Nicklaus Design may be doing most of its work overseas these days, but a big exception is Summit Rock, the newest private club to come to the Texas Hill Country.
HORSESHOE BAY, Texas -- Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course designs don't open at the pace they once did, at least not in the United States. This year, the Golden Bear opened just one new U.S. course: Summit Rock, the fourth golf course at Horseshoe Bay Resort in the Texas Hill Country near Austin, which he opened personally this fall.
You won't see Jack opening many stateside courses these days, but his emerging markets business is thriving, particularly in China and Russia. One ambitious project by Nicklaus China, a partnership with local Chinese developers, is an entire city that will eventually include ten or more golf courses. Adapting to these emerging countries' customs, from feng shui design to bizarre business etiquette has been a fun ride for the 72-year-old.
'In China, you sign the contract,' said Nicklaus at the opening of Summit Rock on October 30th. 'And then the negotiations begin.'
In Texas, Nicklaus has been doing business long enough to be quite familiar with the territory. Nicklaus Design has a dozen facilities open for play throughout the state, including nearby Cordillera Ranch, and his team relishes the chance to work on the state's tremendous variety of land.
'When I [design] a course in Texas, I know I'm going to see a good piece of property,' said Nicklaus. 'Even in Houston, which is flat as a pancake, there are great trees.'
The site at Summit Rock served up 1,600 acres with a little bit of everything Texas has to offer: rolling land with plenty of gorgeous oak and pecan trees, wildflowers and expansive views. The routing plays up, down and around a large hill, whose lower areas have creek beds and dense trees. From the more exposed holes along the top, you can see Lake LBJ and rolling views for miles around.
Left: The par-5 10th hole can play as a long par 4 or reachable par 5. Right-top: Comfort stations at Summit Rock are stocked with goodies. Right-bottom: The par-3 12th hole plays downhill with long views behind the green.
The course can play 7,258 yards from the championship tees, while bunkers are deep and plentiful. But truth is, the course looks tougher than it is. Fairways are generous and birdie opportunities abound. There are two drivable par 4s, including a fabulous 7th hole that offers a wide variety of options off the tee. Holes No. 10 and 11 can be set up as either long par 4s or reachable par 5s. A kinder, softer Jack? Well, Nicklaus admits he's tried to find harmony for all levels in his design.
'There's a balance,' said Nicklaus. 'Golfers are masochists. They need a little bit of challenge or else they don't like it. I'm probably one of the culprits who has done too many difficult courses [in the past].
'The trend now is 'how easy can we make it?' I don't know if that's going to be sustainable. I try to figure out how to do more golf courses where I can get them a little more playable but still a challenge for the good player, and that's what keeps the reputation of the course and the property values up.'
On two of his recent designs, Harbor Shores Golf Club and Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain, Nicklaus used severely undulating, multi-tiered greens as a primary defense, only to have his vision criticized as 'over the top' by many pros like Tiger Woods and Bernhard Langer.
Summit Rock's greens are more traditional in slope and shape, and many of them have surrounding areas golfers can use to bounce shots in towards the pin.
To help accentuate Nicklaus' design, developers have pulled out all the stops to elevate the Summit Rock experience above the other three courses at Horseshoe Bay. Amenities here include lavish comfort stations on each nine stocked with candies, drinks and sweets. The driving range is a destination in itself: fire pits surrounded by rocking chairs, wicker lounge furniture, a sound system and beverage stations ensure there's no more comfortable place to work on your game. A smokehouse and clubhouse, currently under construction, will cap off one of the Hill Country's most complete luxury golf club experiences.
Summit Rock at Horseshoe Bay Resort: The Details
Located 40 miles west of Austin and 90 miles from San Antonio, Horseshoe Bay Resort's Marriott hotel offers golf packages to Slick Rock, Ram Rock and Apple Rock, but Summit Rock is presently a member-only golf experience. Home sites, ranging from 1/5-acre to family compounds over 11 acres, at Summit Rock start at $135,000. Cabins start at $500,000 and cottages start at $800,000.
More information can be found at SummitRockHSB.com.