, who points to a similar style used in the company’s work at Stone Canyon Golf Club in Independence, Missouri.

The course now joins the TPC Sugarloaf (Georgia), Mayakoba (Mexico), Tiburón Golf Club (Florida), and the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai as Norman designs to host professional tournaments. 

It also adds to an impressive roster of courses in San Antonio, which includes Brackenridge (an AW Tillinghast design from 1916 beautifully restored in 2008 by Texas-based architect John Colligan), two courses at the Westin LaCantera (host of the PGA Tour from 1995 to 2009), Pecan Valley (site of the 1968 PGA Championship), and Briggs Ranch Golf Club (venue for the 2012 US Women’s Mid-Amateur).

Tom Mackin is a US golf journalist