MONTGOMERY, Texas -- As of late November, only seven holes were open at the new Tiger Woods-designed Bluejack National Golf Club, north of Houston, but that hasn't prevented the exclusive private club from making a favorable early impression. So much so, in fact, that it provided a perfect setting to host a few segments of Golf Channel Academy.
Golf Channel crews spent two days at the club filming the episodes, which will feature two-time major winner Mark O'Meara, who lives in Houston and serves as the club's playing ambassador. In the segments, which are hosted by Golf Channel's Dave Marr III, O'Meara discusses and demonstrates every aspect of the game -- from putting and short game to driving and iron play.
That they were able to shoot the episodes at Bluejack National, the first U.S. design by Tiger Woods Design Group (El Cardonal opened in Mexico Dec. 16, 2014), signals that the course is coming along nicely. By January, the rest of the front nine is expected to open (members are currently playing holes 6 and 7, then 1 through 5), and the club is planning to have all 18 holes of this 7,552-yard par 72 open sometime in the spring. A grand opening with Woods is tentatively scheduled for late April after the Masters. (Woods was originally scheduled to appear earlier this month but canceled due to a follow-up procedure on his ailing back.)
Bluejack could probably open all 18, but there's no rush
As it stands now, all 18 holes are nearly fully grassed. The fairways, surrounds and tees were sodded with Zeon Zoysia, a very player-friendly grass with a bright green color that provides a stunning contrast to the Premier White bunkers. The greens are Tif-Eagle, and the ones that are open are already Stimping around 10 or 11 feet. It doesn't hurt that Bluejack National hired one of the country's most respected superintendents, Eric Bauer, formerly of nearby Carlton Woods, another high-end club known for its outstanding conditioning.
"By this time next year, with a nice summer of grow-in, this course will look like it's been here for 10 years," O'Meara said after the second day of shooting Golf Channel Academy.
Marr, seeing the course for the first time, said Bluejack National is "beautiful."
"If they continue what they've been doing so far, this is going to be a real special place," said Marr, whose father, 1965 PGA Champion Dave Marr Jr., grew up and lived in Houston before he died in 1997.
While the course can certainly play long from the Tiger (back) tees, there are five other sets, including the front tees that allow golfers to play Bluejack from as little as 3,000 yards. And since there's no rough, golfers won't lose many golf balls, unless they hit into one of the four lakes on property.
Additionally, most of the greens have openings so golfers can play a variety of shots. In fact, O'Meara, during the short game segment of Golf Channel Academy, demonstrated short-game options from the same spot off the first green that ranged from lob wedge to putter and everything in between, including using a hybrid.
"Bluejack National is a course that everybody can play if they play it from the right tees," O'Meara said. "You can run the ball in on some of the greens, where at some of these other golf courses it's all forced carries. I'm a fan of having options, different shots you can play, not just one shot."
Starting to feel a little like Augusta
Most southeast Texas golf courses are relatively flat, but Bluejack, built on the former site of Blaketree National, sits on hilly terrain with tall pines that have been thinned out to open up the course. There are points on Bluejack, ala Augusta National, where you can see several holes at once. And while it's not quite as hilly as Augusta, there are elevated tees and greens, which is rare in this part of the state.
Couple that with fast, flawless conditioning (it's not far from flawless already), no rough, and pine straw, and you can see why people are comparing the experience to that of Woods' favorite venue.
"There are multiple places on this property where people have told me, 'this reminds me of Augusta,'" said Rich Barcelo, who played professionally for 12 years and now serves as one of the club's head golf professionals.
The first hole, with its elevated tees, bright white bunkers and lake to the left, certainly gives an Augusta-like impression. But the par-3 12th, which is Woods' tribute to Augusta National's "Golden Bell," is more obvious.
"It's just a bigger version of the 12th at Augusta," Barcelo said.
And while Bluejack is an elite club, it is designed as a family club that eschews some old school golf traditions. There will be no tee times -- at least in the short term -- and members will be free to play as many or as few holes as they like. There's also a 10-hole short course (The Playground), a learning center, expansive practice facilities, 35 acres of lakes for fishing, hiking and biking trails and other luxury-lifestyle aspects in the works, including tennis, a spa, a wellness center and indoor and outdoor recreational activities for families.