HOUSTON -- Maybe I'm a little biased, since I've lived here for much of the past 25 years, but I think public golf in Houston is underrated.
While there aren't any truly great public layouts in the Houston area, there are probably more quality courses than any other large metropolitan area in the country. And the best part is that most of it's really affordable.
And while Houston often gets a bad rap for being flat -- ala Florida -- it's actually pretty diverse. Most of the courses on the north side, for example, are cut out of dense forests, meaning the Texas wind you always hear about really isn't much of a factor unless it's blowing off a lake. Woodforest Golf Club at Fish Creek in Magnolia, Cypresswood in Spring and Augusta Pines Golf Club in Spring all have tree-lined fairways and target golf. There is plenty of water and challenge. All three are in great shape, and all of them are current or former sites of significant tournaments.
And if you're looking for some bargains on the north side, check out Texas National in Willis as well as Wedgewood and the Links at Westfork in Conroe.
Conversely, the courses south sit on the coastal bend portion, fewer trees and a lot more wind since they are much closer to the coast. That means you have to be able to flight your ball on courses like Wildcat Golf Club, Moody Gardens Golf Course in Galveston and Clear Creek Golf Club in League City or Country Place in Pearland. There's very little to block the wind, which can be particularly strong in the summertime from the south.
Perhaps my favorite golf course is in the middle of the city and the one where I have the hardest time getting a tee time. Memorial Park, which underwent a renovation in 1996, has been ranked among the top munis in the country by several national publications. Site of the annual city championship, this 1936 John Bredemus design is more than 7,000 yards long and is still a bargain with green fees less than $50. It uses a lottery system on the weekends for tee times.
It's also a treat to play the Tournament Course at Redstone Golf Club, site of the Shell Houston Open. From late fall to spring, you get tour conditions as they prepare it for the PGA Tour event with heavy overseeding. And since it's played right before the Masters, it's prepped like Augusta National, so the conditions are flawless. It's also just minutes from George Bush Intercontinental Airport, so it's the perfect arrival or getaway course. Redstone, however, is more expensive than other public play in town -- around $175 and morning guests have to take a forecaddie (included in the green fee, but doesn't include gratuity). Still it's a great deal compared to the premium course in other markets, and the practice facilities are among the best in the country.
Also close to the airport on the northeast side is Tour 18. The original copycat course has been around for 20 years, but I never grow tired of negotiating Amen Corner, figuring out the par-5 sixth from Bay Hill or challenging the 18th from the Blue Monster of Doral.
Really, I could go on and on. The 36 holes of Black Horse, on the northwest side, is a terrific Hardy-Jacobsen design. Eagle Pointe in Mont Belviue, east of Houston, is worth the drive. The Falls, west of Houston in New Ulm, is where architect Jay Riviere wasn't just the architect; he lived there. In Katy, west of Houston, the Club at Cinco Ranch and Meadowbrook Farms are real quality plays, and a little farther west, in Brookshire, the 27 holes of River Ridge is another worthy road trip.
In all there are close to 100 courses open to the public, but if you're really lucky, try to get on some of the city's private courses. I love River Oaks, the only Donald Ross design in the area; Champions, a former Ryder Cup site and host of the PGA Tour Championship, and Braeburn C.C. are among my favorites. Then there's the Clubs at Kingwood, a ClubCorp property that offers 90 holes of championship golf, and the 36 holes at Carlton Woods, which has impeccable conditioning and great layouts by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio. Like the public golf scene, the private club collection in Houston is under-appreciated as well.
Where to find grub
There's no zoning in Houston, so you'll never have trouble finding a gas station, convenience store or restaurant. As far as I can tell, it's the fast food capital of the world, but there are lots of good quality sit-down restaurants here as well.
My budget generally doesn't allow Papa's Steakhouse, one of the best of its kind in the United States, but if you've got the funds, you won't be disappointed.
I have found the Galleria area to be particularly rich when it comes to eateries, wine bars and clubs. If you like Japanese, there's a great little sushi place on Richmond Avenue called Oishii. The prices are reasonable and the quality terrific. It's small and assuming, so there's often a wait, but well worth it.
I also like Papa's and Goode's barbecue joints, which you find all over the city. And although I don't think Houston is great for Tex-Mex, Ninfa's and Lupe Tortillas are pretty good choices.
My favorite Houston eatery, however, is Beck's Prime. I challenged a well traveled friend of mine once that he would have the best hamburger of his life there. He had his doubts, but after eating at The Woodlands location, he agreed. Luckily, there's also a location at Memorial Park Golf Course, combining one of my favorite courses with my favorite grub.
Things to do in Houston
I'm a sports nut who loves the local teams, but I'm particularly fond of going to Major League Baseball games at Minute Maid Park downtown. The park ranks as one of the best in baseball, and when the roof is open, the views are terrific.
The city also has great theater and museums, plenty of venues for live music like the Toyota Center and The Woodlands Pavilion, and lots of parks and greens spaces. And did I mention the winters are very mild, akin to what you might get in central or northern Florida?
Some other fun destinations include Space Center Houston in Clear Lake, the Kemah Boardwalk and the Strand and Moody Gardens in Galveston.
No, we're not exactly a tourist destination, but there's no shortage of fun stuff to do here. Really, Houston, I don't have a problem living here.