COLUMBUS, Texas -- There's a new high-end sporting club in southeastern Texas, and premium golf is part of it.
The new Big Easy Ranch -- located about 70 miles west of Houston, 120 miles east of San Antonio and 80 miles southeast of Austin -- features the best in hunting, fishing, dining and golf, including the Hal Sutton Golf Academy and a par-3 course that measures up with anything in the country.
In fact, the new, 1,570-yard course, which opened earlier this year, is designed by Chet Williams, the same architect who not only created the no. 1-ranked course in Texas -- Whispering Pines Golf Club in Trinity -- but Whispering Pines' par-3 Needler Course as well.
Although the par-3 Whispering Pines and Big Easy Ranch's golf course are very different, they're easily the two best par-3 golf courses in Texas and among the finest short courses in the country.
The one at Whispering Pines has a little more of a sand hills look to it, while Big Easy Ranch might be a little more reminiscent of Augusta National with its exceptional conditioning. In fact, one of the holes at Big Easy Ranch is a close cousin of the par-3 12th at Augusta.
Big Easy Ranch: The "right club"
Big Easy Ranch is owned by longtime Houston oil and gas executive Billy Brown, the president, CEO and founder of BlackHawk Specalty Tools. Like many outdoor enthusiasts, Brown used to come to this property to hunt -- often with clients -- and in 2010, he bought the 1,300 acres of wetlands and rolling hills located just outside of Columbus. Today, the Ranch features wetlands, grasslands and forest, where a variety of fowl and hundreds of exotic deer, many of them bred on property, flourish.
The name is derived from Brown's roots in Houma, La., which is less than 60 miles from the "Big Easy" city of New Orleans. Sutton, who is managing partner, is from Shreveport, La., and Big Easy Ranch not only reflects their Louisiana and Cajun culture but uses the catch phrase Sutton is still known for today:
"Be the right club today," Sutton said as he rifled his six-iron approach to the flag on the 18th hole at The Players Championship in 2000 to beat Tiger Woods.
Indeed, for hunters who like to golf or vice-versa, Big Easy Ranch is the "right club today," said Brown. And Sutton calls it the "ultimate man cave," although it should be noted that women are welcome as well.
"We think this might be the finest sporting club in the South," Brown said.
A different golf academy
But while golf is a small part of the experience at Big Easy Ranch, it's significant in a number of ways. Besides providing a quality par-3 experience that rivals most 18-hole regulation courses (you can play this over and over again from different tees and never get bored), the Hal Sutton Golf Academy offers something not found at most golf schools -- the wisdom and experience of a player who spent 35 years playing at a high level.
Sutton, who won the U.S. Amateur in 1979, played on four Ryder Cup teams (1985, 1987, 1999, 2002), is a former Ryder Cup captain (2005), and he won the 1983 PGA Championship at Riviera when he outdueled Jack Nicklaus to win by a stroke. Sutton, who plans to enlist renowned teacher Randy Sonnier to help with his golf schools, has a different approach when it comes to teaching his students. Here's part of what it says on the back of Big Easy Ranch's scorecard:
"At Hal Sutton Golf, we believe your individuality is your greatest asset, and your swing is your signature on the game. Come join us in our relentless search for the truth and a better way to learn the game."
In other words, Sutton isn't interested in teaching students a perfect swing but, rather, how to play the game to their best of their abilities. It involves feel and watching ball flight, not computer evaluations of spin rate, path and launch angles.
"In the old days, the players were the teachers," said Sutton, who will employ playing lessons as part of his stay-and-play schools. "We're going to make a difference in the game."
Although the club has a limited membership (initiation starts at $25,000 for an individual), the Hal Sutton Golf Academy is also open to nonmembers, who will not only get use of the expansive practice facilities at Big Easy Ranch, but the course as well.
Accommodations are provided in luxury five-, four-, and two-bedroom cabins, complete with full kitchens. And guests can also enjoy the fine dining and hospitality at the 10,000-square-foot Lodge, which includes the pro shop, pool tables, shuffleboard, a locker room and a fire pit.
Future amenities at Big Easy Ranch include a 12-acre lake currently being constructed behind the lodge, a swimming pool and a spa. For more information, visit BigEasyRanch.com.