SAN ANTONIO -- No doubt San Antonio is one of Texas' best golf cities. Not in terms of quantity, perhaps, but quality, especially on the public and resort side. Perhaps that's why it's no surprise that the Alamo City has one of the best municipal systems in the United States.
When outsiders think of municipal golf in San Antonio, they no doubt think of Brackenridge Park Golf Course -- and for good reason. This classic A.W. Tillinghast design, which once hosted the PGA Tour's Texas Open, got a magnificent restoration a few years ago from Colligan Golf Design out of Arlington.
Beyond Brackenridge Park in San Antonio
But Brackenridge Park is hardly the only good course when it comes to San Antonio munis. In all, there are seven facilities that make up what's known as the Alamo City Golf Trail, which was established by the nonprofit Municipal Golf Association formed in 2008. Before 2008, San Antonio's city courses were generally worn down; now there's not only Brackenridge, but also two or three other courses that should be on your radar if you come to San Antonio to play golf.
Best of all, if you're here for a while, you can take advantage of special pricing that makes the golf almost free. For $59, you can purchase a Level 1 pass, which includes six rounds of free golf and discounts on merchandise and range balls. The package does not include Brackenridge, but the other courses are certainly worth playing.
At the top of that list are Cedar Creek Golf Course and Willow Springs Golf Course. In fact, both of them are certainly more difficult tests than Brackenridge, which measures just 6,500 yards from the tips.
Cedar Creek, a terrific Finger Dye Spann design, plays 7,000 yards from the back tees and winds through the edge of the Texas Hill Country on the north side of town. Some of the vistas, like the 10th tee for example, are as good as anything in the city. As one of my colleagues put it: "It's like playing the Westin La Cantera for a third of the price."
The other course I really like is Willow Springs. I was there a couple of years ago when the city was going through a drought, and Willow Springs was one of the greenest courses in the city (several courses were brown), thanks in large part to the fact that the course uses reclaimed water. It's also the longest of all the Alamo City Golf Trail courses at 7,200 yards, and it has the longest par 5 in the city at 663 yards. Like Brackenridge, it's also in the heart of the city, right next to the AT&T Center, where the NBA's San Antonio Spurs play.
Both Willow Springs and Cedar Creek play host to important amateur events as well. Cedar Creek has the San Antonio Open as well as a local qualifier for the U.S. Open in 2014.
Bargain golf in the Alamo City
The Alamo City Golf Trail's Level 1 pass includes rounds at both Cedar Creek and Willow Springs as well as one at Olmos Basin Golf Course and two rounds at Mission Del Lago Golf Course. Rounds are valid Monday through Friday anytime and after noon on weekends.
"We get a fair amount of winter visitors who buy the Level 1 pass," said Andrew Peterson, senior operations manager for the Municipal Golf Association of San Antonio.
Olmos Basin is a popular George Hoffman design, and Mission Del Lago just got a new $1.1 million irrigation system, which should improve conditions dramatically.
In addition to the improvements at Mission Del Lago, the driving range at San Pedro, which also has a par-3 course, is getting a new building with 50 stalls, new lighting, a new short-game facility and a new Callaway Golf Custom Fit Center. Cart paths are also being redone throughout the trail.
The reason the Municipal Golf Association can do these improvements is because the Alamo City Golf Trail has made more than $1 million each of the past two years. As a nonprofit, it puts the money right back into the courses, Peterson said.
The Alamo City Golf Trail also offers higher-level cards, designed more for local residents. Level 3 offers unlimited golf on all six golf courses for $2,000 per year or $3,000 including golf cart, with no blackout dates.