Golf Advisor's Brandon Tucker moved to Austin in 2008, while Mike Bailey has lived in various cities in Texas throughout his life. With Austin now on the PGA Tour schedule, they debate how Austin stacks up vs. San Antonio for golfers and visitors to the Texas Hill Country.
Brandon Tucker: Okay, Mike, so Austin is officially onto the PGA Tour schedule and is a new destination for the "Texas Swing," which normally bypassed the state capital until now. San Antonio's Valero Texas Open has most recently featured a top resort course, moving from La Cantera to TPC. The WGC, meanwhile, is at "old-money" Austin Country Club, which, despite a prominent location on Lake Austin, is exclusive.
So Mike, my question to you is, given your lifetime in Texas, how does Austin stack up as a golf destination compared to its Hill Country neighbor to the south, San Antonio? Where would you send a buddies trip first?
Mike Bailey: San Antonio has really evolved as a golf destination, offering several golf resorts as well as some excellent daily fees like The Quarry and Canyon Springs, for example. But the Austin area has two of the state's most storied resorts -- Horseshoe Bay and the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa. These are both stand-alone destinations that offer three and four courses, respectively, each to resort guests. (You could throw The Hills of Lakeway in there, too, probably, as well as the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines in Bastrop.) Both are in beautiful Hill Country settings, and Barton Creek, in particular, has a rich history, having played host to tournaments for the Champions Tour as well as prestigious amateur events. I'd recommend both markets to buddies, but if pressed, Barton Creek would be my first choice.
Tucker: Barton Creek is certainly the big gorilla of the Austin market for golf travelers, and its ace in the hole is that unlike Horseshoe Bay and Hyatt Regency Lost Pines, it's about 15 minutes from your hotel room to Sixth Street downtown.
My elevator speech to folks who ask me about my town's golf scene is that the munis (five 18-hole courses) are pretty solid, while the resorts and ultra-private stuff are stellar, too. But the upscale public/semi-private menu leaves a bit to be desired. There's no true destination daily-fee course here like San Antonio's The Quarry or Canyon Springs or Brackenridge Park.
But when it comes to nightlife, there's really no debate: Austin tops San Antonio, right?
Bailey: I love the San Antonio Riverwalk, but there's not a better nightlife spot in the whole state than Austin's Sixth Street area, and it rivals anything in the country, even Vegas, certainly in terms of the music scene.
I actually lived in Austin in the early 1980s when I went to college and can remember seeing guys like Stevie Ray Vaughan at the Continental Club and the like. Sixth Street, as well as Seventh, were the places to be back then, but that area has really exploded in the last 30 years or so. South Congress, for example, has been developed with all kinds of great restaurants and bars, and it's a different kind of crowd than you see in other cities. Lots of younger folks, of course, but even the older crowd has a youthful vibe.
Tucker: Austin has become a national bachelor/bachelorette party destination, and each new hotel opening up downtown is swankier and hipper than the last. (Though townies would argue it's losing its appeal as a live music spot because all the tech money has driven up rents and pushed out the slackers and musicians. What Would Willie Do?)
Anyways, what about the food scene? I'd say that Austin has a more cosmopolitan and diverse menu (resident chef Paul Qui, for example, is on fire), and the east side is always opening up new hipster restaurants that are converted out of old laundromats and the like. But it would be sacrilege to say anywhere but San Antonio remains the Tex-Mex king, correct?
Bailey: Yes, if you like Tex-Mex, San Antonio is your destination (though I'd argue for more authentic Mexican food in El Paso). But that's not to say Austin doesn't have its share of good to great Tex-Mex as well. Manuel's, located close to downtown, has a terrific campechana (seafood soup) and mole dishes that are pretty authentic. Abuelo's Mexican Food Embassy has a terrific tortilla soup (you can find good tortilla soup throughout Austin), and Habanero Mexican Cafe on Oltorf Street in South Austin is a little cramped but worth the wait.
