Hearing another great Austin institution is undergoing an major construction project is the sort of news that stops locals in their tracks. So much in this city has changed during the past two decade’s unstoppable surge of growth, it’s easy for older and newer Austinites to wax achingly nostalgic for the Austin they first fell for however-many years ago.
In the case of the ambitious and expansive $150-milllion-plus renovation of the ultra-luxe Barton Creek Resort & Spa in the city’s hilly and posh Westlake Hills community, all the changes are refreshing and welcome. One of the city’s great escapes has simply found ways to become greater.
The new additions to the resort include a new hotel tower (pushing the room-and-suite count to 403) with a wraparound porch housing 180 new luxury guestrooms (including 50 suites with floor-to-ceiling windows), a focal-point fireplace, casual lobby bar lounge and a new multi-tiered pool deck with an infinity pool overlooking the Fazio Foothills golf course. Guests and members won’t go hungry as seven new dining experiences have been added throughout the resort. A new conference center, ballroom and outdoor events pavilion puts Barton Creek in the same playing field as some of the country’s largest conference hosts. The spacious, new Mokara Spa, expanded “poolscapes” and a new tennis complex also highlight the expansion. All existing guestrooms and meeting spaces had their décor and design updated.
On the golf side, the Crenshaw Cliffside and Fazio Foothills courses underwent major restorations and the newer Fazio Canyons Course saw an extensive tree-trimming project and the construction of a new clubhouse. It’s the same footprint and the same basic arrangement but a decidedly new day for Austin’s most-decorated golf property.
The 7,125-yard, par-72 Fazio Foothills course has new Tif 419 Hybrid Bermuda fairways, renovated white-sand bunkers and newly-shaped but still relatively-small TifEagle putting surfaces. The stroke of genius in this renovation was a large-scale tree-thinning and removal project which has provided the turf with improved airflow and overall health while re-exposing large portions of the course’s beautiful natural Hill Country terrain and wider views of the surrounding landscapes.
“It’s funny because these great, natural features were always here, but with the tree-clearing makes some of these areas look like entirely different golf holes,” says director of golf Phillip Marburger. “It’s just a testament to what a tremendous setting this is for golf, or anything, really.”
Perhaps the biggest benefit of thinning back the tree growth on this 33-year-old course is that it has improved the layout’s playability. Holes that once looked intimidatingly snug off the tee or left little margin for missed fairways are now much more manageable and inviting for the average player.
The first glimpse of the Foothills’ new openness comes with the view beyond the first green where the picturesque setting of the green on the par-five eighth hole is now in full view with its rushing creek and limestone ledges. The same holes still shine opening nine, like the upper-lower split-fairway par-5 fifth and the post-card-perfect ninth where a short-iron, all-carry approach plays over a natural limestone cliff punctuated by babbling waterfalls.
“The feedback on the course renovation has been overwhelmingly positive from the members and the resort guests are consistently blown away,” says director of golf operations Spencer Cody. “Frankly, I was blown away when I first saw the elevation changes. Coming from some great but pretty flat sites in Palm Springs and the Tucson area, this thrilling setting.”
The par-4 10th hole starts from an elevated teeing ground some 70 feet above the landing area. Clearing on this hole makes the pond left of the fairway more visible. Creeks running along fairways and dramatic cliffsides overlooking the surrounding canyons make this closing stretch one of the best in Texas. One of the most improved holes is the winding 537-yard par-5 15th where more ample landing areas allows players of every skill swing a little more freely and the tree-grooming around the ground now reveals outstanding views of the nearby canyonlands.
The closing three holes are just as memorable and thoroughly demanding. The forced-carry approach over another brilliant limestone-ledged creek at the par-4 16th is an exhilarating late-round challenge. The long-iron approach at the par- 17th might be a big ask late in the round, but save a good swing for this demanding one-shotter if you plan on keeping a round score intact.
The uphill, 560-yard, par-5 18th still requires you to place a solid tee shot then navigate the limestone cave (once dubbed the Spelunker Bunker) in the center of the rising fairway. Once you’re on the green, you might find the addition of the infinity-edge pool overlooking the hole will create a gallery effect. Put on a good short game and putting show if you want the right kind of cheers raining down on you to close the round.
Top-tier competitive golf presented by the PGA of America will be coming to Barton Creek later this year and in 2020. The PGA Cup, which matches 10-member United States and Great Britain & Ireland Teams in a Ryder Cup-style format, will be contested Sept. 23-29, 2019. The Inaugural Women’s PGA Cup, Oct. 22-26, is a 54-hole stroke play event that is anticipated to attract five-member teams from Australia, Canada, Great Britain & Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden and the United States. Also this fall, the 31st Senior PGA Professional Championship presented by Golf Advisor will be played October 3 – 6 with a 264-member field taking on the Fazio Foothills and Crenshaw Cliffside Courses.
The 53rd PGA Professional Championship presented by Club Car and OMEGA in April 2020 will feature a 312-member nationwide field and conducted on the Fazio Foothills course. The top 20 finishers will earn a spot in the 2020 PGA Championship.
“We’re looking forward to having these incredible professionals experience this unique brand of golf here at Barton Creek and our staff is excited to give the contestants a special stay and healthy sampling of Texas Hill Country hospitality,” says Cody.
You don’t have to be a pro to enjoy any of Barton Creek Resort & Spa four championship courses. To book your next adventure at the new and splendidly-improved property, visit https://www.omnihotels.com/hotels/austin-barton-creek.
By Carl Mickelson
Photos by Kevin Chin