AUSTIN, Texas -- While my golf travels often take me to some of the most coveted golf courses around the world, when I'm at home in Austin, I'm walking the munis like everyone else, usually with my dog in tow and maybe a beverage or two stuffed in my golf bag.
As a central Austin local since 2008, I've played the courses near my home a good deal; if you're not sure where to begin, here's the skinny on Austin's municipals and courses closest to downtown.
Jimmy Clay and Roy Kizer Golf Courses
Austin's mega-muni facility, side-by-side Clay and Kizer, are vastly different plays. The original Jimmy Clay course winds through traditional, rolling Texas parkland scattered with trees, narrow doglegs and a monstrous and narrow finishing hole. Next door, the more modern Roy Kizer course is built off a reclaimed waste area and trades trees for lots and lots of water. Both courses, from the tips, are all the golf you could ask for.
In addition to these two 18-hole courses, the facility is home to a large driving range, short-game areas and a four-hole short course.
Morris Williams Golf Course
Morris Williams Golf Course is located on the east side near Austin's old airport, where planes used to fly so close to the course it could affect ball flight, Mo Willy's best days are now.
Once the home course of University of Texas (which is just about two miles west), an extensive 2012 renovation entirely revamped the course, which included some redesign, re-grading and reseeding. The clubhouse is also brand new and much larger and inviting.
The overall experience, in my opinion, is currently the best of Austin's munis, even if scratch players tend to prefer the challenge of Kizer a bit more.
Lions Municipal Golf Course
Play Lions Municipal Golf Course, located in Old West Austin, while you can.
This cherished, historic course, dating back to 1919, has hosted a who's who in Texas golf history and is scheduled to close in the next couple years when the University of Texas takes back its 100-year lease from the city and develops it into mixed-use space. (If you ever see me on Twitter making fun of the Longhorns, this is precisely why.)
As for the golf course, it's just 6,000 yards long, yet I can never seem to score well on this dang thing, thanks to subtle nuances and doglegs that rewards those with control over brawn. One of Texas' most popular courses, Lions is an institution, and usually very busy. The back nine is particularly thrilling for those who adore classic golf design.
Hancock Golf Course
Austin's oldest golf course dating back to 1899, Hancock Golf Course is the original home of Austin Country Club and sits on prime, central Austin land just north of UT.
Today, it's just nine holes on about 40 acres (the other nine holes were lost to a shopping plaza in 1964) and about 2,600 yards long. The course, while still modestly conditioned, did receive new irrigation in 2013 and has some good holes on it to go with a few head-scratchers.
More public golf courses in central Austin
In southeast Austin, Riverside Golf Course is the former home of Austin Country Club during the fabled Harvey Penick years, when he and Perry Maxwell laid out the course. Today, it's owned by Austin Community College, which has encroached on the grounds a bit (the driving range is gone, and the first hole is wedged next to the road and parking lot). But much of the bones of a once stately club of another era faintly remain, particularly on a very peaceful and interesting back nine.
Another favorite for bargain golfers in Austin is Bluebonnet Hill, located in east Austin near Decker Lake. This course stands apart not only for an interesting layout but for its greens that are often fast and true rolling (something that's a rarity at Austin munis).
But what steals the show here is the management's willingness to enforce pace of play. Every group is on the clock at Bluebonnet, no matter how packed the tee-sheet may be. It's a beautiful thing, especially when you consider Austin's munis allow fivesomes.
Grey Rock might become a muni
A recent development, as reported in March by the Austin Statesman's Marty Toohey, is that the city is in talks to acquire Grey Rock Golf Club and add it to its stable of munis, partially as a result of the expected closure of Lions within the next few years.
Grey Rock is currently a semi-private course that is part of the massive Circle C development in southwest Austin.
Butler Park Pitch 'n Putt
This ultra-casual, nine-hole course is a city institution. No group is too large (eightsomes can be spotted on weekends), dogs can come and you can BYOB. Course maintenance is primitive, and the longest hole is 118 yards (downhill).