I’d heard things. Being in the golf industry, there’s no way I could have missed all the superlatives, the plaudits, the number-one-rankings and the celebrity and Tour player name-drops through the years. But, how the heck had I made it almost two decades without even seeing Dallas National Golf Club in person?
Tales of the often-top-rated course in Texas (according to the ‘Dallas Morning News’ where it came in at #2 annual rankings after a run at #1 – it also comes in #71 on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses) have scaled to epic proportions of wonderment and awe. The only non-empirical conclusion had to be that the place was amazing, but in 2021, it was high time I got there and formed my own opinion. It’s completely my fault – and partially attributed to my lifelong, laughably petty ‘Houston Kid’ feud with all things Dallas – that I hadn’t gotten around to experiencing Dallas National until last month. I just don’t travel up there much. This was procrastination I regretted instantly.
The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is a storied and spectacular country club market. The club that aficionados have perennially placed on a pedestal over major championship sites like Colonial Country Club, Dallas Athletic Club and Northwood Club must have it all – from a standout golf course design to top-tier amenities and an unforgettably golf-centric culture. To see Dallas National, though, is to believe such a place can exist.
I notice things. Especially things like ample, secluded, brilliantly designed short game practice areas. Dallas National’s, tucked into a quiet treelined cove, is as good as any I’ve seen and I used to specifically scout the industry’s best short game facilities as part of my previous job. Multiple targets from greenside to 135 yards, expertly-designed putting greens (seven Bentgrass and even one that’s Bermuda) and fantastic surrounds and bunkering all inspire creativity and demand precision. I’m not even parked and I’m impressed.
Across from the Hill Country Chic-Ranch-Style clubhouse, is a 6,000 square foot indoor game improvement-driven performance center, with everything a golfer needs to practice, learn and have a good time. The learning center has a dining and cocktail area on one end and workout facilities, high-tech hitting bays, launch monitors, simulators and a custom fitting studio that’s as stocked as any brand name retail fitter on the other. On rainy days and fun-filled evenings, it’s easy to feel like a kid in a candy store in this immersive space. Outside, Dallas National’s 130-yard wide driving range is decked out with the essentials for quality practice including the innovative TrackMan Range system that allows golfers to get launch monitor ball data delivered to their smart device as they hit balls. At this point, you start to understand why top professionals like Jordan Spieth, Bryson DeChambeau, Carlos Ortiz, and Will Zalatoris practice and play here.
The thing that stands out about this celebrated 7,404-yard, par-72 Tom Fazio designed is that it really does have the topography and aesthetic earmarks of a course set in the Central Texas Hill Country. Think San Antonio with denser vegetation or Horseshoe Bay without a single residential lot on the course. Then add lush Zoysia fairways and pampered Bentgrass greens and an unspoiled serenity you might expect on land that was never touched (except by a small devout convent of nuns who maintain their spot on a quiet, secluded hilltop) until work began on the golf course at the start of this century. It was a potential quarry site, but thankfully for DN’s membership, that never panned out and the 400 rolling acres with 170 feet of elevation changes were secured by developer John MacDonald to enable the club’s August 2002 opening.
Prior to my maiden round there, I sat in Dallas National’s posh, comfortable 19th Hole dining room with the club’s general manager David Denley and longtime and-recently-outgoing chairman Dennis Barnes and learned a bit about the history of the land and the club and what it’s really like inside the gates of one of the country’s most sought-after private clubs.
“The culture is very laid back here. We’ve all been to those golf clubs where you kind of have to have your head on a swivel and you’re afraid of making a mistake. That’s not this place,” says Barnes. “We’re all equals out here. Everybody parks their egos. We’ve got a lot of celebrities and very successful people out here, but everybody’s on the same footing.”
The three of us found we shared an appreciation for Fazio’s ability to stage a dramatic pacing of holes that often starts gentle, ramps up the challenge in the middle part of the opening nine, dazzles with some standout holes in the middle of the round and demands great shots over the last four or so holes. That’s essentially the pace of things at Dallas National as the holes wind up and down the property’s plunging hillsides.
