Ram Rock renovation balances challenge with playability

  • Ram Rock

    Ram Rock renovation balances challenge with playability

  • Ram Rock

    Latest course project is part of a comprehensive makeover of the Texas resort

  • Ram Rock

    Robert Trent Jones II renovated the course, and Patrick Reed hit the ceremonial tee shot

Toby Ingleton
By Toby Ingleton

The Ram Rock golf course at Horseshoe Bay Resort in Texas, USA, has been renovated by Robert Trent Jones II, as part of a $60 million makeover.

Slick Rock was the first of three public courses at Horseshoe Bay to be updated, with the Apple Rock course renovation expected to follow later this summer. Each was originally designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., and the resort also has a private course, Summit Rock, a Jack Nicklaus Signature design that opened in 2012.

GCA spoke with RTJ II’s senior project architect for the Ram Rock renovation, Mark Voss, to find out more about the project.

“Ram Rock has been recognized since its inception as one of the most challenging golf courses in Texas,” said Voss. “A key element of that challenge is the terrain – it’s located in the hill country outside Austin and there is significant elevation change. Fairways are bending, rising, falling; when the course was originally built, they didn’t move a lot of material, they just fit the routing on top of the landscape, which makes for a very interesting golf course.

“Placement off the tees is critical, balls run with the slopes, and Robert Trent Jones, Sr. – in his fashion – heavily defended the greens with bunkering and grass slopes – the greens have a lot of pitch in them, and over time had become small targets. And there was nowhere to miss.”

The resort’s brief to the RTJ II team was also to preserve the challenge, but make the course more enjoyable for the less-accomplished player.

“It was important for us that the golf course retain the same look and feel that Jones, Sr. had originally created,” said Voss. “But make subtle adjustments to expand pin position options on what had over time become very small, sloping greens, providing greater variety for playability and set up of the holes.”

Voss also oversaw a range of general improvements to the presentation of the course, including rebuilding and reshaping bunkers, which had lost their original form over 35-plus years since it first opened, and in some cases altering the positioning to make them more strategic. This also led to an overall reduction in sand area of approximately 40 percent.

“However, we increased the depth of the bunkers, so while the overall reduction means they are easier for players to avoid, they provide more of a challenge to get out of, as a hazard should,” said Voss.

Mowing lines were also adjusted, particularly around greens so there are new tightly-mown collection and chipping areas. “It gives people more variety for how they can play shots onto the putting surface,” said Voss. On the difficult par five seventh for example, where the narrow green is defended by a small lake and bunkering, almost all players were forced to lay up, the entrance to the newly expanded green has been opened up a little. “It plays very similarly to before, but there’s now just a little more enticement to go for the green. We wanted to provide people opportunities to challenge the course as opposed to really just being dictated to.”

The RTJ II team also introduced more width on the course, “to give lesser accomplished players a larger target area,” said Voss, and improved visibility of some hazards – such as a creek on the par three eighth – so that members and resort visitors can see the challenge ahead.

Voss also highlights that many of the quirks on the course were retained, such as at the thirteenth hole: “The first third of the putting green was basically a false front, of about 40 feet,” he said. “Balls landing in this portion of the green can roll 30 yards back down the fairway. We discussed whether it should become fairway, but in the end preserved this feature in the putting surface as it is a unique feature to the Ram Rock golf experience. The approach shot strategy will present itself as everyone is used to seeing. But we gently recontoured the putting surface to expand pin locations above and closer to the top of that false front.”

“Ram Rock is still going to play as Robert Trent Jones, Sr. originally designed.” Which is exactly what Horseshoe Bay Resort and Robert Trent Jones, II had in mind from the beginning of the project.

“It has been very rewarding to be part of the restoration work on this incredible collection of golf courses my father designed at Horseshoe Bay Resort,” said Robert Trent Jones, Jr., chairman and master architect for RTJ II, which has built more than 280 courses in 40 countries. “Ram Rock was intended to be the bully of the bunch, a stern test of golf, worthy of championship competition. Our mission was to refresh the golf course with a renovation that reflects the spirit of my father’s original design philosophies, and we were successful in breathing new life into a classic challenge in the Texas Hill Country.”

Construction work for the renovation was handled by Texas-based Professional Golf Services and the course reopened in May, with 2018 Masters champion and regular Horseshoe Bay Resort guest Patrick Reed hitting the ceremonial tee shot.