Norman and Garcia design TPC San Antonio's AT&T Oaks course for the PGA Tour pros

TPC San Antonio's Oaks Course: Designed for golf pros, not the masses

SAN ANTONIO -- The fairways on the new AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio are narrow, the bunkering is abundant and difficult, the mesquite and cactus troublesome, and the golf course is just plain long. The only conclusion we can come up with then is that the new venue for the Valero Texas State Open has got to be harder than the old one.

But is it less fun than the Resort Course at La Cantera Resort, where the PGA Tour event has been played for the last decade?

For the resort golfer, it seems that there is no doubt that the more traditional looking Oaks Course is certainly more stressful. There's more hunting for balls, more sideways shots out of those bunkers and the greens are definitely tougher to read and putt. And you have to hit it long and straight, even if you play two or three tees up.

But the pros might like it better for the very same reason. No longer will you have to shoot 30-under par or lower to win. The champion of the Valero Texas Open, which is now being played in May instead of October as part of the Texas Swing, might not get lower than 16- or 17-under par, and the scores could be even higher than that depending on the weather.

"It's definitely harder," said PGA Tour veteran Notah Begay, who played the course with his teacher, Bryan Gathright, in April a month before the tournament. "It really depends on how they set it up."

AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio: As hard as you want to make it

The AT&T Oaks Course, which is one of two 18-hole layouts at the new half-billion-dollar JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa, was designed by Greg Norman with Sergio Garcia as a player consultant. Like the Pete Dye/Bruce Lietzke-designed AT&T Canyons Course at TPC San Antonio, it's only open to members and guests at the resort.

With five sets of tees, it can be set up to play as long as 7,465 yards, which is considerably longer than the Resort Course at La Cantera, a fun Tom Weiskopf design that surrendered scores of birdies and eagles in PGA Tour competition.

The AT&T Oaks Course, which combined with the AT&T Canyons cost more than $50 million to build, has more a traditional look, without the roller coaster views of La Cantera. The golf course was actually excavated below greens level. Norman peppered it with ragged bunkers, some of which can produce lies that call for sideways or backwards shots. He also put a premium on long, accurate drives, which reflects his own career.

"You've got to drive it straight here," said Begay. "(Norman) was one of the best drivers of the golf ball ever."

Begay said the par 3s on the AT&T Oaks are especially difficult, even more so if you play them from the back tees. All but one of them are more than 200 yards, including the 13th, which can be set back to 245 yards. But the one that will probably be most talked about is the 17th, which ala Riviera Country Club near Los Angeles, has a bunker in the middle of the green.

The center bunker isn't the only problem, though. If the pin is set in front of the bunker, finding one of the deep front bunkers is no bargain either. With most pin placements, there really is no safe shot.

AT&T Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio: The verdict

TPC San Antonio's AT&T Oaks Course is sure to receive a lot of criticism from many golfers who believe the course simply reflects the problem with modern golf course design.

They might contend that it's too difficult for the average player, not appropriate for a resort player and way too expensive. But not every golf course can be everything for every player.

The course was designed first for the PGA Tour player. After all, it is a TPC course, and that is its first priority.

With that said, most golfers cherish the opportunity to play where the pros play. You might not want to play a golf course this difficult every day, but that's why the resort also has the more player-friendly AT&T Canyons Course, which makes for a nice change of pace.

Secondly, the AT&T Oaks really was built for the modern era, both in terms of challenge and environment. Designed to protect the resources of the Edwards Aquifer, which provides the drinking water for area's large population, it features a closed irrigation system, which not only protects the environment from chemical runoff but also allows the golf course to drain incredibly well.

That much was evident during a recent round following several inches of rain. There was very little evidence of casual water, and the greens were immaculate shortly after the rain event.

The AT&T Oaks Course also has a variety of different grasses, including Champion Bermuda on the greens, Tifsport on the fairways, Bandera Bermuda roughs and Emerald Bermuda on the collars, approaches and tees, which provide function and depth to the course.

Additionally, the TPC San Antonio has exceptional practice facilities. The 20-acre complex features six tee decks with numerous target greens. A short game area has two large stations, which replicate course conditions both on and around the greens and in the bunkers.

And for those who would like some help with their games, the facility's new PGA Tour Academy of Golf is as good as any in the country. It's headed up by Steve Hanlon, who came over from the TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Stay and play at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa

The JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa should be a hot ticket, especially after the Valero Texas Open in May.

The 1,002-room resort is the largest JW Marriott resort in the world. Situated over 600 acres of rolling hills, creeks and live oaks trees in the northwest part of San Antonio, the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa is impressive.

Some of the highlights besides the golf course include a six-acre water park complete with five water slides and lazy river, seven restaurants and lounges including a unique sports bar, and a 26,000-square-foot full-service spa. The resort, of course, offers a variety of golf packages.

Mike Bailey is a 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. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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TPC San Antonio's Oaks Course: Designed for golf pros, not the masses