Okay, so the members of Austin’s University of Texas Golf Club haven’t located the Fountain of Youth, exactly. What they have discovered, though, is a country club environment with a “Forever Young” sensibility and ever-improving collection of resort-caliber amenities. The club’s energy is contagious.
When University of Texas Golf Club opened in 2003, Austin was still clinging to its sleepy-university-town identity while staring directly at a future that would see its population double and its economy and real estate market boom beyond anyone’s wildest projections.
Similarly, what started as a plan to have a small private golf club that would also function as a world-class home course for the University of Texas men’s and women’s golf teams, has taken on dimensions few could predict.
“Initially, we just set out to build a 475-member golf club. In 15 years, we’ve grown beyond everyone’s projections,” says Steve Termeer, UT Golf Club’s first and only general manager. “We’ve evolved into a full-service, resort-style country club with tennis, swimming, overnight accommodations and a golf academy. Now, when you add local and regional members, we’re at more like 1,200 members. To say we’ve changed our business model is probably an understatement.”
You’ll find a ubiquitous enthusiasm and genuine friendliness at this northwest Austin club as its membership also mirrors Austin demographically. “When we did the original demographic study for this club, we were expecting our members to be 57-year-old empty nesters while, in reality, the average member profile is of someone 45 years old with three kids,” Termeer says. “We’ve become more focused on having fun and engaging amenities for everyone in the family. It’s been an awesome evolution.”
On any given day, you might run into current members of the UT golf teams or see former Major League Baseball players needling each other about crucial putts missed in a morning grudge match or enjoy a relaxing lunch in the luxurious clubhouse. On the golf course, you’ll see burnt orange carts navigating the Hill Country navigating and well-curated plaques commemorating achievements of University of Texas golfing legends like Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, Justin Leonard, Harvey Penick and Jordan Spieth. The common bond that draws folks here is obvious, what keeps them here is the camaraderie, the quality of the club experience and the deep connection to university.
“The power of the steer head, the Longhorn brand has a substantial influence on the way people warm up to this club. It’s a lot like Homecoming week all the time around here, but we like to think that’s only the beginning of what makes the culture of this club so rich and fun,” says Termeer.
This past year, the club opened the six-hole Spieth Lower 40 short course, with holes from 75 to 110 yards designed by three-time major winner Jordan Spieth and architect of the club’s championship course, Roy Bechtol. Tucked into an intimate, well-forested section of the property, this inspired layout is great place for any level of golfer to spend a half hour or a half the day. “The Spieth Lower 40 has been a revelation,” Termeer says. “Short courses like this are the future of golf. It’s great to see kids and families out there just having fun. It’s the essence of what will attract more people to the game and keep them coming back. We’ve seen participation grow among families.”
The entrance to the short course features a Wall of Champions, showcasing every professional victory by a former UT golfer. That win count totaled 175 at last count.
The success of the club has enabled staff to refine the golf course’s playability and visual appeal through the years. Having elite collegiate golfers playing the course regularly has prompted back tee additions that have stretched the total yardage to 7,412, nearly 400 yards longer than when the club opened. On the flipside, several projects have served to make the hilly course more enjoyable for average handicappers.
“Early on, if there was a knock on this course it was that it played too difficult for the average golfer,” Termeer says. “We’ve been fortunate to be able to be responsive to things like that and we’ve massaged the golf course through the years, whether for playability or enjoyment-factor or aesthetics.”
Termeer points to the leveling of the fairways at holes, one, five and six, the addition of a bunker on the long-par-4 third hole and reworking the green and its surrounding on the demanding seventh plus the addition of ample mounding on the right side of the par-five ninth. Additionally, the tee boxes have been raised on several holes to provide better views of the landing areas. Currently, the green at the long-par-three eighth hole is being rebuilt to be more receptive to long approaches. “This is an iconic Hill Country setting, so we knew some of the terrain was going to be rugged and a little severe. We’ve been fortunate to be able to judiciously ‘soften’ the areas that needed it,” Termeer says.
