What's left of these famous old country clubs of Texas?

Not all Texas country clubs have had the steadfast history of Fort Worth's Colonial. But while some of these sites have been lost, others are now public and affordable.
Understandably, Glen Garden Golf & Country Club in Fort Worth is proud of its history.

Fort Worth's Colonial Country Club has been a stalwart on the PGA Tour schedule since 1946, and it represents a living link to the tradition of Texas golf. It was founded deep into the Great Recession in 1936, and it played host to the 1941 U.S. Open during World War II.

These days, it's the longest-standing venue on the PGA Tour, site of the Charles Schwab Challenge since 1946. Its "Hogan's Alley" reputation as a tactical, tree-lined test gives it a unique place in the Texas Swing.

Texas golf back in the 1930s-50s was an incredible time. The early golf clubs were humbler in nature compared to the Northeast and Midwest. But it bred legends like Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan, and Mickey Wright and Betsy Rawls in the women's game. Dan Jenkins became the game's elite columnist and the legend of Austin's Harvey Penick as an instruction guru emerged.

While Colonial has maintained the same location on the south bank of the Trinity River this whole time, not all of the well-known historic Texas clubs have been so steady. Some of the most reputable clubs over the years have moved locations, transitioned to municipal courses or closed all together. A growing population in the four Texas Triangle metros makes golf land highly valuable. One of its neighbors has been revamped into a whiskey distillery but with some of its course preserved, while another former major championship host is gone entirely.

Glen Garden Country Club (Whiskey Ranch), Fort Worth

A sunny day view of the clubhouse and a fairway at Whiskey Ranch.

About 10-15 minutes by car from Colonial, Glen Garden Country Club opened in 1912, the same year as the late greats Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan were born. Both of them, in fact, played a lot of their early golf at Glen Garden, as did former LPGA player Sandra Palmer. Originally designed by John Bredemus (who would later design Colonial with Perry Maxwell), it started as a nine-hole course with sand greens. Over the years it had gone through several incarnations but spent most of its history as a private club until opening to the public the last few years before the 6,200-yard par-71 course closed in 2014.

After 102 years, it appeared golf Glen Garden was done forever, but an emerging Texas distilling company, whose owners loved golf and needed more land for a larger operation, bought the property.

"When we learned about the history, we knew we had to put our new facility here," said Troy Robertson, who along with Leonard Firestone in 2010 founded Firestone and Robertston Distilling, which makes TX Whiskey. "And as golfers we loved the pastoral look of the place, and it suited what our vision was and this distillery."

Indeed, F&R Distilling saved the golf course. They've made a few modifications on the 112-acre Whiskey Ranch, where the history of the course lives on in a different form. They modified the old layout to make room for the distillery, Ranch House and visitors' center. The result is a 5,300-yard par 68 with three par 5s and seven par 3s. The course also has a few new holes, including the par-3 sixth, which features a bit of windswept look with natural Texas prairie grass.It's not open to the public per se, but the course as well as the facilities can be reserved for corporate or charity events, so there is limited availability to play it.

4 Min Read
November 17, 2017
The new Whiskey Ranch in Fort Worth has two of the things many golfers love -- golf history and plenty of fine bourbon.

Hancock: Austin Country Club's original location

The par-3 5th hole played over Waller Creek is a standout at Hancock Golf Course.

Austin Country Club, now the site of the WGC-Dell Match Play is one of the most reputable clubs in the state and dates back to 1899. But before it moved to its Pete Dye layout on the rugged west side, the club was located just north of downtown Austin in developer Lewis Hancock's newest neighborhood. A young Harvey Penick assumed the head pro position in 1923 and would ultimately elevate its status to one of the state's most reputable clubs. But in the 1920s, the new Lions Municipal Golf Course opened on the west side with grass greens and a better layout compared to ACC's primitive design and sand greens.

When members moved the course to the east side, the existing course was acquired by the city of Austin, which then chose to develop a large chunk of the northeast parcel into what is now a shopping center. As it stands today, what's left is a modest, 2,400-yard layout with an outdated, abridged routing (you can make out a few old teeing grounds as well). A pay station by the first tee was installed in 2018 making the course walking-only M-Th. A jogging trail encircles the course and many locals seem to think of the course as more of a general-use park than a golfing ground.

It's the least popular of the city's six muni courses these days and struggles to break even, but Hancock perseveres in one of the most prized neighborhoods of Austin. Every few years, there are rumblings about potential development, but unlike Lions, the city owns the land and appears committed to preserve the parkland.

One interesting nugget though: Hancock is getting a new neighbor. The historic Commodore Perry Estate, located right across the street from the club's entrance, was recently bought and will become the next luxury hotel from Auberge Resorts. Auberge has properties near such golf destinations as Hawaii's Mauna Lani, Colorado and Los Cabos. Would they see a vision to help co-invest in this park in some fashion and bring some of its charm back?

Built in 1901, the original Austin Country Club clubhouse is a remodeled residence and historic city landmark.

Riverside: Austin Country Club's second site

The 15th hole at Riverside Golf Course is the second of two back-to-back long par 4s.

