Texas Hill Country escape: Vaaler Creek boasts variety and playability between San Antonio and Austin

By Travel ArticlesJune 11, 2012, 3:52 pm

BLANCO, Texas -- Whether you're a San Antonio or Austin resident or live somewhere in between, put Vaaler Creek Golf Club on your radar.

One of the newest in the Texas Hill Country, Vaaler Creek is just a few minutes from the old town center of Blanco in the new Rockin' J Ranch development, an 1,100-acre parcel of 1,800 home sites to go along with 18 holes of golf.

The winding drive from Austin to Blanco past scenic ranch lands creeps a sneaky 500 feet higher, which helps make summertime temperatures a little more comfortable. Vaaler Creek also utilizes the Trinity Aquifer and not the more restricted Edwards Aquifer. So between the higher altitude and with more water at its disposal, you can expect better-than-average conditions when central Texas weather is at its most extreme.

The course was built by Mike Lowry and J.R. Newman and is named after Jack Vaaler, a war veteran who served with Rockin' J's owner, Colonel Lee Roper. The course's two nines are routed into a large figure eight and were built at different times. Construction of the back began in 2005 and opened in 2007, which is when construction on the front started. The front was completed in 2009.

The most noticeable of several differences between the front and back are on the greens. Greens are far more undulating on the front, with some opportunities for the greenskeeper to set some seriously devilish pin locations atop small tiers and shelves toward the backs of the green. The ninth, for example, has the most severe of slopes that separates a small back tier from a large, lower front surface. That can turn this 163-yard shot from a potential tap-in birdie during corporate outings to a real beast when hosting low-handicap events.

'I think the average golfer enjoys the course because it looks more difficult than it is,' said Adam Grosch, the director of golf at Vaaler Creek.

Grosch has first-hand knowledge of how the course was conceived, as the architects watched him hit balls from proposed back tees and determined where to build bunkers based on where they landed. That means shorter hitters probably can't reach the trouble as easily as PGA-level pros, making for wider landing zones.

There is even a split-fairway hole -- the par-5 10th -- that makes golfers choose between an upper and lower tier guarded in the middle by thick grass.

At 6,864 yards from the championship tees and 6,299 yards from the middle-back set, driver shouldn't be needed off every tee box, especially the two finishing holes. Both of those holes, however, require forced carries on the approach. The 17th is framed with trees and requires a shot over water to a shady, long green surrounded by trees. The 18th is a severe dogleg left to a fairway that slopes down toward a large pond that must be carried on the approach.

Vaaler Creek Golf Club: The verdict

Located in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, Vaaler Creek isn't the closest course to San Antonio or Austin. But those who want a pleasant escape from either city will enjoy a day at Vaaler Creek, which has a pleasant blend of hole variety and playability. And because the accompanying residential component is still in its infancy, few courses are more peaceful.

Facilities here include a full driving range and short-game area. The clubhouse is a small, renovated ranch house from the 1860s, but there is plenty of room on a 5,500-square-foot shaded deck that overlooks the 18th hole and pond.

For those looking to stay and play at Vaaler Creek, two- and three-bedroom condominium units are also located on site. Or, if you live nearby, inquire about a membership or season-pass options.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.