Arnold Palmer’s legacy as a player is extraordinary (62 PGA TOUR victories and seven majors) and his ambassadorship of the game and mentoring of younger players is unprecedented. When it comes to the 300-plus golf courses the King designed worldwide, however, they tend to be overshadowed by those created by fellow former players like Ben Crenshaw, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf. That being said, the best of Palmer’s design portfolio deserves to be celebrated. In fact, taking a look at his courses can offer a peek into the man’s personality and playing style. Palmer grew the game’s popularity in the 1960s more than any other player. He didn’t want the game to be diabolical he wanted it to be in welcoming for a large number of players. That could be why there’s a straightforwardness to his golf designs. Palmer courses tend to clearly define which side of the fairway is the smart one to aim at and which one could give you the most headaches.
There also tends to be a smart side of a Palmer-designed green to miss on and one that’s going to give you fits. That doesn’t mean his courses are without distinct challenge or wealth of risk-reward opportunities. Palmer, as you recall, was a hard charger and a bit of gambler on the course. He played a daring style of golf and showed legendary recoverability. As a designer, Palmer will ask you to hit some hero shots but will also give you some chances to play your way back into scoring opportunities from the rough or from short of the green. The luxe La Cantera Resort & Spa’s Palmer Course (found a short drive from the resort’s scenic footprint) is an indulgently hilly golf course with outstanding panoramic views and breathtaking water features. If you want to give someone a master class on golf in the Texas Hill Country, this layout is tremendous place to begin.
It helps if you’re driving the ball well and can learn to play some extra break on the course’s sneaky-fast greens. The 10th-best Palmer-designed layout according GolfAdvisor.com, this Central Texas gem features more blind shots than typical Palmer courses but does reflect the legend’s simple sensibility to shot values as well as his flair for the dramatic.
Playing the Palmer Course, sister course to La Cantera’s famed Resort Course which sits nearer to the resort, visitors get the secluded sensation being at a private club. On the 6,954-yard, par-71 layout, you’ll find a leisurely pace and an intimacy to each hole along with alluring Hill Country panoramas at almost every turn. The downhill tee shot at the par-4 second hole is a prelude to the elevation changes to come later in this round. The fairway is crossed by a rock-lined creek in the landing area, so big hitters must choose whether to blow over it for a short approach into the green or lay back for a longer and less risky approach. It’s a very solid par 4 and a taste of the fun that’s coming.
The 188-yard, par-4 fourth hole is a genuinely beautiful hole with a lake framing the left side of the tee box and meandering in front of the green then winding around the back-right side. This hole is wonderfully serene and the thrill of carrying your shot over the rock-enhanced makes for one of the most memorable shots of the day. A tastefully-ornate bridge leads up to the green and is dedicated to Arnold Palmer’s late wife, Winnie. It’s fitting homage to loveliness and grace of one of golf’s first ladies. One of the more challenging and strategic holes is the 448-yard, par-4 fifth where a rock-lined creek hugs the boldly-sweeping right side of the fairway.
The hole’s design tells smart players to bail left and beckons risk takers to take on the edge and leave a shorter approach. It’s a beautiful Hill Country hole the sneaks downhill and then slightly back up hill on what is typically a lengthy approach. When the water ripples through this creek feature, it’s one of the must-see settings on this classic Hill Country course. The demanding 436-yard ninth hole plays straight downhill to a fairway that slopes back up hill and a touch right. The green isn’t visible from the tee. A large bunker on the left side of the fairway is a good target. The shot back up toward the clubhouse is dramatic and must navigate a limestone-lined creek that crosses in front of it.
The 415-yard, par-4 10th plays alongside a deeply-dropping canyon bordering the right side of the fairway. Any shot right of the landing area will need a parachute. There’s a great “mini-canyon wall” lining the edge of the area near the green. It’s a terrific setting for a green that slopes severely from left to right. One of the great components of this golf course is the subtle movement to the greens. You’ll find a ton of great slopes built into the greens, so play a little bit extra break on most of them. That being said, the pace of the greens is very learnable so it’s possible to get into a putting groove relatively early in the round.
The shortish par-4 12 and the par-3 13th begin a rise up a ridge which showcases one of San Antonio’s highest elevations. It feels like a gateway to the heart of the Hill Country and the shot values are astounding. Standing on the massive 573-yard 14th tee, it might occur to you that you’ve survived an 11-hole gap in between par fives. The generous three-shotter plays uphill to large plateau where you can assess your second shot which plays downhill then back up to a green perched on a scenic elevation and protected by five sizable bunkers. On the 490-yard 18th hole the last shot of the day is perhaps the most exciting.
Playing the Palmer Course is all about the thrills. It’s a handsome course. It’s a daring course. It’s unforgettable, down to the very last disarming all-carry approach at #18. This shot is framed by distractions and so much beauty. From the fairway, you can see the resort and downtown San Antonio in the distance as well as ornate Mediterranean-influenced clubhouse and the amazing limestone rock features that lead up to tumbling waterfalls on the hillside surrounding the green. It’s a can be a grueling finishing hole, but it’s one you won’t forget.
Back at the resort, that dreamy Hill Country view is ever-present from any spot on the resort that faces northwest. From the sprawling pool complex, the distant hills are reminiscent of rugged landscapes in Southern California or coastal Mexico. At one of the highest elevations in greater San Antonio, La Cantera takes dramatic advantage of the surrounding vistas as well as miles-long views back toward the city.
La Cantera offers a distinctive resort experience brimming with a refreshingly-refined Tex-Mex authenticity. With its attractive pool spaces, sleek décor, unrivaled cuisine and luxurious amenities for every member of your party, La Cantera Resort & Spa embodies the modern Texan lifestyle and delivers it with unforgettable panache. It’s one of Texas’ finest vacation destinations. Whether you’re next San Antonio trip is with family, golf buddies or just good-old-fashioned fun seekers, check out the host of luxury offerings available at www.lacanteraresort.com.