When the Champions Tour event in San Antonio was moved last year to the new Pete Dye design at TPC San Antonio, how ironic it was that Bruce Lietzke was the fellow trying to turn on his mates to Dye’s work.
Lietzke was the PGA Tour‘s “player consultant“ for Dye on the design of the Canyons Course at TPC San Antonio. But as a young PGA Tour member during the late ‘70s, Lietzke showed up in Dallas for the Byron Nelson Golf Classic when it was played at Preston Trail Golf Club and snickered when asked about the holes there that had been redesigned by Dye. He repeated a line he heard in the locker room from fellow tour player John Schroeder, who thought a stack of large rocks beyond the fourth hole would be a dead ringer for the San Diego Zoo, if only a polar bear could be added.
There are plenty of rocks at TPC San Antonio, but there are some nice fairways and greens laid down there in the middle of all that. In fact, the fairways are mostly wide enough and the greens mostly not too severe that I’ve actually seen the term “user friendly” given to describe Pete Dye’s work here.
“If you hadn’t told me that Pete designed this place,” Hal Sutton told me after playing the Canyons last year, “I would not have guessed.”
Oh, you get the Pete Dye trademarks here, don’t worry about that. A litany can be made: the green drops off severely on the first hole, a pot bunker dissects the green at the third so much that front pin positions look like they’ve been cut onto someone’s porch, the green at the par-3 eighth has a “fallen” back half, fairways at the ninth and even more so at 14 are built into platforms above long, stretching bunkers. The list can go on.
The pros certainly found it tame here last year. Fred Couples won the Champions Tour event on this course at 23-under (rounds of 65-62-66).
For the average golfer, though, the only way this Pete Dye design can be held as “user friendly” is when it’s put in context with its sister course here, the Greg Norman-designed Oaks Course. Every time I look over there and see its torn-into-the-earth contouring of the bunkering and the severely sloping greens I can’t help but think that place should have swirling razor wire and guard houses erected. The average golfer would find better treatment in Rahway or Attica.
Dye’s course lacks brutal length (tees can stretch to 7,100 yards, but a good setup can be found on the tees measuring 6,600 yards or shorter). It is, however, like the usual layout in the Texas Hill Country. If you miss the fairway by just a bit, good luck finding your ball. It’s down in what golf now euphemistically calls “native area,” and it’s a nearly automatic penalty.
But the natural look of this place is a strength. This course works away from the huge resort hotel here and doesn’t come back from a peaceful tour along a nature preserve until the 18th hole. There are some houses that can be seen lined up off in the distance, the massive hotel too, but the view is mostly live oaks and cedar trees out there in the gentle hills. Except for the wind that blows onto these ledges, it’s quiet and sweet.
Dye’s design here, I think, actually gets a bit boring in places. After a standout first hole that opens with a tee shot over a gentle hint of a canyon, the holes are rather similar looking starting at No. 2. Several holes have an almost cookie-cutter design to them.
But there are some highlights. The par-5 sixth hints of a blind shot with an elevated landing area off the tee. The next hole runs nicely back up that hill from the other direction, and then the next hole at the eighth is a pretty picture. It’s 165 yards from the back with a green propped up there amid a background of nature preserve.
But then the cookie cutter is back out until the 12th, a 532-yarder that is uphill all the way. The 14th has a good look to it with the massive build-up job of crafting a fairway doglegging to the left onto the Hill Country ledge. Then the 16th is maybe the best hole on the course, its tee shot spanning a canyon that cuts in from the left to make it look more like Torrey Pines than South Texas. It can play as long as 224 yards, but Dye left behind a “safe zone” landing area short and to the right.
That Hill Country nature preserve out there is staying. And, unlike many of the design features over at Greg Norman’s design that already is getting tweaks from a bulldozer next door, all of the familiar Pete Dye features likely are staying, too.
TPC San Antonio was not listed in the "golf course" section of secretinthedirt.com where other reviews are posted, so the review is posted in this blog. Other writing by Tim Price can be found on timpricesportsbooks.com or on Twitter @golflikeurpoor.