SAN ANTONIO -- Millions visit this south Texas tourist haven annually for a variety of reasons -- to experience the rugged Texas Hill Country and see the native wildflowers, bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush, and to play golf among some beautiful limestone-dotted landscapes complete with prickly pear cactus, sheer cliffs, daring elevation changes and lush green hillsides.
While Phoenix-Scottsdale and Myrtle Beach proclaim themselves as the greatest golf destinations on earth, both with more than 200 area courses, San Antonio also became a golf destination. Here are some of my favorites courses in the San Antonio area:
Hyatt Hill Country Resort
Walk the land that was once the Rogers-Wiseman Ranch, but this version has lavishness. The Hill Country Golf Club, located on the 300-acre grounds of the beautiful Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa, features three nine-hole courses appropriately named the Lakes (3,502 yards, par 36), Oaks (3,438, par 36) and Creeks (3,429, par 36).
Designer Arthur Hill's signature greens offer up the subtle contours that challenge even the best players. "Every hole is presented before you, there are no tricks or gimmicks," said Mike Champagne, the course's director of golf. "This is an extremely playable layout that makes for a leisurely round. Golfers walk away with a good feeling."
Canyon Springs Golf Club
In the old days, Canyon Springs Golf Club was the site of the last stagecoach out of town. Today it's a gateway to a memorable round of golf. Rugged forced-carries are everywhere, with the round concluding with a green nestled between a creek and limestone cliff with water cascading down from the top.
Designed by Thomas Walker, a protege of Gary Player, Canyon Springs G.C., a 7,077-yard par 72, is one of the best and most scenic golf courses in San Antonio. The loop design makes it possible to play without ever seeing a parallel hole.
"Everyone tells me they love the Hill Country feel and the old ranch style used in the buildings and landscaping," said Rick DeLoach, general manager. "You are in the city, but you really get a feeling you're in the country. The challenges are definitely getting up and down from just off the greens, which can be quick."
La Cantera Hill Country Resort
La Cantera Hill Country Resort sits on one of the highest points in all of San Antonio, and the AAA Four-Diamond resort is entering a new era. On Dec. 12, 2013, USAA Real Estate Company announced that Denver-based Destination Hotels & Resorts is now in charge of hotel management.
The 1,645-acre, master-planned development is comprised of 508 rooms, including 38 casitas. The hotel's impressive Spanish Colonial architecture makes it one of the most beautiful hotels you will ever experience.
La Cantera's Resort Course, designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish (7,021 yards, par 72), was once home to the Texas Open.
"Everyone likes the course for its playability, elevation changes, views and Texas hospitality that you will find in the entire complex," said Steve Shields, director of golf operations for the Troon Management facility. "When the Texas Open was played here, the PGA Tour wanted a course that could be set up for length and the ability to speed up the greens and make it even more difficult. But I think the novice can tee it up from a forward tee and have fun here without being too frustrated."
You will never forget no. 7. Perched on an 80-foot quarry wall, this 316-yard downhill tee shot looks toward the Six Flags Fiesta Texas' Rattler roller coaster and a landing area dotted by bunkers and water.
Arnold Palmer knew when he first saw the land for his Palmer Course at La Cantera that it was unique for Texas.
"The topography of La Cantera exhibits is beautiful and unique," Palmer said on his first site visit. "The natural beauty includes existing rock outcroppings, dry creeks, hills and incredible views of San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country."
The elevation changes and up-and-down holes, including many blind shots, are equal to many mountain layouts. If you negotiate this 6,926-yard par 71 without hitting some shots in to the hinterlands, you have achieved expert status.
The Resort at Tapatio Springs
Just northwest of San Antonio, off I-10 and near Boerne, is a river valley that is as pretty as they come in the Texas Hill Country. Once home to a 2,100-acre cattle ranch, Tapatio Springs has a Lakes nine and Valley nine that combines for 6,504 yards at par 72.
In April of 2011, country music legend George Strait and longtime friend Tom Cusick purchased the Resort, and everything was upgraded and remodeled.
Every room in the 112-room hotel has been renovated along with the locker rooms, kitchen, grill, golf shop and a new patio area with fire pit also enhances your country escape.
Tapatio Springs is teeming with axis and whitetail deer, trees, wildflowers and limestone cliffs rising out of crystal clear springs and lakes. And during the hot Texas summer it is cooler here than in San Antonio.