Universal appeal. Easy to say—rolls right off the tongue– but it’s nearly impossible to possess… unless maybe you’re Tom Petty, Blue Bell’s Homemade Vanilla or a sitcom character called Raymond. Yet, that’s the where the bar is set for large luxury resorts like the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa in San Antonio. To have sustained success, they have to appeal to pretty much everyone. All the time.
After seven adventure-packed summers, everything at this luxe 600-acre complex still feels brand new. The palatial lobby stays abuzz with a lively combination of fun-seekers, romantics, escapists, families and businessfolk, all taking advantage of the array of recreational and corporate amenities.
“When the hotel opened, management was confident corporate group business would be brisk in key seasons, but the trend that’s exceeded expectations is the volume of recreational guests that flock here from San Antonio, Austin, Houston and Dallas,” says Matt Flory, general manager of the TPC San Antonio (the acclaimed 36-hole golf property which resides within the resort). “That’s driven a series of improvements like the expansion of the River Bluff Water Experience and a host of offerings for the whole family.”
With more than 1,000 room and 140,000 sq ft of conference and meeting space, the JW is a statement hotel in the meetings and conventions universe. Not only is it San Antonio’s largest hotel, its largescale offerings make the Alamo City competitive for large corporate groups in the same league as destinations like Las Vegas, Orlando, Scottsdale and New Orleans.
With Marriott and the PGA Tour, you’re definitely getting a “branded” experience but the Hill Country ambience and serene surroundings ensure an authentic Texas good time. “The real key to providing a special experience here is the Texas charm and commitment to personal service from the staff. It really is the personal touches that set us apart,” Flory says.
No doubt the allure of seeing the resorts best features on television have been a catalyst to the resort’s popularity. Between the PGA Tour event, the Valero Texas Open and the PGA Tour Champion event, the San Antonio Championship, TPC San Antonio has had 14 events televised nationally. “You can’t put a dollar amount on a shot of the water park or the magnificent 700-acre nature preserve on live television. You can’t blame people for wanting to come and experience this in person,” Flory says.
Whether you’re floating in the lazy river in the vast River Bluff Water Experience or strolling the manicured grounds while taking in the Hill Country views, this meandering property still feels somehow intimate, like your own massive villa that opens up into idyllic Hill Country terrain.
Golfing guests are motivated to play where the pros play and this property has two courses that stack up well against most any in the region. In the late spring, the intimidating AT&T Oaks Course stays near fully-booked with guests looking to tackle the host of the Valero Texas Open and one of the toughest courses on the PGA Tour’s rotation.
The driving corridors are tight because the fairways are lined by mature oaks and when the wind picks up, there’s not much relief. Ensuring competitive competitions, the greens are demanding for approaches, short game shots and, most of all, for putting. Exotic limestone outcroppings and artistic bunkering provide a unique aesthetic to this bold layout. Tour players from outside the U.S. have been known to say the 7,435-yard, Greg Norman-designed Oaks course reminds them of courses in Australia or South America.
The par-72, 7,106-yard Pete Dye-designed AT&T Canyons Course has wider driving lanes, sweeping Hill Country and nature preserve views and challenging approaches into its relatively small greens. “People say The Canyons doesn’t feel like a typical Pete Dye course because it’s not as penal as other Dye designs. The challenges are subtle and a lot of the difficulty is found in the areas surrounding the small greens. You have to come in from smart angles and your short game needs to be sharp here,” Flory insists.
Flory says his staff and membership are pleased at how the two courses provide two completely different kinds of rounds. “The developers’ goal from the beginning was to have two distinct golf courses with completely unique character,” Flory says. “Canyons is all Hill Country- quintessentially so- with great elevation changes, and The Oaks Course is more a parkland experience through the trees with pretty intimidating bunkering and a fair amount of length.”
Compared to most resort course offerings, these two are stout tests. “Both courses are stringent tests of golf, but there isn’t anything unfair about them. Across 36 holes, there’s only one forced carry and very little that’s hidden or obnoxiously deceptive,” says Flory. “By and large, people realize they’re playing at PGA Tour experience. They’re getting to tee it up where the best players in the world play. There’s something special about playing a course you seen on TV, hitting the same shot you’ve seen your favorite professional play,” Flory adds.
Post round recreation abounds at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, but the most groups eventually find their way to the High Velocity Sports Bar which boasts a 120-foot wall of HD screens that showcase every sport imaginable. Fine dining enthusiasts will want to try 18 Oaks, located in the golf club house and specializing in dry-aged steaks and an impeccable offering of wines from around the globe.
The best-kept secret at this sprawling resort is the posh 26,000-sq ft Lantana Spa and the sensational views from the spa pool. If you could use a dose of pure serenity, the well-appointed Lantana has made relaxation and wellness a fine art. There’s also an undeniable gravitational pull to the River Bluff Water Experience with its 1,200 foot lazy river, 650-ft action river ride, multiple water slides, dedicated children’s and adult pools, whirlpools, a sand beach and an expansive activity pool. It’s a water lover’s paradise.
While many view the TPC San Antonio as treat for resort guests, the club also has a thriving golf membership which allows play on both courses, access to the state of the art practice facilities and entry into the TPC Network, which offers play at private clubs across the country at discounted rates. Flory says being a member at a club that hosts Tour events is a unique opportunity.
“At a lot of clubs, members talk about ‘giving up the course’ for a period of time in order to host to a PGA Tour event. Here, our members embrace tournament week, whether it’s through volunteering or enjoying great times in our member suite or partaking in the Members Clinic hosted by one of the players in the field. Also, The Canyons Course stays open during Valero Texas Open week and The Oaks stays open through San Antonio Open week,” he says.
If you haven’t tried the TPC San Antonio or the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, pick a weekend and discovers its intimate Hill Country enticements. You might stay a lot longer than you planed.
By Carl Mickelson