Tucker: One thing both Austin and San Antonio also lay equal claim to is the Texas Hill Country, which borders San Antonio to the north and Austin to the west. I love day trips out here, whether it's for golf or hiking or old-fashioned chillin.' There are some real fine rural bargain courses (Delaware Springs and Lighthouse being two affordable favorites). How about you, any favorite day trips around Austin for golf or otherwise?
Bailey: Yes, I tend to get out to the northern suburbs of Austin these days and have a couple out there I really like. The Golf Club at Star Ranch in Hutto has a bit of a linksy feel, and I've played in a couple of tournaments at ShadowGlen Golf Club in Manor. An added benefit when playing ShadowGlen is that it's close to Elgin (world famous for its sausage) and Southside Barbecue, which is one my favorite BBQ spots in the entire state.
Escondido Golf & Lake Club is an exclusive luxury golf and residential development in Horseshoe Bay.
Tucker: I also know that many Dallas and Houston residents love having retirement or second homes in some stellar golf communities in the Hill Country. Spots like Horseshoe Bay, Escondido, Cordillera Ranch and Lakeway are all great golf hotbeds. Austin is popping up on "top retirement city" lists more and more. Mike, you've written about retirement destinations before, and you're certainly closer to it than me. For those thinking about a Texas retirement, any favorite golf communities?
Bailey: Yes, there's one in particular that I ranked among the top 10 in the United States -- Sun City in Georgetown, which is north of Austin. There are three championship-level golf courses at Sun City: Legacy Hills, White Wing and Cowan Creek. All of the courses are beautiful, usually in great shape and open to the public as well as residents. My only concern there is I've always wondered why these resort communities don't build a nine-hole, par-3 course for the seniors. I think it'd get a lot of play.
Tucker: Sun City does good work out there, and if it were a little closer to central Austin I'd send more golfers (of any age) out that way. Mike, given all your travels through the state, and considering Austin Country Club is the newest addition to the PGA Tour circuit, I'm curious if there are any of the courses, anywhere in the state, the PGA Tour (or any tour) should consider for a venue.
Bailey: I'm a big fan of San Antonio's La Cantera Resort Course, which used to host the Valero Texas Open. I wouldn't mind seeing an event back out there. But if I had to go with another public venue, I'm going to go all the way across the state to El Paso, which has around 700,000 people and could certainly support a Web.com Tour event, at the very least. The course would be Butterfield Trail, a big, bold Tom Fazio design that's one of the best municipals in the country. El Paso is out of the way, but if you ever find yourself there for some reason, you'll want to play this course, and at $65 for visitors, it's a great value.
Tucker: I knew you'd go to El Paso. Can't say I've been. Maybe that's where our next off-site should be. Anyways, let's wrap things up with this. It is kind of a bummer that the Texas Swing has been broken up a bit on the Tour schedule, and it seems some events keep getting bounced around. But perhaps it shows that the golf season can be pretty close to year round in most parts of the state. March-April is a great time to come, thanks in part to all the bluebonnets and wildflowers that bloom on the highways and around the countryside (Austin C.C. should look spectacular on TV).
What about you, Mike? When's the best time for a Texas golf trip?
Bailey: Well, in Texas, football is king, so I'd go with the fall. October (and even November) can be spectacular, and generally there are fewer thunderstorms that time of year. And where there's a college or pro football game, there's usually some stellar golf in the area.
Tucker: I think we can all agree that golf is much more enjoyable than watching any Longhorns-Cowboys-Texans QB play lately. Anyways, this was fun, and good luck out on the Texas Hill Country and Houston Golf Channel Am Tour. I'm sure you'll get to sample a lot more great golf in the state. I'll be out at A.C.C. a few days during the WGC. Sounds like there is tons of local support for it, so it should be a great vibe.
Now, I think it's been at least two hours since my last Torchy's Taco, so let's break for lunch.
Bailey: There's always hope for the Texas teams ($72 million for new Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler), but I catch your drift. No shortage of anything in the Lone Star State, much less terrific golf courses. Should be a fun year.