LAJITAS, Texas -- Had I known the stream that meanders down the mountain behind the seventh hole of Black Jack's Crossing and eventually runs beside the green -- complete with a waist-deep collection pool -- was a hot spring, I may very well have been tempted to bring a swim suit, a cold beer or two, and soak up awhile.
At least when you triple bogey the no. 1-handicap hole like I did, the thought of a quick respite to recharge the batteries seems all the more appetizing. I can't imagine anyone around this most remote part of Texas would kick up much fuss, nor would I be backing up the whole golf course with such action. Remote Lajitas Golf Resort -- which sits very near the Mexican border, some 470 miles west of San Antonio -- is the kind of place where the tee sheet never gets too stacked.
"Head out to the tee whenever y'all want," was the refrain from the golf shop on this idyllic, sunny Tuesday morning in April. With a lot of winding cart paths leading up to elevated tees that reveal vantage points you won't want to leave anytime soon, a go 'round here may take awhile, but it won't be because of a group ahead.
Lajitas Golf Resort was born a few decades ago, built from a former outpost along the Rio Grande on the U.S.-Mexican border a century earlier. But the golf in its current form is essentially brand new. Black Jack's Crossing opened in 2011 near the site of a former course -- the Ambush at Lajitas (which washed away in the floods of 2008) -- and is quickly becoming one of the state's most intriguing destination plays for bucket-listers.
It's not the easiest course to get to in Texas, but what awaits in this remote desert at about 2,200 feet of elevation is simply unlike anything I've encountered in my travels, and there's plenty of Wild West storytelling to last a weekend. A stroll from the resort village down to the golf grounds reveals a pro shop building with bullet holes in its siding dating back to its outpost days. Most of the shop's square footage isn't reserved for hawking polos and golf balls, but instead is home of the Yates Longhorn Museum, where hundreds of trophies reside. (No, you can't buy one.)
And lest I forget, the town's mayor was once a beer-drinking goat .
I'm getting sidetracked.
Black Jack's Crossing
From the championship tees, Black Jack's Crossing -- all 7,413 yards -- is all the golf the best of players in Texas or anywhere else could ever ask for, and the Dallas Morning News recently named it the best public course in Texas for 2014. For the rest of us, the takeaway after a round here will be lots of elevated tees with panoramic views straight out of a cowboy's day dream. It's pure solitude, save for the odd tumbleweed or thorny succulent.
From the highly elevated perch that is the 649-yard championship tee of the par-5 eighth, you practically have to squint to see the fairway far below. The back nine delivers several more jaw-droppers, starting with a chip shot of a par-3 13th straight downhill, and my pick for the prettiest hole, the 14th, which showcases the meandering Rio Grande beyond the green.
It's a wild loop, yes, but make no mistake, you'll find plenty of comforts along the way, such as restrooms and water stations every few holes and GPS units. Any impromptu requests to the golf shop while on the course, no matter where you may be on it, can be serviced immediately.
The course also sports a paspalum turf wall-to-wall that seems to cope best with conditions out here, which can often be extreme. While the Ambush at Lajitas featured holes playing down along the Rio Grande, most of these are on much higher ground, so expect this layout to stick around while.
Stay and play at Lajitas Golf Resort
Lajitas, now under new ownership of Kelcy Warren, has marching orders to become a pure Texas escape for city slickers back east, while also being more accessible and affordable than the resort was under previous owner Steve Smith of Austin, who envisioned Lajitas as a more exclusive retreat.
Guests of Lajitas can not only golf 'til they drop but shoot firearms at Lajitas' gun range, ride horses and any other type of activity you might associate with the old frontier. Cuisine here isn't too fancy -- prime rib prepared in dutch ovens and over coals -- but it's delicious.
A short walk from the clubhouse is the Lajitas Golf Resort, with 101 guest rooms in a variety of buildings that help make up a little town road, complete with a bar, spa, restaurant and some other shops. Golf packages are available starting at around $500 for two nights. The course can also be booked a la carte, while membership and fractional condo ownership opportunities are also available.
It requires a bit of effort to get here: about a nine-hour drive from Dallas, six-seven hours from San Antonio or Austin. If you have a plane, a private runway in Lajitas makes it just 90 minutes or so from the Texas Triangle. Groups interested in chartering Lajitas' plane can also inquire.