Outside the Loop: Two Tracks in Houston Suburbs Draw Golfers

By: Steve Habel

Greater Houston - the sixth-largest metropolitan area in the United States with a population of nearly six million people - seemingly has a great golf course in every one of its thousands of neighborhoods. Most are located outside Loop 610, the usually traffic-choked, six-lane highway that separates the city's downtown from its outlying areas.

The 18th Green at Augusta Pines

Two of the area's best daily-fee (or semiprivate, if you prefer) facilities are Meadowbrook Farms GC in Katy on Houston's western boundary, and Augusta Pines GC in Spring, up north near The Woodlands. Both showcase the best aspects of golf in the Texas coastal plains and are routed through the communities of which they're the centerpiece.

Both courses cross mostly flat terrain as there is not much rise and fall in the prairie lands and wetlands around this huge city. Both also make the most of the features the architects were given. At Meadowbrook Farms, the designer was Greg Norman (who knows a thing or two about fashioning top courses), and at Augusta Pines, it was a team effort from the folks that also routed the much-debated Tour 18 in nearby Humble.

Meadowbrook Farms Golf Club

Meadowbrook Farms Offers Wild (Flower) Experience

Norman's course at Meadowbrook Farms is nestled about 35 minutes from Houston's downtown among hardwood trees, creeks, lakes and wetlands. The layout is framed by native prairie grasses and wildflowers, all of which promote a heady shot strategy.

Norman visited about 10 times during the construction process and was very hands-on. His design at Meadowbrook Farms retained the natural topography, with very little mounding or reshaping. Here, the player will find stacked-sod bunkers, subtle breaks in the greens and a few forced carries. The putting surfaces are kept hard and fast, and run-up shots are preferred, especially if the wind is aloft.

"The beauty of this course is in the details," Norman said. "Players will discover a challenging course built in harmony with the site's trees, creeks, lakes and wetlands. Meadowbrook Farms ranks as one of my favorite courses anywhere."

While building the course the owners consulted with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin for ideas on how to conserve the native plants and grasses and maintain an authentic Texas Gulf Coast prairie environment. Built on property that once was a rice farm, Norman's routing runs through trees and along a creek on several holes, then pops the player back out onto open prairie. Some fairways are narrow and are flat to gently rolling; each hole includes something that can cause a problem for the inaccurate.

Meadowbrook Farms opened in September 1999 as the cornerstone of an 800-acre residential development. The course plays to a par of 72 and is carded at 7,100 yards from its back set of four tees, where it carries a rating of 74.2 and a 137 Slope.

The three-hole stretch on six, seven and eight is likely the best on the front side, with two demanding par-3s wrapped around a great par-5. The sixth involves 160 yards over a pond to a shallow green ringed by wildflowers, native grasses and oak trees. Where the second shot at the 560-yard, par-5 seventh lands could be the prettiest spot on the course. You're playing above the hole as the fairway cuts back into the woods and back down to a slightly sunken green. The hole makes you think you're playing golf somewhere in Georgia or the Carolinas rather than Houston.

The 225-yard eighth is a fortress of a hole, buffeted by winds and ending at a raised green surrounded by bumps, swales and sand.

No. 2 at Meadowbrook Farms Golf Club

The back side brings water back into play, especially on the 555-yard, par-5 12th, where you need a long and precise drive to avoid water right and a large bunker left. The second shot needs to favor the right side and in position to avoid trees that block the approach to a small and well-protected green.

If you're feeling frisky, try to hit the green off the tee at the 325-yard, par-4 15th. Do so with prudence though as the hole produces its share of double-bogeys and higher. Long-hitters can get it either on or close to the green, where a short chip positions you for an easy birdie. Disaster can strike, however, if your drive finds any of the cavernous bunkers on this hole.

Keep your gumption up for the treacherous, 445-yard par-4 16th, which plays into the prevailing wind. Tall grasses line both sides of the fairway, so precision is crucial off the tee - but so is length. Even the best drives leave a mid- to long-iron shot into a large, but shallow, green that is difficult to hold.

The round at Meadowbrook Farms ends at a gorgeous, 545-yard par-5. The drive is struck out of a tree chute to a landing area surrounded by native grasses. The second shot demands a carry over a 30-foot-wide marsh that turns left and hugs the right edge of the fairway near the green. Short and right of the putting surface lurk some of the Shark's sharpest teeth: two nasty, St. Andrews-like bunkers waiting to send you home with a big number on the scorecard.

Perched above the ninth and 18th greens, the facility's clubhouse offers views of the course while featuring the ambiance of a Texas ranch. Meadowbrook Farms also contains a player-development center, a double-ended driving range with practice areas front and back, and pitching greens with greenside bunkers.

Meadowbrook Farms has won a number of accolades, with Golf Digest ranking it among Texas' best courses in 2001, Houston's best course by Houston Sports News in 2000, and Avid Golfer naming it one of the top courses in the "Space City."

For more information, visit http://www.meadowbrookfarmsgolfclub.com.

Augusta-Pines' 17th-green

A Touch of the Peach State at Augusta Pines

With a routing that winds through, around and beside mature pines, dogwoods and oaks, Augusta Pines gives golfers a little piece of Georgia. Its holes are rumored to mirror some of those at Augusta National - remember, these Tour 18 folks have replicating holes down to a science, Augusta Pines stretches 7,041 yards through a neighborhood of impressive homes just south of The Woodlands.

The setting is highlighted by more than 30 acres of lakes and creeks, which come into play on 11 of 18 holes. Players try to compare what they just tackled with the holes they see every April while watching The Masters.

Augusta Pines opened in 2000 and carries a course rating is 73.6 and a Slope of 125 from its back set of five tees.

The Clubhouse at Augusta Pines

The front nine (highlighted by the 470-yard par-4 fourth, the 604-yard par-5 sixth and the 173-yard par-3 ninth) is pretty straightforward and mostly "what you see is what you get." The 17 bunkers, only three of which impinge fairways, and the water on five holes are pretty easy to avoid. The landing areas are broad and forgiving, and the rough should prevent you from landing under trees unless you really spray the ball.

Augusta Pines' inward half is a few shots tougher and more scenic. On the way in you'll deal with well-placed fairway and greenside bunkers, several doglegs, risk-reward opportunities and water on six of the nine holes.

No. 10 is a 399-yard par-4 with water lining the right side from the tee box up to and around the front of the green. The 11th is a 408-yard dogleg-left with a lake on the starboard side, a big bunker at the elbow of the fairway and a green protected by three bunkers. The 365-yard, par-4 16th has a small creek that cuts in front and then goes three-quarters around the green.

The round is punctuated by the final two holes, both of which are played to island greens. First, be precise with your iron at the 149-yard, par-3 17th, where the surrounding water leaves no room for error or weak-heartedness. The par-5 closer extends 522 yards, and its fairway is narrowed by a lake along the right and trees and a bunker in the primary landing area. The putting surface, which seems as if it's floating in water, is further guarded on three sides by sand.

Augusta Pines hosted the Administaff Small Business Classic (now known as the Insperity Championship) on the Champions Tour from 2004-07.

For more information, visit http://www.tour18.com/augusta-pines-home.

Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's world correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, covers the Longhorns for CBS Sports, is regional editor for Texas Golfer magazine and files stories for Golf Oklahoma magazine, Texas Links magazines and Golfers Guide. Habel's main blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com) features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com)chronicles his many travels, on which he has played more than 350 golf courses since 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.