HORSESHOE BAY, Texas - The $100-million transformation at Horseshoe Bay Resort is mostly complete.
The 7,000-acre resort and community is ready to become a national destination - instead of just a drive-in getaway for Texans - that attracts golfers willing to fly in from anywhere. Competing with the Pinehursts and Kohlers of the world isn't easy, but Horseshoe Bay now has the pieces in place to do it.
The AAA-Four Diamond resort's biggest advantage is a beautiful location on the shores of Lake LBJ in the Texas Hill Country just 45 minutes outside of Austin, one of America's hottest cities when it comes to tourism, real estate, cowboy and college culture, tech and population growth. The resort's the perfect mix of land and water. While the four golf courses ride the gorgeous hills of the region, the levels of the lake stay constant, which is a big deal considering the ongoing drought impacting the entire Southwest and West Coast.
Boat ride or cart ride? That's the toughest decision people have to make visiting Horseshoe Bay. Well, that, and figuring out where to eat. With so many different components to the resort - a yacht club, a private golf club, two other golf resort clubhouses, a resort tower hotel surrounded by condos - there's a lot to digest here.
The Golf Courses at Horseshoe Bay Resort
Having 72 holes gives Horseshoe Bay the ideal mix of places to play. All four courses - Apple Rock, Slick Rock, Ram Rock and Summit Rock - have benefited from recent upgrades and improvements. The only bummer is the headliner, Summit Rock, is completely private, while the other three are only open to members and resort guests.
Summit Rock glides across the highest plateaus of the property, serving up inspiring views and engaging golf. Its conditions are generally mint, and the completion of a new clubhouse next year will tempt more than a few golfers into joining.
Resort golfers will feel like Goldilocks choosing among the other three Robert Trent Jones Sr. designs. They can tee up a course made for Papa Bear (Ram Rock is the hardest), Momma Bear (Apple Rock is the prettiest) or Baby Bear (Slick Rock is just right).
Slick Rock is the oldest (1972) and by default the most traditional. It's enjoyable every step of the way with a big splash of bling that fits right into today's Instagram world. No. 14, nicknamed the "Million Dollar Hole", showcases a giant, tiered waterfall cascading in front of the tee. It's not really in play unless somebody really skunks one. It's just a nice distraction.
Apple Rock, the newest of the three (1985) that was renovated by RTJ Jr. in 2019, interacts with the lake most prominently. The elevated tee boxes at 10 seems to overlook the entire resort community. No. 12, a sneaky tough par 3, plays over an lake inlet surrounded by large homes. Water lurks on six other holes, so it's no pushover.
Ram Rock, which debuted in 1981 but was renovated by RTJ Jr. in 2018, is the tournament track of the trio, having hosted the Texas Open multiple times. It has the most bunkers (59) and the resort's only island green at the par-3 fourth. Eight of the final 12 holes require shot-making over or around water hazards and rocky pits guarding the greens.
Life Off The Course at Horseshoe Bay
The hub of the resort is the tower hotel with completely revamped rooms. Mine was bigger than my bedroom at home with a nice balcony. J's Restaurant and Bar downstairs off the main lobby serves a breakfast buffet in the morning, along with lunch and dinner.
All the dining concepts have been revamped and the resort takes its food seriously with the chefs battling for bragging rights each year at the Wine & Dine Festival. Guests are just the lucky ones who get spoiled by the rivalry.
Elegant dinners can be had at the Yacht Club, which serves the resort's most interesting dish - chicken-fried lobster, the ultimate mix of comfort food with a luxurious taste.
The impressive award-winning Cap Rock Clubhouse debuted in July 2021, serving the Ram Rock and Apple Rock courses with seasonal upscale and casual indoor and outdoor patio dining areas, a cocktail lounge, meeting space and an inviting pool cabana area. Three large rock-spire sculptures separate the entry, bar and dining room with boldly designed rock-adorned fireplaces. The entire facility was built as a village concept with a pro shop and pavilion all connected by an outdoor walkway.
The Whitewater 360 Sports Club tends to be the best gathering spot at night, especially for golfers and conference attendees. It's the best sports bar I've come across in my golf travels. TVs surround a circular bar, providing good viewing from every angle. Outside is the 18-hole all-grass Whitewater Putting Course that's lit for night play. This isn't just a kid's putt-putt. It's a difficult test for even the best of putters. I encourage your group to settle any bets playing it.
One afternoon, we charted a boat ride around LBJ from the resort's marina. It was a nice fall day in the middle of the week, so no other boats were out on the water to bother us. Part of the fun of cruising the lake is trying to find the most expensive mansion and daydreaming that someday you'll buy it. The marina offers rentals of all types - kayaks, paddle boards, ski boats and pontoons - whether it's fishing or water sports you're into.
I spent five nights and still didn't have enough time to see all that the resort offers - the 14 tennis courts, bike rentals, hiking trails, the floating water park set up on the lake in summer, the spa and the nearby wineries. Horseshoe Bay isn't just a vacation escape to the golf course or the lake. It's a place I'd love to live. That is the highest compliment I can give. For most of us, one weekend tasting the good life is the best we can do.