AUSTIN, Texas -- Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa is a golf getaway in the Lone Star state that's loaded with golf courses you won't forget. But just imagine how this land, west of downtown Austin, was 150 years ago.
Spring-fed Barton Creek served as a rest stop on a dusty trail for settlers, ranchers and cattle heading to the railhead in Austin from 1866 to 1886 from Western counties.
The water was cool and thirsty longhorns stopped to refuel and rest under live oaks, madrone, redbud, elm, cedar, pecan, cottonwood and hackberry trees and lay on grasses of wild grama and bluestem.
Today that landscape includes limestone cliffs, thick foliage and the beautiful creek that snakes through and recharges the Edwards Aquifer.
In 1986 Barton Creek Resort & Spa opened the first Tom Fazio-designed course in Texas, now named the Fazio Foothills, and added a second in 1999 to become the only resort in state with two Tom Fazio courses.
It also has golf courses designed by Austin native Ben Crenshaw (Crenshaw Cliffside, added in 1991) and Arnold Palmer (Palmer Lakeside, added in 1986), which is 25 miles away.
Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa: The beginning
The resort's doors officially opened Sept. 5, 1987, with former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson in attendance for the grand opening. The vision of an upscale country club was shared and aided by former Texas Gov. John Connolly and former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes.
Golfers from around the globe got introduced to its beauty when the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf was televised, making Barton Creek an even more popular travel golf destination.
Legendary University of Texas football coach Darrel Royal was a founding member and was often seen drinking his morning coffee in the lobby enjoying the day's newspaper. The ballroom is named in his honor. President George W. Bush often said Barton Creek was his favorite place to play, and his dad also teed it up here, as have Willie Nelson and Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell.
The golf courses at Barton Creek
Barton Creek's Fazio Foothills golf course has waterfalls, dramatic elevation changes, hills, knobs, rock-filled grottos, green-side mounds, smallish greens and panoramas of awesome limestone-rock houses that look like small hotels.
At 7,125 yards and par 72, Foothills "greens up" earlier in the season and stays green later into the fall, giving golfers a more consistent, dense playing surface.
Fazio ended the front nine with a dramatic water and rock-strewn par 3, which Chi Chi Rodriquez once aced during the Champions Tour's Legends of Golf Tournament, held for nearly a decade here. This hole might just be your favorite.
The par-4 10th hole features an elevated tee 100 feet above the fairway. There are several back-nine holes hugging the edge of a huge canyon. The par-4 16th is annually voted as one of the most scenic in the state with a tree-lined fairway and the green guarded by water on three sides. The finale travels uphill 546 yards toward the hotel and features a bat cave and approach to an elevated green over an area hard to recover from.
The 7,153-yard, par-72 Fazio Canyons Course is a special award-winner located a couple of miles from the hotel. Holes are lined with red oaks and sycamore trees and feature views of Short Springs Branch, a beautiful limestone bed creek that flows throughout the course. The 561-yard, par-5 finishing hole is a downhill beauty.
Canyons also gives the golfer a feeling of solitude more than Foothills -- such as the par-3 no. 3, a 173-yard shot into a box canyon with Short Springs Branch Creek trickling down the right border. The green is quick and tricky, and the flinty hillside surrounds you creating echoes in the silence.
The par-4 no. 9 features an unsettling tee shot and plays uphill 457 yards to earn the no. 1-handicap rating. If the length isn't enough challenge for you, anything hit right will find water, which is clearly in view from the tee, cascading down and glimmering in the sunlight, the entire distance of the hole.
You will need to be a short-game wizard to deal with the slick greens on the Crenshaw Cliffside Course, which was co-designed by Bill Coore.
The design duo focused on the natural beauty of the Texas Hill Country, weaving fairways through hills, putting greens on natural plateaus, and blending it with native vegetation.
"We believe the best architect is nature and the best players' courses make good use of the natural terrain," Crenshaw said. "We let the land dictate the routing rather than imposing ourselves on the landscape."
As Crenshaw is an enthusiastic historian, it makes sense that this course also draws from traditional layouts of golf's history. Golfers enjoy broad, rolling fairways and widely varied green sizes -- a tribute to the way the game was once played.
They will experience their biggest challenge from the large, undulating putting surfaces. The low handicap player will be challenged with positioning the ball at the most advantageous point for an approach putt, and the average golfer will attempt to use the natural slopes to aid an approach shot.
The Palmer Lakeside Course at Barton Creek rolls out to 6,407 yards at par 71 and is located on a secluded hilltop overlooking Lake Travis. Big hitters will like the wide-open fairways, and novices will like the signature 11th hole, a par 3, featuring a cascading waterfall. Strike a draw on the 13th, a par-4 dogleg left with a sloping fairway.
As a resort guest, keep in mind that Barton Creek has a large membership, and they get preferred tee times.
You won't regret your visit. This is a special place.