Toughest public golf course in Texas


In this edition of Travel Punch Shots, senior writers Mike Bailey and Brandon Tucker debate which is the toughest public golf course in Texas.


You wouldn't think that a golf course less than 7,000 yards could be all that difficult, but the Ram Rock Course at Horseshoe Bay just outside of Austin proves that a course doesn’t need length to be challenging. And Ram Rock, which is known as the 'Challenger,' can be awfully difficult.

Opened in 1981, this Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed track is a narrow, winding shot-makers course built on the rock outcroppings of the Texas Hill Country. The par-71, 6,926-yard layout is one of four golf courses open to the public at the Horseshoe Bay Resort. Rated at 137/75.6 from the tips, it has 62 deep bunkers that are true hazards, 10 water hazards and natural dry creek beds that I highly recommend avoiding.

There are holes with plenty of length, like the 488-yard par-4 second hole, and the 344-yard 10th hole. Neither one of them is easy. The second, and No. 1 handicap hole, is a dogleg right with a fairway bunker at the turn. Even a perfect drive leaves you more than 200 yards to a well-guarded green, and Ram Rock's bentgrass greens have plenty of movement in them to complete the experience. And the 10th? Forget about the driver. Players have to hit a very accurate iron off the tee to avoid water crossing the fairway and avoid the overhanging tree limbs of the oaks that surround the hole.

There's also the par-3 fourth. Its island green will remind you of No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass, but at 191 yards from the tips it’s about 50 yards longer.

The thing about Ram Rock is that you have to think your way through the golf course at all times and then execute your plan. Make a mistake, and you could be looking at double bogey or worse. Hit it through a dogleg, and it could end up lost or out-of-bounds – and almost every non-par 3 is a dogleg. Greens are well-protected and generally surrounded by stuff you won't find your ball in. Add a little wind and Ram Rock can be really treacherous.

This is a golf course that has gotten the best of the state's best players. I've seen tournaments in which club pros scared triple digits – and they were trying their hardest. It's a course that you can't blast away on, but you need length on certain holes, and it's a layout that will always withstand golf equipment technology.

Ram Rock is definitely one the toughest public golf courses in Texas.


This is a no-brainer. Texas' toughest public golf course is TPC San Antonio's AT&T Oaks Course.

It's not often that a golf facility's Pete Dye course is considered the easier of two courses, but the Norman and Garcia-designed Oaks easily takes the honor as this TPC's Alpha Dog.

Unlike the Westin La Cantera's Resort Course, which was designed to be friendly to the resort golfer while also challenging the pros, the Oaks' main goal when it opened in 2009 was to be Texas' toughest test for the pros.

The course plays 7,435 yards from the tips and still more than 7,000 yards from the next tee up. Though most golfers won't want to touch those sets, even the 6,624-yard middle tees boast a slope of 142.

Why so high? The Oaks simply doesn't allow much room for error anywhere. Fairways are narrow, often playing tightly through oak trees. Unlike Augusta where you can find your ball under the trees, high grass makes a lost ball a real likelihood, so welcome to virtual out-of-bounds lining most fairways. These corridors are pinched even more by massive – albeit artfully crafted – bunkers. They are plentiful and severe, with high lips and plenty of spots for an awkward stance. It's been said a bunker should be a 'half-shot penalty' but it felt higher when I played it.

The multi-tiered greens take on a life all their own, giving greenskeepers the opportunity to set some really tough pin positions. And they can't always go easy on mid-to-high handicappers because it's tough to find many green light pins out there.

Thankfully, steps from the 18th green is the JW Marriott's High Velocity sports bar, which has an imaginative setup with a 120-foot-long projection screen and an impressive tap beer list.

You're going to need one or two cold ones after playing the Oaks.