HORSESHOE BAY, Texas — The Texas Hill Country west of Austin and north of San Antonio is chock full of golf, and the epicenter of the game is in a little town on the shores of Lake LBJ, Horseshoe Bay.
This community has a major golf jones: In addition to three private, 18-hole resort courses at Horseshoe Bay Resort, next door is the exclusive Escondido Golf & Lake Club and Summit Rock, Horseshoe Bay's members-only layout designed by Jack Nicklaus. Toss in the casual, nine-hole Blue Lake Golf Club that serves residents and an all-grass putting course at the resort for good measure. For a town of only about 4,000 residents, that's a pretty hefty fairways-per-person ratio.
If a recent nine-figure investment by Horseshoe Bay Resort is any indication, this is a place where golf is alive and well - and better than ever.
Over the past two years, the property has undergone a $100 million enhancement that touched virtually every part of the hotel tower, amenities and golf courses. The final phase, set to be completed this fall, is the total reconstruction of an expanded Cap Rock clubhouse (which burned down in 2011). It is the centerpiece of the village that serves Ram Rock and Apple Rock golf courses and will also have its own pool, conference and locker rooms and dining.
The result of the ambitious project is a Hill Country golf getaway accessible to Texas Triangle residents that has a slew of activities and amenities ideal for families as well as a strong enough golf and bar product for buddies trips. It's a popular second-home option for nearby Dallas and Houston residents, but also widens its net nationally with its own private runway and airport. But even though high-rollers can certainty get their privacy and amenities here, the area has a wonderfully mixed vibe with homes and condos for any budget, and resort-goers can find good bang for their buck here compared to other luxury golf resorts in San Antonio and Austin.
Golf at Horseshoe Bay Resort
Three Robert Trent Jones Sr. designs, available only to members and resort guests, beckon at Horseshoe Bay Resort. The headliner is Ram Rock, which has held a reputation since its opening in 1981 as one of the state's most difficult courses. After a beautiful, downhill opening par 4, several challenging shots await. Par 3s, such as the 220-yard 8th are long and require all carry with little forgiveness. Several holes, like the 2nd and several on the back nine, dogleg left while the grading of the fairway tilts right. In the middle of the round, the routing foregoes the more undulating and open terrain for a shady and low-lying section along the southwest side of the property that requires precision, like the par-5 9th, a narrow dogleg left. Golfers with a long and high right-to-left ball flight will want to double-down on their bets here.
Ram Rock may be the most well-known course at Horseshoe Bay due to its infamous reputation and past as an elite amateur tournament venue. But it's Apple Rock that should be at the top of the pecking order for most golfers who stay and play at Horseshoe Bay. It's the newest of the three RTJ designs and also the most improved thanks to the renovation project. The greens had severely shrunk over time, and now the new 007 Bentgrass putting surfaces are large and more receptive to approach shots. It also has the most Lake LBJ scenery of any Horseshoe Bay-area course.
The highlight of the round is the opening stretch of the back nine. A dazzling elevated tee on the par-5 10th hole overlooking the lake is followed by another par 5 on the 11th which culminates near the shores. Then, it's time for a par 3 shot over the lake. Several more benign par 4s give golfers a chance to score well before a long par 3 and uphill par 4 culminate the round.
The Cap Rock's clubhouse's elevated perch that showcases long Hill Country and lake views means one thing for the finishing hole at both Ram Rock and Apple Rock: Uphill finishing stretches. Save a little gas in the tank for each.
The resort's original Slick Rock course is located at its own facility closer to the hotel and carries a strong member vibe. It's the most traditional of the courses and a good warm-up or replay option. It's also a good spot for resort-goers looking for a casual lunch that is quieter than the more bustling resort.
Horseshoe Bay Resort amenities off the golf course
Prior to Cap Rock's reopening this fall, there are already two excellent hangout spots at Horseshoe Bay Resort that got better as a result of the renovation
My family thoroughly enjoyed a leisurely arrival day afternoon spent at the Yacht Club on a sunny summer Sunday. It has a great vibe and it seemed that there was a little corner of the place for everyone. There's a small beach area on the lake were small kids dug sandcastles, while parents hung out by the open-air bar, and teenagers had found a sunny nook behind some rocks where they could be away from their parents. There are two pools, plus one of the coolest hot tubs I've ever seen.
Back at the base of the hotel tower, waterfalls and palm trees accent a natural-grass Whitewater Putting Course. It surrounds their new bar concept, Whitewater 360 Sports Club, which has an octagon-shaped bar in the center with plenty of TVs to watch the games. Floor-to-ceiling windows show off the putting course and will lure your group onto the tee. Post-golf, this is the place to come for cocktails, a casual meal or apps and a nighttime putting loop with family or friends.
An ace in the hole for parents here is the kids programming at the resort anchored by the Jungle Kids Club. It's a fun and active hang with games to play and gym equipment to climb. It offers a nightly kids happy hour from 5-9 that has pizza and activities. My wife and I left our daughter there for the evening so we could play nine holes followed by a sunset dinner on the lake at the Waterfront Bar & Grill.
Lodging at Horseshoe Bay Resort
You can name your size at Horseshoe Bay Resort for lodging. The tower at Horseshoe Bay features 400 modernized guest rooms. Or, choose from 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom Palm Villas, or get a full house rental through the resort.
Editor's Note: We visited Horseshoe Bay in the summer of 2019. The resort is scheduled to reopen following a temporary suspension of operations due to COVID-19 on May 29, 2020. For the most up-to-date resort operations as a result of COVID-19 safety, visit their resort website.