“This is a fun golf course with some generous landing areas off the tee but certainly design elements that humble us and greens that are challenging but fun to play every single day. And, while there are those ample landing areas, missing a fairway wide won’t put you in a neighboring fairway. It will mean a lost ball or taking relief from a penalty area.”
The round at Dallas National opens with a pleasingly open and shortish par four (just 385 from the back Texas tees) and is followed by a scorable dogleg-right par five with a generous landing area. Long-hitting members take on the tree-hemmed corner to set up shorter second shots. After a testy mid-length par three and winding but manageable treelined par five, the Hill Country nature of the course starts to come alive at the long par-three fifth. A sizable carry to the deep uphill green that slopes front to back is needed on this beautifully framed 225-yarder. Crossing the second of the course’s signature bridges gives the sense of climbing into hillier terrain and more demanding shot values.
Fazio tests then tempt golfers in equal measure with a long par 4 at six and the potentially drivable par-four seventh. The city view from seventh green is just one of 800 or so things that make Dallas National unforgettable.
The 475-yard 8th calls for a well-struck tee shot and approach on reasonably flat plateau of land. Meanwhile, the while the ninth swoops down a wildly sloping valley – balls landing in the first cut on the right frequently trundle back down the middle of the fairway – then plays back uphill to a narrow and beguiling putting surface.
Stay focused on the swiveling 610-yard par-five 10th. Three well-struck shots into a deep, uphill green can set the tone for a special back nine experience. The 11th is a purely enjoyable, gently uphill par 4 of just 367 yards from the first set of member tees. The hole doglegs left to right and sits in a secluded, bucolic part of the property reminiscent of the deep hills of North Carolina.
On 12, a brawny, 429-yard par-four and 13, short but cinematic par 3 of 154 yards from the back tees, a rushing creek and tall treeline defines the right perimeter and character and the inspiration to shape shots emanates from like the breeze. This stretch of holes is fantastic.
The fourteenth, another hole that swings from right to left with a devilish drop off on the left side of the hole, plays just 374 up the slope but conservative shots down the right side can make it play longer than the yardage. The 457-yard 15th asks for a lengthy drive down the right side and longish approach back across the dogleg to an ample green where back pin placement is tall order at a pivotal time in the round.
When it comes to that pacing we mentioned, this is the stretch in the round where Fazio rewards the players who hit it more sharply as the day progresses. If that’s not your tendency or fate, this closing stretch could prove costly. The 16th is the #1 handicap hole at 489 yards from the tips with bunkered tightening the landing area on the left and stern treeline bordering the right. Solid ball striking is imperative to close out this round. That’s especially true at the 245-yard 17th. Save a pure swing for this demanding one-shot hole, where exposed rock and native grass make you swear you were in San Antonio.
The 18th hole at Dallas National is an excellent finishing hole on any level. Playing 548 yards from the back tees means two mighty swings can get you a reasonable approach into this wonderful green setting tucked into an intimate elevated nook. There’s hardly a flat putt on this last green, guaranteeing drama into the tap in falls. A perfect capper to a distinctively pleasing round. There are stories that the Presidents Cup nearly came to Dallas National several years ago. It would have looked tremendous on TV and the tension and risk/reward elements of the course would have been electric for the elite match play format.
So, yes, the verdict is that Dallas National is one finest courses in Texas and a delight for golfing purists – a golf club as opposed to a country club. It’s clear why North Texas golfers (and many from around the country) who could play anywhere, have joined there.
So, I may always love Hakeem more than Dirk and Earl Campbell over Tony Dorsett, but I’ll readily admit Dallas has some undeniable charms. Some, like Dallas National, can be found where you least expect them. If you have the opportunity, don’t pass up your chance to see why Dallas National is one of the state’s most laid-back yet highly decorated golf clubs. The place and its vibe just stay with you.
By Carl Mickelson