By MIKE BAILEY
HORSESHOE BAY, Texas – Laid out among 7,000 scenic acres, Horseshoe Bay Resort is among the largest resorts in America. Opened 52 years ago, this Texas Hill Country destination continues to evolve. My recent trip exemplified that point.
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Horseshoe Bay Resort, located less than an hour from the capital city of Austin, many times over the years, and it’s always been an enjoyable and unique experience. From the golf courses to the dining to maybe taking a sunset cruise on constant-level Lake LBJ or watching your favorite teams on the big screens in the Whitewater 360 sports bar, it’s always a good time.
My most recent stay there, however, included some new activities that certainly stood out and added to the essence that is Horseshoe Bay, a AAA Four Diamond resort and the certainly the best waterfront golf resort in the Lone Star state. It even has its own airport with runways long enough to land a commercial jet.
This trip included a special golf exhibition, some golf of our own, great food, and a chance to do something that turned out to be way more exhilarating than I thought it was going to be.
To start with, there was the aforementioned special event — The Shootout at Horseshoe Bay, which involved four local tour players who represent the resort, in a little 10-hole competition. It was played at Horseshoe Bay’s most exclusive course, Summit Rock, a signature Jack Nicklaus design with incredible views of Lake Travis and the surrounding countryside below. The two-person, better-ball stroke-play event (which picked up where it left off a few years ago before the pandemic), pitted PGA Tour player Nick Watney and former LPGA star and Solheim Cup Gerina Mendoza against current PGA Tour Champions member Bob Estes and Angela Stanford, whose long LPGA career includes winning a major, The Evian Championship in 2019.
Watching this exhibition only reinforced for me the level of a tour player’s skills compared to the rest of us. Mendoza shot 4-under on her own ball as she and partner Watney held on for a one-stroke victory over Estes and Stanford.
Unfortunately, Summit Rock is only open to the top tier of members at Horseshoe Bay. But if you get a chance to play it with a member, jump on it. I truly believe it’s one of Jack Nicklaus’ most playable and gorgeous layouts, and it’s built on the highest point of the property.
Much of the rest of my experience at Horseshoe Bay is open to any resort guest. It included golf on the other three courses — the original Slick Rock Course, Apple Rock, and Ram Rock, the last of which has always been one of the toughest in Texas and a prime spot for competitions such as the Texas Open, which was revived in 1975 and played at Horseshoe Bay until 1981. Two-time Masters champion and former Ryder Cup Captain Ben Crenshaw would win that first one — beating out his Austin rival, Tom Kite — as well as two other times at Horseshoe Bay, helping to launch his World Golf Hall of Fame career.
Ram Rock, as well as the other two courses, were designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. They have all undergone recent renovations. Apple Rock is probably the most scenic, Slick Rock is considered the easiest. Slick is also home to the “Million Dollar Hole,” which is the short par-4 14th. The tee shot plays over a bridge with an intrinsic waterfall flowing beneath it. The shot looks more intimidating than it is, and it’s easy to get mesmerized by the beauty of the whole thing. In fact, it’s not uncommon to experience a delay there because visiting golfers love to take lots of photos.
That aside, all three courses are a joy to play, and you’ll never get bored playing golf at Horseshoe Bay. There’s also the Whitewater Putting Course, which is all natural grass and a lot of fun, especially with a couple of beverages and some trash talking with your buddies
The resort has, in fact, spent more than $100 million on property-wide improvements and renovations in recent years. The work has included renovation and additions of guest rooms and suites, meeting spaces, and dining facilities. And there’s also a great spa and health club, tennis and new pickleball facilities, bike rentals, hiking trails and a full-service lake marina and boat valet service.
And now there’s something called the “Bronco Off-Roadeo” at Grey Wolf Ranch.
Formerly open only to new Ford Bronco owners, you can now book this experience through the resort, no matter what you drive. First off, this beautiful facility offers food and information about the new Broncos, which are pretty sophisticated with their advanced four-wheel drive ability and suspension systems. The tires on those monsters can grip most anything, which we found at firsthand as part of a three miles off-road tour over a course that included mud, streams and wet, rocky slopes. With our guides’ expert direction, we were able to pilot these machines through some pretty hairy situations. At one point, while climbing a particularly rugged stretch I had two wheels off the ground with the nose pointed to the sky, akin to doing a power-on stall in an airplane. It was an Adrenaline rush to say the least, and pretty remarkable considering we rarely went more than 3 mph.
Finally, in addition to the all the terrific dining throughout the resort, we got to check out Horseshoe Bay’s newly renovated Waterfront Bar and Grill, which is located next to the marina. Formerly only during lake season, it offers both indoor and outdoor dining with a revamped imaginative menu and newly remodeled interior. The food there is outstanding, and includes from great apps to fresh seafood, steaks, and some really imaginative craft cocktails. Because the Yacht Club at Horseshoe Bay is now open only to members, this is an especially attractive option for resort guests with its views and service, but of course there are still lots of other options as well, including J’s Restaurant at the hotel and the excellent eateries at the golf course clubhouses.
(Mike Bailey is a Travel Editor for Pro Golf Weekly)