After a few decades of being shown up by the new Lions Muny, members committed to a brand new site on the east side that seemed highly suitable for a new, modern course. Perry Maxwell laid out the course on gently rolling land. This was the course members Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite played growing up under the watchful eye of Harvey Penick. It would last for 34 years until the club laid eyes on its spectacular current site at Davenport Ranch.

Today, Riverside Golf Course is owned by Austin Community College, which has a campus right onsite. Development of the college compromised the driving range and several holes (there is a practice green and hitting net). The first hole is a par 3 during the week to account for the parking lot just left of the tee, then moved to a par 4 on the weekends when the campus is closed. Riverside is priced like a muni but doesn't seem to get as much play. Conditions can be hit and miss (heavy rains tend to keep this course wetter longer than other area courses). But there's no denying it still has some good bones. Holes no. 5 (near Harvey's old house) and 8 on the front are standouts, and the back nine, after back-to-back par 3s, feature stellar back-to-back par 5s followed by a drivable par 4. It's tough not to get excited playing this stretch before two brawny, back-to-back 4s that are common rally-killers.

In spite of inconsistent conditions, Riverside is an affordable, 18-hole course, walkable and playable for all levels at 6,300 yards. It's located adjacent to the Roy G. Guerrero metropark close to the urban core, which, if threatened Lions closes, may become even more coveted to city golfers.

Houston Country Club (Gus Wortham)

Downtown Houston is the backdrop for this putt on the third green at Gus Wortham Park.

First built in 1908, the former site of Houston Country Club on the east side of downtown Houston has quite a history as the longest continuously operated 18-hole course in Texas. Designed by Houston Country Club member A.W. Pollard, the course was once the site of a 1931 match between Howard Hughes and professional golfer Walter Hagen. Francis Ouimet, who won the 1913 U.S. Open at The Country Club at Brookline, and the legendary Bobby Jones have also played the course.

After Houston Country Club moved to its current location more than 60 years ago, the land was sold to HCC member and longtime Houston businessman and philanthropist Gus Wortham, who reopened it as the Houston Executive Club. In 1973, he sold it to the city, and the 6,300-yard course was renamed in his honor. Since then it's been operated as a municipal course but in in the last couple decades, course conditions had deteriorated, and the course's future, facing threats of development, looked uncertain.

Fortunately, for Houston golfers (and visitors, for that matter), course advocates managed to thwart those threats. And three years ago, the Houston Golf Association, which took over operations from the city, renovated the course and reopened it in 2018 to rave reviews. Restored from original drawings and aerials, local course architect Baxter Spann has created a layout that is now the crown jewel of the municipal system while the city's premier course, Memorial Park, is being renovated to eventually stage the PGA Tour's Houston Open. (Gus Wortham will be the new site for the Greater Houston City Amateur in 2019.) A new irrigation lake as well as a new modern irrigation system has improved course conditions exponentially. Spann also designed and built new, raised greens complexes that are both interesting and beautiful. With a hilly topography that defies Houston's typical flat conditions, the course has lots of great views from the tee as well, including some that feature the Houston skyline in the background.

Pecan Valley Golf Club, San Antonio

Arnold Palmer during Sunday play of the PGA Championship at Pecan Valley Country Club in San Antonio.

Though it wasn't a private club and doesn't go back a century, Pecan Valley Golf Club in San Antonio is a significant part of Texas golf history. Closed in 2012, the course may reopen again, but it will be far different than the one that played host to the 1968 PGA Championship, just five years after it opened.Designed by Press Maxwell, the son of famed architect Perry Maxwell, the course debuted in 1963 as part of a new housing development around Salado Creek on the city's southeast side. Utilizing a piece of land unsuitable for houses, the par-71, 7,115-yard layout crossed the creek seven times. It was so well received that the owner of the development successfully lobbied the PGA of America, whose president at the time was Texan Warren Cantrell, to bring the PGA Championship to San Antonio.

Also, at the time, Pecan Valley had the first fully lighted par-3 course in the United States. For the next couple of decades or so, Pecan Valley was listed among Texas' best courses, but as golf participation waned and new courses were being built, the course started to lose money and conditions deteriorated. In 2008, it was bought by Foresight Golf, who later decided to abandon ship and close the course in 2012.

The course may live on, however. A plan to convert it into a nine-hole course as part of 200-acre community designed for military veterans called the Valor Club has been in the works for the past couple of years. Former president and founder of Foresight Golf, Dan Pedrotti, conceived the idea for the adaptive course. Construction was to begin in late 2018. Those plans, however, amid environmental concerns and working with the city and other partners, seem to have been put on hold for the time being, so stay tuned.

Mike Bailey is a former Golf Advisor senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. He has also been on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for GolfPass and was the founding editor of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at @btuck34.
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I live in Tulsa now, but I lived in Houston for 19 years (1976-1995). I worked on the east side several times and used to play Gus Wortham. It was a nice track, but the thing I most remember about the course is on one hole that ran along Wayside is that you had to keep your tee shot away from the large bushes along Wayside (a fade for me), or the homeless people who lived in the bushes would scurry out and grab your ball.

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Enjoyed the excellent article!

Any interest in the Texaco Country Club, now owned by the city as CoolGreen Park?

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What's left of these famous old country clubs of Texas?