The design of the course, which winds through classic Central Texas elevation changes and Canyonlands, has dramatic pacing. A hot start is possible with holes that aren’t overly-long at one, two and four. “You don’t need driver off the first tee, but you’re hitting into a very well-protected green, so you start with a scoring opportunity as long as you place the ball well,” says Termeer. “You want to play the first four holes well because with holes 5 through 8, you know the gauntlet’s coming. More often than not, those holes will reach up and get you.”
On the 492-yard third, you’ll fight left-to-right prevailing wind and agree that par is a great score. After nifty fairway-wood/wedge hole at number 4, the defining stretch of the opening nine awaits. A disorienting 461-yard uphill par 4, the fifth hole demands a great tee shot and unforgiving approach. There’s no shame in playing this one as a three-shotter. Six and seven are demanding driving holes. The former because of a deep canyon lurking right and short of the green and the latter because of a sloping fairway and a rippling water feature lining the entire left side of the hole. If you make it past the 237-yard eighth with minimal damage, you can breathe for a moment and get aggressive at gettable par-fives at 9 and 11 as well as the short par-4 13th and winding par-5 14th.
At the green on 472-yard par-4 5th, you arrive at the most scenic section of the course, a bluff overlooking Lake Austin and the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve some 300 feet below. “Today, I don’t think you could find 200 acres that replicate the land and the setting where this golf course sits. It’s special,” says Termeer.
The final three holes play downwind but brutal length at the par-three 16th and par-4 18th will test your will and your shotmaking. “It’s amazing how different some of these closing holes can play when you have them playing downwind. I once watched Rickie Fowler hit a 5-iron from 248 on the 16th hole to the middle of the green. And, Jhonattan Vegas once got home on #18 with driver 9-iron. That’s a 517-yard hole! It’s a great finishing hole with a well-protected green accented by that beautiful creek running just in front of the green. You’d really prefer not have anything more than 5-iron coming into that green.” There’s always a lot of drama on the 18th hole.
“The golf course is generous off the tee but very well-protected if you hit shots off-line,” Termeer says. “The golf course conditions are the best they’ve ever been under the care of our superintendent, Tyler Anderson, who came to us from Atlanta Club three years ago. What he’s accomplished is incredible, giving our members championship-caliber conditions daily,” Termeer says.
The recent implementation of L1F Zoysia to the teeboxes, greenside approaches and collars has added and elegant, tight-lie zone around the greens. “It gives you the kind of lies you would find on PGA TOUR courses. You see a lot of members either play more of a bump-and-run style shot are play that more exacting wedge shot with a wedge that’s got less bounce.”
I like to call the club Hill Country Casual setting. People really enjoy the club and get a lot of it. We people have a good time out here.
To commemorate the club’s 15th anniversary, and something even more significant, there’s another new amenity being added. “We are so honored to build a tribute to coach George Hannon here at the club, the Hannon Academy. It features two indoor/outdoor hitting bays and a memorabilia display of Coach Hannon’s prolific coaching life at UT, from 1963 to 1981 and his two NCAA Championship titles in 1972 and 1973 with Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw.”
Termeer says the members and the UT golfers coexist beautifully. “There’s always a new crop 18 year olds coming in that might go on to be stars or legends in the game,” he says. “To experience that at your home club is something unique. Our members have embraced the relationship with the men’s and women’s golf teams and have enjoyed getting to build relationships with the team members and watching their successes.”
The club has hosted numerous Big XII Championships and NCAA regionals with several dozen members volunteering during tournament weeks. Every two years, UT Golf Club hosts a Pro-Am in which members can play and interact with UT legends like Kite, Crenshaw, Mark Brooks, Justin Leonard, Spieth, Omar Uresti, Bob Estes, David Gossett, Cody Gribble, Dylan Frittelli, Harrison Frazar and Beau Hossler.
Luxurious golf homes are available for overnight accommodations and fill up fast in the fall during home football weekends. “This is really the place to be during the fall. Our members have an incredible time. About 70 percent of them are UT Alumni and they take full advantage of the club and the social environment.
While relatively new by country club standards, this club has packed a lot of history into 15 years. What the next 15 years hold should be inspiring to watch. “Our partners and ownership firmly believe in constantly improving. There a lot of clubs people can join, so it’s our task to remain creative and to try to make this an innovative club experience,” Termeer says.
For more information, visit utgolfclub.com.
By Carl Mickelson