A Shark Sighting in San Antonio

By: Steve Habel

The under-construction project at the TPC San Antonio in the northern suburbs of the Alamo City keeps getting its share of news lately, the most recent of which came last week when Greg Norman paid a visit and addressed the media in a quick and controlled interview session. Norman, also called the "Great White Shark," spent the morning touring the course he is designing with the PGA Tour's Sergio Garcia. The Norman-Garcia track could be ready for play in early 2009, with a second 18-hole layout - a Pete Dye-Bruce Lietzke collaboration - set to debut later that fall.

Site prep began on the first course June 1. Norman said this project is a unique and welcome challenge. "With this project we are going to be able to marry a course that will hold a professional tournament with one that will anchor a world-class resort," Norman said. "It's a great piece of land. We are building the course to the highest standards and expect that we will see the best players in the world here playing it when it is ready."

Norman said each hole on the course is going to be built differently. "Every hole is going to have an independent feel," he said. "I saw that out there today; there is a unique feel to each of the six or seven holes we looked at. This is an awkward site because of all the rock," Norman added. "In some places the base is 12 feet deep and in others there is rock right under the top soil. It is complex, subsurface-wise."

Norman hinted there would be changes to the layout now being worked on, but added that's the norm when building a new golf course. "This kind of project is always a work in progress," Norman said. "The course is what it is right now, and the corridors are in place but there will be minor adjustments, such as with green locations, bunker locations and maybe moving a tee by 10 feet here or there. You won't really see it, but sometimes the small stuff is the most dramatic."

Norman's visit came four weeks after a throng gathered in San Antonio October 18 for the official groundbreaking of the future JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa. The event introduced the partners in the development, including Marriott CEO Bill Marriott, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, Temple-Inland CEO and Chairman Kenny Jastrow, Global-Miller CEO Jim Miller and Cathy Coughlin, AT&T Senior Executive Vice President and Global Marketing Officer. Also on hand were renowned golf course architect Dye and Champions Tour player Lietzke.

The 1,002-room JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa represents the latest evolution of JW's collection of hotels and will be home to the two 18-hole Tournament Players Club (TPC) golf courses. Golf Course Properties, Inc., a subsidiary of the PGA Tour, will manage the courses.

"San Antonio obviously is very special to the PGA Tour with two long-running tournaments that are sponsored by two exceptional local companies in the Valero Texas Open on the PGA Tour and the AT&T Championship on the Champions Tour," Finchem said. "We're extremely pleased to further our ties to the area through TPC San Antonio, which as part of the JW Marriott complex will provide a world-class golf experience through two outstanding golf courses."

The JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa and TPC San Antonio are part of a larger master-planned development known as Cibolo Canyons. Developed by Forestar Real Estate Group, a Temple-Inland company, Cibolo Canyons is composed of 2,800 acres and includes a master-planned community.

For all the hype circulating about the project, the wait for the development -wrought with delays and controversy - could be worth it. Expect the Valero Texas Open, the most charitable golf tournament on the PGA Tour and now part of its "Fall Fling," to be moved up in the pecking order when these courses open for business. The San Antonio-based event has also been promised the next available slot in the Tour's pre-FedEx Cup lineup.

Steve Habel is an Austin, Texas-based journalist. Since 1990, he has traveled around the globe covering news, business and sports assignments for various news bureaus, newspapers, magazines and websites. He also contributes to Business District magazine in Austin as managing editor and is the Texas football beat writer and a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated, the Austin-based magazine for University of Texas sports. Cybergolf's Southwestern Correspondent, Habel also writes a weekly golf column for The River Cities Tribune in Marble Falls, Texas, and is a member of the Texas Golf Writers' Association.