HORSESHOE BAY, Texas — By now we all know that everything in Texas tends to be large in stature.
Horseshoe Bay Resort, though, which borders Marble Falls and is located about 55 miles northwest of Austin, has operated since 1971 with a relatively low profile.
While Jack Nicklaus designed Summit Rock, which opened in 2012 as a private club and is rarely made available to resort guests, the resort's core courses were designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. He’s the late father of today’s prominent architects Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Rees Jones, who gained the moniker of "the Open Doctor" for his frequent calls to get courses ready to host major championships.
Jones designed Slick Rock, Ram Rock and Apple Rock, the latter two operated together under the title of Cap Rock.
There’s a lot of rocks, to be sure, and nobody could quite explain why. What was explained in detail by Holder and director of agronomy Ken Gorzycki was the ambitious plans the resort ownership has for the immediate future. Holder said the golf aspects of an overall $70 million renovation should be completed by July.
"Our goal is to be the No. 1 golf resort in the state of Texas, and eventually expanding that to the nation," said Holder. "With that comes the updating of your facilities, making sure we can deliver. Our ownership has put a wad of money into all the touching points."
Holder grew up in Dallas before spending 14 years at prominent California destinations Mission Hills, Indian Wells and PGA West. He’s been at Horseshoe Bay just a year and is already caught up in the enthusiasm for what’s been happening.
Horseshoe Bay has basically had just two owners. Norman Hurd and his cousin, Wayne, got the resort started in 1971. In the mid-1990s, Morris D. Jaffe took over as owner and he more recently has gotten an investment partner, IBC Bank. The partnership enabled all the upgrades to be tackled in relatively short order.
Slick Rock, which was the first of the four courses, is the most user friendly and most heavily played of the courses. It also has the resort’s most famous hole — the par-4 14th which plays anywhere from 236 to 361 yards. This eye-catcher is called "the Million Dollar Hole" because of the elaborate 35-yard waterfall that greets players at the tee. Golfers have to clear the waterfall with their drives, then get to see the attraction up close when they drive to their approach shots.
The renovation of Slick Rock was completed in spring 2016. The renovation of Ram Rock, the second course to open at the resort in 1981, was a $3 million project and required the most work. It was completed in May.
"[Ram Rock] was our least-desired golf course because it was so hard, the greens were small and it was heavily bunkered,’’ said Gorzycki. "It was considered the hardest golf course in the state, and we made changes to make it more playable for higher handicap players. Those changes have been extremely well received."
As part of all three renovations, the greens' Bermuda grass was replaced by 007 bentgrass, and diamond zoysia collars were installed to keep Bermuda from creeping into the bentgrass. Because of the Bermuda's invasion, the greens at both Ram Rock and Apple Rock had been shrinking dramatically.
"A lot of greens had no hole locations left," said Gorzycki.
While the greens were being expanded, the bunkers were restored to the size and appearance that Jones originally created. To make sure of that, Robert Trent Jones Jr., son of the original architect, was involved in the renovation.
"He helped us with the process to maintain the integrity of his Dad’s designs," said Gorzycki. Austin design consultant Mark Voss was also involved in the process.
Jones Sr. was an architect well ahead of his time. His work at Horseshoe Bay is a testament to that.
Apple Rock, the prettiest of the Jones courses, opened in 1986 and has the best water views. Lake LBJ — named for former President Lyndon B. Johnson — impacts the layout at the 11th and 12th holes.
Like Ram Rock, the putting surfaces were expanded. When the renovation began the course had less than 65,000 square feet of greens. When it re-opens it’ll have up to 87,000 — slightly more than Ram Rock’s 84,000. The in-process $2.5 million renovation is to be completed by May.
When Apple Rock opened, it was selected the No. 1 new resort course in the nation by Golf Digest. That came in the heart of the golf boom, so the accomplishment was particularly noteworthy. Summit was similarly honored, but the boom had subsided by then and only two or three other courses were considered for the honor.
Horseshoe Bay also has the impressive 18-hole Whitewater Putting Course, which surrounds 360 Sports Bar. It’s all grass and is set apart from other such courses in that the scorecards give measurements to each hole in yards, not feet. The whole course is 1,712 yards, so some putts are obviously really long.
“The ownership sees the potential of this area and wanted to sink its teeth into it, to see how far it can go,” said Holder. “Not a lot of properties can offer the array of amenities that we can. This opportunity has a lot of upside, and they have seen a return on their investment so far.”
Horseshoe Bay Resort
Location: Horseshoe Bay, Texas
Phone: 877.611.0112, general information; 830.598.6561, Apple Rock and Ram Rock courses; 830.598.2561, Slick Rock; 830.598.3909, Whitewater Putting Course.
Golf policy: Only resort guests can play Apple Rock, Ram Rock and Slick Rock. The private Summit Rock is occasionally available for resort guests. Green fees vary by the season, but the basic prime time rate is $150.
Facebook: @Horseshoe Bay Resort