The Bridges Combines the New & Old

By: Steve Habel

There's not an ocean, a lake or even a river to be found near the north Texas hamlet of Gunter. But just south and west of downtown is a links-style golf course that likens those found on windswept shorelines elsewhere around the globe.

12th Green at The Bridges

This splendid layout sets apart the fledgling Bridges Golf Club, located about an hour's drive north of the burgeoning Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. As the centerpiece of a 1,600-acre master-planned community that was once the legendary Double M Ranch, the Fred Couples Signature Design course works as both a throwback and a look into the future of golf course architecture.

The Bridges GC is part of The Bridges at Preston Crossings, a huge neighborhood developed by Bluegreen Communities. Couples' name sells houses and plots of land in the development, but the course was actually fashioned by golf architect Jeffery D. Brauer, who works out of his GolfScapes offices in the D-FW suburb of Arlington.

The Bridges was routed on land along the north fork of the Trinity River and has been molded into a challenging track reminiscent of the old links found in Scotland and in parts of the United States.

Unlike those, however, The Bridges extends 7,612 yards from its championship tees and boasts other modern traits such fairway-chipping areas. The course also features many old-style characteristics, such as square-cornered tees and smaller grass bunkers. Many of the greens have rolling contours, while others are protected by sharp banks rather than sand traps.

The course is an example of one where Brauer worked hard to use fewer bunkers, as an ode to the past, and maybe, a precursor to the future of golf.

"Sand blowouts really aren't natural anyway in the north Texas landscape," Brauer said, "and with bunkers costing so much to maintain - because golfers want them 'perfect' - I thought it was time to reevaluate their use as the primary hazard in golf design."

To add to the feel of a links, Bridges has only a few trees and, at least for the time being, few homes to block the constant wind. Here, you're exposed to the elements so that any wayward shot might end up in some unfriendly places.

Few of the tees at The Bridges GC are positioned behind each other, meaning the course can be set up to provide a different look each time out. Thanks to the steady breezes, this is a place that will play different course every single day.

The Bridges, which opened in October 2008 and was in full swing by the following April, asks you to stay focused throughout the round. Golfers will face some daunting challenges, including forced carries, trees, water, monstrous holes (two par-5s are more than 625 yards and two par-4s play at 500 yards or more), undulating putting surfaces and high, native grasses off the fairways.

Of the two sides, the outward nine feels most like a links. Beginning at the 446-yard first hole, which turns gently left to right around a natural area to a rolling fairway and "L"-shaped green, you might think you're in the British Isles (except for the Texas heat). No. 1 is one of four holes on the course without a bunker, but that quartet has challenges aplenty regardless.

The Bridges 10th Hole

The 581-yard par-5 third has a green that is some 90 yards long (a Brauer trademark of sorts) with three distinct levels. The architect considers the hole one of his favorites at here, along with No. 4 (a 447-yard par-4 with multiple options off the tee) and the 434-yard, par-4 12th, which plays over a lake to a green that rolls toward a bunker back-left. "Those holes are on some of the dullest ground we had to work with, but we made something out of them," Brauer said proudly.

Try your luck at driving the green on the 330-yard, par-4 sixth, but be wary of the deep grass bunkers short and right, the long sand trap along the left that runs the length of the putting surface, and a tiny pot bunker to the right.

The par-3 eighth plays a healthy 242 yards. Your tee shot must contend with a huge tree in line with the green's left side, which is the bailout area. To the right and short are two deep and craggy bunkers.

No. 9 is one of those holes that may be just too long for Mr. Mid-handicapper. At 514 yards, it winds uphill over a native area and - from right to left - around a bunker. The approach is played over a stream or a dry creek bed (depending on the time of year) to a deep two-tired green.

The 626-yard par-5 14th heads downhill toward a split fairway. If you go left, you will need to carry a pond on the second shot and your view of the green might be blocked by a stand of trees. Those taking the starboard route will face a huge bunker and numerous tall berms and mounds en route to the finish. Once on the putting surface there are three large mounds to contend with; an approach that doesn't land on the correct level will surely lead to a three-putt, or worse.

The 501-yard 16th sweeps right to left through a valley bordered left by native grass and a grass-filled gulley and along the right by a series of bumps and berms. There isn't a single bunker on the hole, but it plays entirely uphill and generally into the prevailing south wind.

The closer is a 645-yard par-5 that involves three semi-island landing areas. To make it even more interesting, there's a large oak right in the middle of the second "island." When this hole plays into the wind, which is about six months of the year, it truly is a beast. "On No. 18," Brauer said, "I wanted to use that lake, but always wondered if multiple water carries are too tough for some golfers."

The Bridges GC carries a rating 77.7 and a slope of 139 from its back set of six tees, and plays even harder than those numbers. Expect the undulating putting surfaces to be in perfect condition, of all shapes and sizes, and very quick. Pin placements can be severe as well, so make sure to be prepared in approaching them.

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